The White Beach

A Gaze to the Horizon The Lake Michigan shore is fast eroding. If you think about it, it's a natural process - who says the beaches and dunes should never change? They would be wrong. The very reason the Indiana Dunes National Park exists is due to the natural processes of erosion and the winds depositing sand into piles along the shore. It's an ever-changing process, there is no "perfect state" where everything will become static and never change again. I think it's important for people to realize this - the beach and the dunes are changing, and that's okay. What needs to be stopped is change due to an unnatural cause. The pier in Michigan City was built to guide boats into Trail Creek. This pier has prevented sands from moving naturally along the shoreline past the creek. Therefore, the beaches to the west are "starving" sand is no longer naturally replentished so the dunes are collapsing at a fast rate. It's not erosion caused by someone walking on the dunes - contrary to what the Park Service wants you to believe. I know this because all of the dune ridge trails I used to walk along are long gone - part of the bottom of Lake Michigan. I didn't do that! The other visitors who have been packing down that sand for decades didn't do that! The waves did, and no amount of keeping people off the dunes would have ever prevented that. Our footprints are long gone. Beach Replentishment From time to time, the park has replentished the sand along these starving beaches to keep the waters from further eroding the dunes. They've piled boulders along the shore where there are roads or houses - to save property. The latest attempt at Central Beach is underway. From the beach we noticed a very tall pile of sand extending from the Central Beach access point. It's about 25 or 30 feet tall, and sticks out toward the water. My hope is this pile of sand is just the beginning, and they don't intend to leave it this way, because it looks terrible. My second hope is that this sand was collected locally, and not shipped in from somewhere far away, bringing with it stones and fossils from another area that don't belong here. White Beach The view from this area is always quite beautiful, in any weather, even in the snowfall of this cold morning. Once Central Beach reopens, we should once again see the views from this dune.

The Stream From Above the Beach

Approaching the Lake Our morning hike began with a beautiful snowfall, as we made our way from Mt. Baldy along the shore to Kintzle Ditch. Narrow enough to jump across, we took running starts and jumped the 10 foot wide portion of the channel. Any wider and we would have landed in the water. We headed toward Central Beach exploring the wintery landscape safely, away from the lake, and the eroding dunes. Our return trip, we walked to the end of Central Beach, then up the small streets to Beverly Avenue, and hiked the road back to take in the views of the woods and wetlands. Some of the older streets still exist where homes once stood atop the dunes. Some local residents told us of a trail that is rarely used, but leads directly to the top of a tall dune near Kintzle Ditch, a stream winding through the dunes. As long as we stay on the trail and don't wander off, we wouldn't harm any of the plantlife or further erode the dunes. High Above the Stream As we approached the top of the dune, the wind suddenly increased to around 30 miles per hour (earlier on the beach there was barely a breeze). Snow could be seen over Lake Michigan, and it was advancing quickly. In a matter of moments, it was snowing at our location, and the winds were relentless. Not dressed for such conditions, we quickly headed back to the road, and made our way to the trail head. On our way back, the snow turned to rain, but at least on this side of the dunes, we were protected from the strong winds.

Snowy Shoreline

Winter Walk

Some lake effect snow squalls created a postcard worthy lake shore on the Indiana side of Lake Michigan. What was all sand a week prior, was now dusted with snow and frost. The winds were almost nonexistent when we arrived, and periodically, snow would fall, sometimes heavy, but never accumulating very much.

Unusually, we encountered quite a few people on our hike, but not too many after we jumped over Kintzle Ditch, a stream running through the dunes to the lake. This weekend, at its narrowest point on the beach, it was about 10 feet wide, so we were able to jump across without getting wet.  If we missed our mark, we would only end up in about a foot of cold water, not the end of the world. We just needed to make sure we didn't fall while jumping - landing on our backs in a foot of cold water would put an end to the hike, and make for a very cold half mile walk back to the car.

Snowy ShorelineOn our return trip, the snow turned to rain, and the winds picked up dramatically. Putting up with the wind-blown rain was one thing, but seeing the frost and snow disappear from the tree branches was the worst part. Now the shore was looking drab and brown once again, but probably not for long, as the forecast called for snow off and on all weekend.

Winding Kintzle Ditch

Sunburst The sun was a welcome site after a long period of cloudy days, and it was just enough to warm us up as we hiked along the shore of Lake Michigan. With the sunshine, we didn't even notice the temperatures were in the upper 20's, we had to open our coats on the two mile hike. A midpoint of the hike was the ever-changing Kintzle Ditch, a small stream that cuts through the tall dunes and meanders into Lake Michigan. The constant wave action pushes the sand back and forth at the mouth of the creek, changing how it empties into the lake. Sometimes it's straight into the lake, other times it makes a sharp turn right or left and runs parallel to the shore for over a hundred feet. It's different every time I visit. Winding Toward the Lake Colder temperatures are expected next week, so I expect some interesting winter scenes to play out here and all around the lakeshore. Of course I will be out there to experience it first hand.

Surf Shadows

Surf Shadows Finally seeing the sun for the first time in days, maybe even weeks, we ventured to the Lake Michigan shore. Sunshine and beaches go hand in hand- right? Morning temperatures were in the mid twenties, but the sun and lack of wind made the trip very comfortable. Chicago was still under a ceiling of clouds, so this morning was even more special. As we approached the top of the dune, we could see the shadows of the trees down on the surface of Lake Michigan. If you look closely, you can see our shadows too, as we stand some 50 feet above the water. What you need to realize is that the trees laying in the foreground are full sized trees uprooted from the top of the dune. We are standing on the top of the dune, not on the beach. Freezing Beach Once down on the beach, we encountered a very interesting thing. The sand looks wet, but it's actually frozen. Not enough to see a glaze on the top, but enough to feel as hard as concrete and make it quite slippery in places. This is a time when you need to watch yourself (and especially children) as they walk along the beach. The water's edge is slanted toward the lake and this frozen sand can be so slippery, one can take a step and simply slide into the waves. I imagine the sand at the bottom of the lake is not frozen, so you would stop before getting too far into the water, but you would most certainly get pretty wet and very cold. It's a long walk to the parking area - especially when you're wet! Some ice formations are beginning to form along the shore, but nothing compared to the shelf ice that will most likely form in a few weeks.

Winter Walk

Cold Prairie

We had no more than a dusting of snow for Christmas, but just after New Years, a bit of snow fell around us.  The storm began with rain, then turned to snow, the perfect recipe for the snow to stick to each and every branch of the trees and shrubs, creating a winter wonderland of sorts.

At the Orland Grasslands - a 750 acre restored prairie in south suburban Chicago - there are more than 13 miles of paved and grass trails winding through the land.  We encountered only two other people on this short trip. The prairie is an interesting place in all seasons, but there's something more exciting about this unforgiving land in the grips of winter. Winter Woods
Unlike the grasslands, the trails at Swallow Cliffs were filled with families enjoying the snowfall. This is no small endeavor, because you must climb 125 limestone stairs to reach the top where the trails begin. People often use these stairs in the warmer months for exercise, but they're much more challenging in winter. The trails lie just to the south of the 100 foot bluff created by the glaciers and their meltwaters.

Milky Way Over LaPorte County

Milky Way Over LaPorte CountyThe night sky was quite dark due to the tiny crescent moon that had set by 10:30 pm, so it was a perfect time to wander out in the night. On a lonely road, I set up my camera and tripod hoping to capture the Milky Way, and hoping I would not encounter any cars or headlights - those tend to ruin night images. Luckily, on this night, not a single vehicle came within sight, and I could see for miles around.

The lights of nearby Walkerton, some 6 miles away, can be seen illuminating the horizon, allowing us to see the trees along the horizon, and giving the sky some color.

The brighter spheres in the sky are Jupiter and Saturn, I believe, visible at night in the south sky.

An Encounter With Comet Neowise

Comet Neowise Just After Sunset

About an hour after sunset, the new visitor to our night sky was visible in the northeast sky. Comet Neowise was discovered in March of 2020, and became visible to the naked eye in July. While it is visible to the unaided eye, I found it a bit difficult to view without the aid of a camera or binoculars, because the eye can see light better from the peripheral vision, or the sides of the eye.  So, looking just left or right of the comet actually gave me a better view - at least I could see it and aim the camera at it.

Comet Close Up

Aiming a 600mm lens at a tiny spot in the dark sky was not easy, but I did manage to capture at least one "close up" of the comet. Even the mirror moving on the camera when the shutter release was pressed would shake the image, so I had to use a mirror-up function and the timer to move the mirror up, then 10 seconds later, the image would be captured.

The image above is the result of quite a few takes; the F6.3 limit on the lens also created some obstacles to overcome. Generally, I choose 1.8 or 2.8 for astrophotography, but this lens isn't made for that, so I managed to compensate for the shortcomings of the lens.

Neowise Over the Lake

As the evening progressed, clouds entered our field of view, as the comet moved closer to the horizon. One last capture shows some clouds interfering with the comet's tail, and a few minutes later, the comet was covered by clouds.

If you get a chance in the next week or two, try to view the comet. If you miss your opportunity, you won't see it again for over 6000 years.

Just After Sunset

Just After Sunset

As the sun dropped closer to the horizon, we noticed some beautiful colors in the sky - almost certain there would be a dramatic sunset that evening, we stopped and watched. Almost every minute, the sky was completely different than before. The windy conditions moved the clouds across the sky quickly, so we never knew exactly what would happen next.

A lot of times, the sky turns out more colorful and dramatic in the minutes after sunset, and this was true this evening. The bottom of the distant clouds were illuminated by the sun, while the clouds away from the horizon were beginning to become dark. This created some drama over the lake as our summer day came to a close.


I had to check the records this morning, I was certain we weren't ready for the 17 year cicada here in the Chicago area. I looked outside to find several cicadas emerging or the "shells" of their former selves prior to molting.  I continued to look around and found hundreds in other parts of my yard, including rows of the empty shells on my apple tree.

Cicada Shells

The always seem to be either on vertical surfaces or under the low, large branches of trees. I think the critters climb out of the ground, and up whatever surface is nearby. Because tree branches extend outward from the trunk, the cicadas just keep climbing until they're upside down. Some fall to the ground to molt, and others cling as best they can to the bark.

Emerging Cicada

I usually find the empty shells and the adult cicada somewhere nearby. They emerge, then dry off and fly away.  Today, I found a few in the process of emerging. It's an interesting process, and looks quite a bit alien up close.

Adult Cicada

The adult cicadas have red eyes, just like the 17 year periodical cicada, but they seem a bit smaller. It seems this year there is supposed to be a large number of cicadas - someone keeps track of these things! The 17 year cicadas are expected to emerge in 2024 - I've been waiting since 2007.

The Peaceful Moon

The Peaceful Moon

Last night's moon looked rather peaceful in the clear May sky. With all of the unrest here on our planet, it is reassuring to look skyward to see something familiar and stable in our midst. The moon is in the Waxing gibbous phase, on it's way to June 5th's full moon. 

Reflective Stream

Reflective Stream

Warm, sunny mornings along the Lake Michigan shore often remind me more of a tropical environment than a Midwest one. The blues and greens common to the waters of Lake Michigan are amplified in the morning sunlight; combine them with the steep wooded dunes on either side of the steam, and you feel as if you were thousands of miles from Chicago

It's also difficult to imagine this place is so close to a major metropolitan area home to millions of people (of course during this pandemic, even downtown Chicago is deserted), and only a few miles from a city of 31,000.  Yet, walking here I feel removed from all of that, and I actually am.  Occasionally, I hear a train, or airplane, but the dunes do a great deal to shield out the noise from civilization. And at night, the skyline of Chicago, which can often be seen 45 miles across the lake, is a silent gem on the horizon.

The Indiana Dunes National Park is growing in popularity, even before it was a national park. Visiting a few of the more "hidden" areas makes me wonder why it isn't even more popular. But then again down inside, I hope nobody else discovers these places - I'd like to keep them all to myself.


Rolled Up

Each Spring, the plant life of the Indiana Dunes National Park begins to emerge after a long winter absence. I look forward to the changes seen at this time, especially in the wetlands in Cowles Bog. While the area is known as Cowles Bog, it's not a bog at all, it's an area of wooded dunes and it includes a large wetland - part of the Great Marsh of the National Park. The Great Marsh is a wetland about nine miles long by a quarter mile wide, on the leeward side of the dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan. While a lot of the marsh has been filled in or drained, much of it still exists.


Following the emergence of skunk cabbage, these ferns seem to be the the next interesting plant to begin poking through the wet soil. As they begin sprouting, the ferns produce a fiddlehead about the size of a nickel. They slowly unfurl over the next couple of weeks into ferns almost two feet in length.

An interesting thing about the fiddleheads I found, is that inside the round head, you can see tiny leaves that look exactly like the mature fern leaf. And as they unfold, these leaves grow into the individual parts of each fern leaf. They each seem to unroll just as the entire leaf unrolled from the fiddlehead.


The Dunes Wrapped in Fog

Distant Fog

I don't happen to visit the Indiana Dunes too often when it's foggy, but when I do, it's a completely different atmosphere.  On some occasions, it was so foggy, it was difficult to navigate the dunes - obviously easy to follow the trails, but not so easy to figure out where you were, and which trail you need to take.  This is also when you can only hear Lake Michigan, you can't see anything over the edge of the dune, it's almost as though you are thousands of feet above the earth.

Dune Fog

On this morning, the fog wasn't so dense, but it did add a bit of ambience (some spell it ambiance) to the hike. Knowing the area quite well, I was interested in reaching certain points in the hike, just to see how different things looked in the morning fog. The only thing I was hoping for was the sun breaking through the fog, but that was not to be.  Nothing beats seeing the fog burning off slowly with the increasing sunlight.

Foggy Horizon

A slightly rough Lake Michigan can be seen in the distance, churned up by the high winds of the previous day. It's quite interesting to me how Lake Michigan can be a monster with 15 foot waves one day, then a day or two later, it's calm as glass.  The calm waters generally happen when there is a slight breeze blowing from the shore toward the water - on those days, I'm sure it's wavy across the lake in Wisconsin.

Pear Tree Blossoms

Pear Blossom

We know for sure it's spring when our pear tree blossoms in April.  It may still be cold and windy, but spring is here for sure.  In years when the temperatures climb early, it often gets very cold again in March, this can kill off the buds that formed in the warm spell. This usually results in a very few pear blossoms. This was true last year, and we're always quite disappointed, and a bit concerned that the tree won't survive the winter. So far, it's always pulled through- even in years with no blossoms.

Pear Blossom Group

In a normal year, the branches of the tree are covered in white blossoms. The blossoms form in groups about the size of a baseball, and only last about a week.  Once they begin to drop off, the grass will be covered in small white petals, and it will for a time, look like snow.

Pear trees have a distinct fragrance, it's not appealing like crab apple trees, but it does remind me of springtime growing up -  my friend Ken had a huge pear tree in his backyard in Chicago.

Viburnum Buds

Viburnum Buds

Spring is finally here, even though some recent weather didn't feel very spring-like. Second only to our azaleas, the viburnum blossoms in late April, filling the yard with a sweet fragrance. While the soon to be blossoms are white/pink, the buds are vivid red. The group of buds here are about the size of a US half dollar coin, so each of the buds are quite small.

When looking at the image in full view, you can see the tiny hairs on the leaves - this explains why viburnum leaves stick to gloves and clothing.

The image here is a composite of seven individual photos, taken at slightly different focal distances. The idea is to achieve an image with all of the important elements in focus. This is impossible to achieve using a macro lens due to its shallow depth of field, so taking multiple photos of the same object at different distances allows one to stack the images together to obtain an image with the subject in focus.

A difficult thing about focus stacking is the mystery of the entire process. You don't know how things will look until you finish stacking; you can't double check things to make sure things are going to work out. However, that also creates a nice surprise when things work out.

Above Kintzle Ditch

Following Kintzle Ditch

Being one of my favorite places in the park, Kintzle Ditch has always intrigued me. Even though this area changes daily, I'm always looking for a different perspective for photography. The top of the dune is accessible without climbing up the loose sand, but the hard packed, well traveled trail is hidden from most, and requires a bit of hiking.

Once on top, the view of Lake Michigan is beautiful, and the Chicago skyline can be seen on clear days. The view down to the creek and beach is also perfect. From this perspective, the tannin in the creek water can be seen flowing into the lake, a dark trail of water flows with the current and the waves.

 Kintzle Ditch From Above

Unusual to almost anytime except the summer, were the three other people walking down by the creek. Even if the beach has quite a few visitors, this area is relatively out of the way and empty. The figures give some scale to the dunes, without them, it's difficult to determine just how tall they are.

The erosion of the dune is evident where the creek hits the beach. The dunes have collapsed over the last five years or so. The full grown trees have fallen into Lake Michigan as well, they can be seen down the shore a bit.

The Dunes Around Kintzle Ditch

Kintzle Ditch Panorama

A favorite spot of mine to visit along the Lake Michigan shore is the division between two beaches at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Between Central Beach and Mt. Baldy is a small stream known as Kintzle Ditch. This stream flows between two rather tall dunes and into Lake Michigan and like almost every other point on these beaches, it changes daily.

The wind and waves move the sands on the beach, often altering the direction the stream empties.  Sometimes it flows straight into the lake, and other times it takes a long, meandering path left or right - often hundreds of feet to either side of the path between the dunes.

The Beach at Kintzle Ditch

Over the past few years, the dunes here have been eroded by the high waters of Lake Michigan; they appear much different than they were just five years ago. The beach is submerged most of the time, and the waves hit the foot of the dunes quite often now, preventing the possibility of hiking the beach at times of high water.

Of course, this action also erodes the foot of the dunes, undercutting them, and causing large portions of the dune to collapse into the lake- trees and all. This is all the process of wind and waves, yet it's sometimes sad to see the forested dunes fall into the water over time.

Rugged Dune

Rugged Dune

Hiking through the dunes can be quite challenging if the trails are soft sand and up steep hills, but imagine walking through areas with no trails. The rolling sand and multitude of grasses and shrubs seen here, gives an indication of the terrain one would need to cross if wandering off trail.  While certainly not the most difficult obstacles, encountering these one after another for miles would certainly wear on the legs.

This vantage point is from a trail, because the Indiana Dunes National Park does not allow off-trial hiking, but I have decided to "bushwhack" in other parks that allow it.  It's a lot more difficult that it appears, especially when doing so in the wooded dunes. Downed trees, branches, and thorny vines are everywhere, either blocking your way, or grabbing your clothing, stopping you every 10 feet or so. Add the soft sand and hills, and you have a real workout on your hands. 

I remember attempting to follow a creek from a lake to a road I knew was 1/2 mile away.  Because of the steep bank along the creek, I had to climb up to the top of the dunes, and follow the creek from the top of the hills all the way back to the road.  The obstacles I spoke of earlier prevented me from making a quick trip - in fact, the 1/2 mile took me almost an hour, and cost me a jacket and a pair of pants because they were both ripped by the thorny vines that lined the forest floor.

While I actually prefer blazing my own trails in search of things relatively few bother to find, I do enjoy the maintained trails and paths along the Indiana Dunes.

Discovery of a Pond

Discovering the Pond

On our last hike before the covid-19 stay at home orders by the Illinois and Indiana governors, we happened upon a rather large interdunal pond.  I've been on this trail quite a few times over the years, and knew about the large pond, but never knew it could be seen from this side while staying on the trail system.

A couple hundred meters from the beach, the dunes change from bare sand, to marram grass covered, then to conifer forest. This area has one of the most expansive stands of Jack Pine forest in the park - at least publicly accessible. As we walked through the dimly lit path, the under-story plants changed quit a bit.  No longer marram grass, but plenty of moss, and a variety of small evergreen flowering plants that looked much like holly. I believe this is Oregon Grape, a plant that is not native to the area, but seems to thrive in the Jack Pine conifer stands here at the Indiana Dunes National Park. In spring, the plants display yellow flowers; I hope to get back in time to see them bloom.

Still very early in the Spring, we did however, see a few water birds in the area taking advantage of the still waters. I suspect this is about the time when the turtles and frogs emerge from their hibernation.