Following a long hike down a forgotten road covered in a foot of fallen leaves, we reached the overlook. At one time, this road lead to an area where visitors could park and take in the view of Lake Michigan from high above the 80 foot tall dune. Sunsets were amazing from this spot, with the city of Chicago's skyline on the horizon over Lake Michigan.
Now, much of this area is off limits to hiking - at least from the beach, where foot traffic is said to cause erosion of the dunes. The waves of Lake Michigan have completely proven that to be false, as all of the paths that were once on this dune have washed away - and not because of foot traffic.
We followed the old road quite a distance to see this overlook for the first time in many years. Walking on broken asphalt, we certainly did not contribute to any "foot traffic erosion." The boys immediately climbed up onto the fallen trees, uprooted by the Lake Michigan waves stealing sand from the bottom of the dunes. The dunes have been collapsing over the years, and will continue to do so until they reach an equilibrium with the lake. This has taken place for thousands of years, and banning foot traffic will do nothing to stop it.
The road was barely visible, covered in a thick layer of leaves, branches, and plants that are beginning to take hold. We could see evidence of old homes - some bricks, driveways, and garden plants that were not native to the area placed in clusters by homeowners decades ago.
We crossed this road dozens of times in the past, as we followed the paths on the dune ridge that ran parallel to the beach, but never ventured onto it. With the paths long gone, and the no foot traffic warnings on the dunes, we avoided the area for years. It was great to get to this spot again to see the changes, and to take in the view of Lake Michigan once again.
Posted by Tom Gill at Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Hiking the trails and canyons of Turkey Run State Park, one finds so many ways to climb or descend to the next level. Trail 3 in particular, offers so many methods of climbing - boulders, slopes, foot-holds, and even ladders.
Following the canyon floor on this rugged trail means traversing waterfalls, and at one point, the waterfalls are just a bit too steep to handle without assistance. Ladders were installed to help hikers, and to save the environment from trampling.
Not all visitors are adept at climbing ladders, so on busy days, bottlenecks often occur at the ladders. Making it even more difficult are the visitors with dogs, small children, and the fact that some people want to climb up, and others down.
The wait gives hikers a chance to look around at the small things that might have been missed if they just kept on walking at the same pace. Interesting rock formations, moss, ferns, insects, and other wildlife are everywhere if you take the opportunity to look closely.
In some places, nature provides natural steps in the form of tree roots. Climbing into or out of the Ice Box requires the use of this natural staircase formed by the trees growing in between the rocks. It's steeper than it looks, but in no way does one feel in danger amid the tangle of roots.
Plan to bring waterproof hiking boots on your trip to Turkey Run State Park, they'll provide ankle support, traction on the mossy rocks, and allow you to walk through the shallow steams on the canyon floor.
Posted by Tom Gill at Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Continuing our hike along trail 3 of Turkey Run State Park in west central Indiana, we encountered a narrowing of the canyon. Following the climb up the waterfall from the wider canyon near Wedge Rock, the canyon narrows, giving hikers two options. Option one is to continue walking on the canyon floor, which is now almost completely covered by the creek. Option two is to use the small steps and hand holds cut into the rock wall, and bypass the creek all together. Add wet leaves to the wet, mossy rock, and this can be a challenge. Then consider a large backpack, and the climb becomes a bit more cumbersome. This is one of the areas of trail 3 that bottlenecks with hikers either waiting to climb up, or deciding to turn around.
An accidental fall could be dangerous, even though the height is only about 10 feet, but the small hand holds carved into the rock are very helpful. Climbing up this small amount gives you a surprisingly nice view of the narrow canyon - if you're brave enough to turn around on these tiny steps.
In my visits to Turkey Run State Park, I've seen quite a few people do some interesting and dangerous things. Kids climbing up the canyon walls as parents watch, sometimes up 30 or 40 feet; a teenager attempting to get down from the rock wall he climbed, only to slide uncontrollably and hit the canyon floor with his back side at a high rate of speed. Even people standing under the waterfalls in 50 degree weather.
This group of visitors was one of the most interesting. They suspended two hammocks across the canyon near the Punch Bowl. I'm not sure why, perhaps a photo opportunity, or just plain fun, but it was interesting to watch them, and the reactions of the hikers walking below.
Posted by Tom Gill at Friday, November 18, 2016
Fall (autumn) in the canyons of Turkey Run State Park is a fantastic time to visit. The warm, sunlit leaves stand out against the brown canyon walls, and the canyon floors are covered with colorful leaves from the forest above. Many leaves are off of the trees, allowing you to see through the forest and view otherwise hidden objects around the park.
Be prepared for some rugged hiking, the one mile long trail 2 is relatively mild for most of it's length to the narrows covered bridge, but through Gypsy Gulch one must walk over and boulders, a far cry from most state parks where boardwalks take away the challenge.
From the boulders of Gypsy Gulch, one is dwarfed by the canyon walls, and even more so by the towering tulip poplar trees towering above. On this visit, the waterfalls that often run in these canyons were only drips, but in wet seasons when they flow, hikers must walk near or even through them.
Certainly more than just a casual walk through the forest, trail 2 offers some rugged hiking, but not to an extreme extent. It's manageable by most adventurous people who have good footing and balance.
The beginning of trail 3 (or the end depending upon the route you choose) offers a totally different environment than most of this area of the country. Just steps into this canyon, visitors are transported into a landscape usually found much further north. The air temperature drops significantly, and the plants are totally different than any other areas of the park. It's as if you walked back in time thousands of years in only a few steps.
Trail 3 is much more rugged, taking visitors through a few canyons where at one point, hikers must walk through the water as it flows down the canyon. Even more challenging features lie ahead on trail 3......
Posted by Tom Gill at Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Our morning began with a three hour drive to Parke County, Indiana's Turkey Run State Park. We decided to hike trail 2 along the ridge to the Narrows covered bridge, then along the creek to the rugged trail 3 with plenty of canyons.
Along the way, we stopped to view Sugar Creek whenever we had the chance. The waters we still, and the sun illuminated the creek bed through as much as five feet of water. We could see the sandy, rocky bottom, and every fish within 100 feet from us.
Always the fisherman, Dan wished he could have brought his fishing pole to try out his latest top water lures. It would be interesting to watch the fish follow and attack the lures in the clear water.
Our visit was focused on Fall color, interesting canyons, and a rugged hike. Maybe on our next visit we could spend time fishing along the bank of the creek.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, November 14, 2016
There's nothing like a hike through the colorful, autumn woods on a bright morning. The colorful leaves left on the trees, and those on the ground simply glow in the sunlight. This is especially true when hiking the wooded dunes of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and State Park. The variety of environments encountered on a single trail certainly breaks up any monotony usually experienced while hiking in a forest.
From colorful leaves to grassland and sand in just a few moments, the trails here wind and climb the rolling dunes, following ridges and valleys until meeting the beach and Lake Michigan. The trails dramatically open up to the Lake, offering spectacular views no matter the elevation.
So many different environments in just a single trail. Woods, savanna, beach, conifer forest, all just steps apart, and all interesting in any season.
Posted by Tom Gill at Thursday, November 10, 2016
An unusual block of warm temperatures at the start of November gave us very comfortable hiking weather. Our hike began on the Lake Michigan shore, where we hunted for a tail through the wooded dunes. We finally found the trail that eluded us last time, and followed it through the colorful woods.
The sunlight filtered through the colorful leaves, creating a beautiful landscape all around us.
There are so many varieties of tree here, that there is no single dominant color on the landscape. The trees are also intermingled with conifer trees and shrubs, which provide a dark green contrast to the yellows, reds, and oranges of the deciduous trees.
Our hike included a steep climb up very loose sand to the top of a grassy dune, at the back of a large blowout which faced Lake Michigan. From the top we could see for miles in all directions - the great lake to our north, and the rolling landscape everywhere else. The morning sun illuminated the autumn leaves perfectly, making the colors pop against the grassy dunes.
Posted by Tom Gill at Wednesday, November 09, 2016
The unique, nine-sided barn of La Porte, Indiana on a beautiful Fall morning. Surrounded by colorful trees, the Door Prairie barn greets visitors to the city of La Porte on highway 35.
Built in 1882 by a Quaker who raised Clydesdale horses, the nine-sides provided individual stalls for horses, with a central area for hay.
The structure was built using post and beam construction, in fact, each beam was stamped with a number - something not unusual for this type of construction, as each piece was handmade and only fit together with a particular mating piece.
Round barns can have as many as 16 sides, and generally, they seem to have an even number of sides. The Door Prairie barn has nine sides, an odd number. Not only does this seem unusual, it is, and this structure is the only remaining nine-sided barn still standing in the country.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, the barn underwent some period correct repairs and restorations since.
The barn was in the Ridgeway family until 1982, when Dr. P. Kesling purchased the property. He now maintains the famous piece of La Porte history, and even added a small parking/view area for those wanting to stop for a photograph.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, November 07, 2016
Tucked away on a wooded dune, guarding the channel to White Lake stands the White River Light Station. Built in 1875, the lighthouse marked the entrance to the man-made channel between Lake Michigan and White Lake. Once a busy port for logging boats harvesting wood from the pine forests of Michigan, the port also served as a waterway for boats carrying vacationers from Chicago.
The port was very busy following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, as Chicago required wood to rebuild. No doubt the lighthouse was built to aid the growing number of schooners heading to and from Chicago.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1960, and by 1970, friends of the lighthouse turned the structure into a maritime museum. The museum remains today, and is open for tours May through October, and visitors can climb the tower for a view of Lake Michigan.
Located just a few miles from Muskegon, Michigan, the White River Light Station is part of the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association.
Posted by Tom Gill at Tuesday, October 18, 2016
We began our hike on one of the coldest mornings so far this Fall. walking into the wind along the Lake Michigan shore. While it wasn't yet below freezing, it was bracing, especially after the four hour drive in the early morning. Two days of rain preceded us, so we hoped for a little sun, and we were in luck.
The walk from the parking area to the lighthouse is two miles long, measured on the crushed limestone path. We chose to walk along the beach, in soft sand, dodging waves, and with no protection from the wind. It certainly felt a bit longer than two miles, but we think getting there is a large part of the experience.
As we arrived at the lighthouse, the sun appeared more often as the dark clouds seemed to scatter a bit. To our surprise, this late in the season, the lighthouse was open to tours, so we climbed to the top to take in the view of the surrounding dunes of Ludington State Park.
From our vantage point, we could see dozens of interdunal ponds scattered throughout the landscape. We utilized the height to plot our course through the dunes, making certain we would explore the ponds, dunes, and conifer forests of the park. Here, as in many of the parks along the Michigan and Indiana shore of Lake Michigan, dune progression is clear. The change from beach to fore dune, to dune, to savanna to conifer forest, to oak forest can all be experienced in a relatively short hike.
Of course, what could be a short 3 mile hike through the dunes and woods of Ludington State Park, turned into an exploration for us, as we spent about five hours enjoying the trails - without seeing another person. The volunteer at the lighthouse told us how wonderful the trails were, but she'd never gone too far from the lighthouse. It seems the visitors of this day simply wanted to get to and from the lighthouse, and not experience the best part of the park.
Built in 1876, Big Sable Point Light is one of the tallest lighthouses in the state of Michigan. There are 130 steps to the top, where two narrow hatches allow access to the lantern room. One can walk along the outside of the lantern for beautiful views of Lake Michigan and the dunes. The lighthouse received its steel cladding and black and white day markings in the early 1900's, when the bricks began to crumble.
Posted by Tom Gill at Friday, October 14, 2016
The weather forecast scared most people away from the beach, but some die hard hikers still wandered around the dunes of Van Buren State Park, in western Michigan. Spotty rain storms surrounded the region, driven by unusual winds from the northeast. Locals who expect storms from the west and northwest were finding themselves trapped and drenched by surprise rain from the east.
This particular dune blowout had a steep, winding, soft sand path from the main trail to the summit. With each step, the foot would sink and slide back down; progress was slow up the dune. Once on top, hikers are rewarded with a great view of Lake Michigan and the forest surrounding the dunes.
The way down was much easier. The blowout (portion of the dune with little vegetation to hold it together) provided a wide, relatively gradual slope to the beach below - a welcomed easy hike compared to the strenuous climb up.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, October 10, 2016
Early Fall at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore seems to arrive quickly, and the changes appear almost overnight. The sun tracks differently in the sky, it now sets almost in line with the shoreline instead of over Lake Michigan. Last week, the water temperature was comfortable, only six days later, the feet and legs hurt when immersed in the water.
A westerly walk along the beach is a bit difficult because of the angle of the sun, but from this angle, the sun highlights every wave and grain of sand in sight. A few minutes later, the sun would overpower any photo taken from this angle, and only silhouettes would be possible - a great reason to purposely delay and walk slower toward the parking lot.
Posted by Tom Gill at Wednesday, September 28, 2016
A climb up the wooded portion of the dune, and a short hike to the ridge, allowed us to view the beach below. This particular dune is still intact, not eroded by the waves, because it sits a quite a distance from the shore.
From this vantage point, we were able to see the entire expanse of beach we just walked, all the way to Kintzele Ditch, almost a mile away. The view extended much more of course, and on clear days, the Chicago skyline can be seen almost 40 miles across Lake Michigan.
Two old homes close to this dune were recently torn down, adding the property to the national lakeshore. Walking around the area, I can only imagine how beautiful it must have been to have a home situated in such a picturesque landscape.
Posted by Tom Gill at Wednesday, September 21, 2016
The shadows of the trees are elongated when they fall on the steep, smooth sanddunes along the Indiana shore of Lake Michigan. Constant battering by waves causes erotion, and these dunes, once many meters from the shore, are now only a few feet from the waves. High waves regularly crash into the dunes, and have collapsed much of the dunes along with the forest on top.
The paths and trails I once walked along the dune ridge are long gone, washed into the lake about three years ago. My morning hike included the winding path through the wooded dunes, into the bare blowout, through the dune savannah, back up to another heavily wooded oak forest, then down to the beach. Clumps of flowering shrubs, wild grape, wisteria, and stands of pine were landmarks along the way - things I recognized and watched change through the seasons and through the years.
Now, hiking on these dunes is not allowed, and it's rather difficult to get up to them from the beach. I imagine some of the landmarks remain, changing with every season, waiting to be seen again.
Posted by Tom Gill at Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Closed to visitors for the past three years, Mt. Baldy continues to change despite the lack of foot traffic. Following the near fatal incident of a boy falling into a sinkhole on a closed portion of the 125 foot tall living sand dune, the area was closed for safety concerns. According to the park, other sinkholes cannot be ruled out, so the area is not open to visitors unless accompanied by a park ranger.
The emergency conditions, as they're called, apply to much of the area, and signs would have the public believe foot traffic is the reason for much of the erosion along the dunes. Save our dunes! Keep off the dunes! Anyone who has visited this national lakeshore over many years can clearly see, Lake Michigan is the culprit, not people. In fact, the paths visitors used to walk along the dunes from Central Beach to Kintzele Ditch are long gone, washed into the lake by waves, not trampled by feet.
The view of Mt. Baldy from the beach has changed over the past few years. The photo above was taken in September 2016. One can barely see Mt. Baldy due to the erosion of the beach. The view is blocked because the beach has washed away.
Below is a photo in approximately the same area, taken in 2009. Standing on the beach, Mt. Baldy is clearly visible. It's quite a transformation, and it shows the power of Lake Michigan.
This erosion has revealed interesting things along the beach including a thick layer of clay that was once buried under the sand dune. The clay has the appearance of rock, especially when it's broken off by the waves.
This could be the early stages of rock formation, and in a few thousand more years, this clay could become rock. But for now, the lake continues to claim more and more of the shoreline for itself. It's an interesting process - a natural process - that has been going on for thousands of years, and will continue with or without human intervention. While we must stop needless and careless damage to our environment, we must also allow our children to experience the dunes environment first hand, and that means walking through it, and touching it.
Posted by Tom Gill at Friday, September 09, 2016
As I explore the beaches and dunes of eastern Lake Michigan, I'm often reminded of the tropics. The sun, clouds, and water can take on the feel and colors of beaches over a thousand miles away. It seems morning conditions are more favorable for such a tropical feeling. The blue sky, white clouds, and colorful water are the most to blame, but on windless days in particular, the water transmits the color of the sand below. Couple that with the shadows of the trees on top of the dunes, and the shallow waters appear like those containing tropical reefs.
The recent hot weather reinforces the tropical feel - even when wandering inland to explore the wooded dunes and savanah with the lake as a backdrop.
People from all around visit the Indiana beaches, and on some days, boats line the shore, allowing passengers to enjoy the beach and dunes.
Posted by Tom Gill at Thursday, September 08, 2016
A bright sunny morning in early September reminds us that this may be one of the last hot days we're going to have to explore the beaches of Lake Michigan. Summer may be winding down, but there are still plenty of beautiful days ahead on the lakeshore - even if it is snowing.
The rise of Lake Michigan has taken a toll on some of the dunes, washing the edges into the lake, but it's a natural process. The beach is starved of sand, and little sand is replaced as the waves crash into the dunes.
What this process has done is all but eliminated the flat beaches of Central Avenue Beach and Mt. Baldy. A beach that was once several meters wide, is now touching the water's edge in places. Trees that once stood on top of the dunes have fallen down the dunes and into the lake.
This natural process of constant change makes me wonder how the dunes appeared centuries ago, and what they'll look like centuries from now.
Posted by Tom Gill at Wednesday, September 07, 2016
After a year of closure, Central Avenue Beach was opened to visitors once again. Finally. A storm in July of 2015 eroded much of the sand from the beach, creating a drop of over eight feet from the trail to the beach. In addition, much of the beach was gone - washed into Lake Michigan. What was once a beach of around 50 feet wide, is now reduced in many places to just a yard or two.
In some areas, the waves crash right into the foot of the dunes, making a hike down the beach difficult if one wishes to stay dry.
Trees have toppled over from the tops of the dunes into the lake, and the sides of the dunes appear rather unstable as "waterfalls" of sand constantly pour down the dunes further eroding them. The waves wash away the base of the dune, the sand becomes unstable, as more and more sand falls to the beach.
A natural process that for some reason is constantly attributed to people walking on the dunes. Every single path and footprint that was once on these dunes is now at the bottom of Lake Michigan - and it's not because people walked on the top of the dune.
High lake levels (waters have risen around four feet over the past few years), and the construction of the pier in Michigan City back in the early 1900's are to blame, not everyday visitors. The pier marks the entrance to Trail Creek, but blocks the flow of sand from the northeast, starving the beaches to the south. Without this replenishment, the beaches erode away.
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore seemed to be the national park of closed signs. So many areas were closed to the public due to "emergency conditions" it became almost laughable. Signs at the foot of every dune warned visitors not to walk on the dunes - anywhere. It's understandable to keep people off of many parts of the dunes, but this was excessive. Every sign was ignored, every fence was simply walked around, and this created even more erosion because visitors made new trails around the closed ones.
All this to protect the dunes from erosion - then Lake Michigan took over and washed everything away anyway. I'm all for protecting the dunes from unnecessary damage and erosion, but visitors need to see the dunes, touch the dunes, and explore the dunes, not just see photographs from the past when people were allowed to walk on them.
Official paths should be made along the dunes, and visitors should stay on them. Enforce the new paths and punish those who wander off the trail. The national lakeshore shouldn't keep the public off the dunes unless there's a danger to them (such as Mt. Baldy). People need to experience the dunes in a natural state, not paved trails with stairs, benches and signs - just sand, sun, and nature.
Posted by Tom Gill at Tuesday, August 16, 2016
The night sky illuminated by the lights of Chicago just 30 miles across Lake Michigan. Hoping to photograph some meteors, but knowing it was too early, I captured some stars along with fast moving clouds over the lake.
The artificial lights from Chicago appear like a sunset on the horizon, but the light comes from below the clouds, not above.
A small spot of rain was almost perfectly aligned with the Chicago skyline, blocking out most of the lights from the skyline.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, August 15, 2016