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
After a hike along the shore of Lake Michigan, we came upon a high dune blowout and decided to climb to the top. From there, several trails were visible, giving us options to explore the land behind the dunes.
One area was especially attractive to us, the wide savanna behind the blowout. In particular, a single evergreen tree stood out, so we decided to find a way to hike to it. After many failed attempts on trails that brought us to the wrong places, we managed to hike to the lonely tree.
In this savanna, we discovered prickly pear cactus, racerunner lizards, and an expansive view of the dunes with Lake Michigan in the distance. We watched as the clouds formed over the lake, little did we know that in just another hour, this cloud would produce several waterspouts. (see my previous post).
Posted by Tom Gill at Tuesday, August 09, 2016
On a beautiful, sunny, summer morning, multiple waterspouts formed over Lake Michigan. A small area of clouds produced the waterspouts, yet all around was beautiful sunshine. After a long hike through the Indiana Dunes, we spotted the first waterspout.
The funnel grew longer, and wider until it reached the surface of the lake. While it never appeared to connect the clouds and water, spray could be seen on the lake where the waterspout touched the lake surface.
We watched as more waterspouts formed, and at times, two were visible at once. We counted four separate waterspouts in less than an hour.
Waterspouts are not tornadoes, they are columns of water formed by a vortex over water. Generally associated with thunderstorms, most of the waterspouts I've encountered over the years appeared in good weather.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, August 08, 2016
Only half the enjoyment of Maquoketa Caves State Park is subterranean. The above-ground scenery is beautiful as well, and there are over six miles of trails winding through the rocky, wooded landscape.
A major attraction is the natural land bridge. It's much larger than it appears, and is a beautiful feature to explore. Located just outside of Dancehall Cave, the land bridge dominates the landscape as you exit the cave. This rock formation seems to split the state park in half, with almost half the trails and caves on each side.
Hiking between caves is rugged, and at times, I'm reminded of places such as Costa Rica, with rock cliffs rising up from dense, forested valleys. The trails looping around and over the top of these cliffs yield some interesting, small features of the park many people miss.
This small arch is located high above the well-traveled paths below, yet is safe enough to explore. Another just a few hundred feet away, is just as interesting, but perched on the edge of the cliff side, and potentially deadly to explore in the same manner.
We still have almost half of the park to explore on our next visit - which is scheduled for early Fall.
Posted by Tom Gill at Tuesday, August 02, 2016
Looking more like a scene from Costa Rica, the landscape of Maquoketa Caves State Park is one of rugged cliffs, and lush green forest. Containing the most caves of any state park in Iowa, Maquoketa boasts 13 caves along its 6 miles of winding trails. Many caves have tight passages where crawling is a must, while several are large enough for uninhibited walking.
The largest cave of the park, at 1100 feet in length, is Dancehall Cave. A lighting system and concrete path makes this cave one of the most accessible in the park. A steam runs through the cave, and during one of our visits right after a rain, the path was covered in several inches of running water. Dozens of children walked through the silty water to explore the cave, all covered head to toe in mud, as if they were dipped in chocolate.
All the caves are self-guided, and open to the public. Each visitor to the park must stop at the ranger station to hear a bit about white nose syndrome, a fungal disease affecting bats. To keep this fungus from spreading to this cave system, visitors need to wipe their shoes on special mats, and should never wear the same clothes to multiple cave systems.
The caves are spread around the park, so as one hikes through the dense and rocky landscape, they happen upon cave after cave. All are open, but many require one to belly crawl and squeeze into very tight areas. Not being equipped for such an adventure, and because of the storms the night before, we only explored the caves where we could stand or crawl on all fours.
Posted by Tom Gill at Thursday, June 30, 2016
A popular feature of Turkey Run State Park's trail #3 is Wedge Rock. This huge chunk of rock separated from the canyon wall long ago, and rested in this position. The rock is shaped like a wedge, and its position allows hikers to walk beneath it as well as on top of it. While it certainly is dangerous to stand on top close to the edge (it's probably a 30 foot drop), the path up to the edge is rather easy to climb. The rock provides a long, ramp-like approach with plenty of twisted tree roots to gain a foothold.
One can only imagine the noise this must have made when it fell, and it probably shook the ground for a long distance around. As you hike in places like this, it makes you wonder when the next huge chunk of rock will fall.
These winding canyons amaze visitors in all seasons, but the late spring and summer months provide some benefits. The canyons are much cooler than the temperature elsewhere in the park - sometimes 20 degrees cooler, providing welcome relief from the summer heat. The trees are fully developed and shade the canyons, and filter the sunlight through their green leaves. The filtered light bathes the canyons in a wonderful green light, especially in full sun.
An interesting park to visit anytime of the year, Turkey Run State Park really comes to life in the Spring and Summer.
Posted by Tom Gill at Friday, June 24, 2016
One of the appealing things about Turkey Run State Park is the opportunity to hike directly on the canyon floor where at times the stream is the only trail. In parts of trail 3, the canyon narrows to only four or five feet wide, and hikers walk directly in the stream. There is one way around, and it consists of some steps carved into the canyon wall.
At first these steps appear wide enough for a comfortable climb, but at the top, they narrow to the point where only one foot can fit onto a step. People with wide shoulders or large backpacks may find it difficult to walk in this area without turning their shoulders almost 90 degrees. While not too high up, a fall from this 10 foot high walkway would certainly cause injury. Some hikers choose to get their feet wet to avoid the potential danger.
The canyon changes from four feet wide to 30 as you hike along this portion of trail 3. Eventually, it opens up to an expansive area at the base of a gentle waterfall.
Posted by Tom Gill at Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Continuing along Trail 3 at Turkey Run State Park, the level of the canyon changes dramatically, forcing hikers to climb to the next level. Ladders were installed to assist with the climb - they're fitting for this rugged trail, as stairs would certainly ruin the experience. The ladders only allow a single person at a time to move to the next level, so small bottlenecks of traffic occur at this point on the trail. The scenery makes the wait enjoyable.
Water runs next to the ladders, as well as underfoot as you approach them. The small waterfalls flow all around you as you ascend.
Once up the ladders, the canyon below comes into view, and what once appeared quite wide and large, seems tight and narrow when viewed in perspective with the surrounding forest.
The first people to explore this area probably didn't notice these canyons as they walked through the forest, until they almost fell into them traveling between ridges.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, June 20, 2016
When we last visited Turkey Runs State Park, it was winter. The canyons and trails were beautiful back then, and we noticed plenty of thick moss on the forest floor. I wondered how it might look in the summertime - the trees must fill out so thick they almost completely block the sun.
On this visit, we were treated with a remarkable green light from the canopy. The trails were lined with huge trees, providing lots of shade on the forest floor. The most spectacular thing was how the trees covered the canyons, and the green light they provided in contrast to the dark rock. Standing on the floor of the canyon looking up at the lush green was remarkable - especially when the sun was strong.
It's amazing how the vast forest above dwarfs visitors as they walk through the deep, damp gorge; people seem as small as insects.
Every turn in the trail brings new things to see and experience. The anticipation of what lies ahead drives you to walk further and further, not wanting to wait to compose the perfect photograph. It's always a great idea to soak in the surroundings no matter how much of a hurry you're in - just stop, look around, listen, and try to experience everything nature has to offer.
Posted by Tom Gill at Wednesday, June 08, 2016
Our morning hike began on trail 3, one of the more rugged trails of Turkey Run State Park. On previous visits, we exited the trail at the Ice Box, but this time we decided to begin at the Ice Box. Taking the trail in reverse would give us a different perspective of the trail.
The warm weather allowed us to hike to the bank of Sugar Creek on our way to the canyons. Dozens of canoes and kayaks floated by in the few minutes we explored the bank. Swallows swooped down near us as we walked beneath their mud nests clinging to the underside of the canyon walls.
From the creek, we hiked up the steep bank toward the Ice Box. Immediately we noticed the dramatic drop in temperature, almost as if we were entering a cave system. Only a bit of water flowed from the canyon above, dripping on the logs and rocks below, but enough to get the camera gear wet if we weren't paying attention.
Eager to press on to see the rest of the canyons and waterfalls, we climbed out of the Ice Box. Large, exposed tree roots clung to the rugged canyon walls, creating a makeshift set of stairs for us to use. Because we were taking the trail in reverse this time, climbing up this "staircase" was easier but more dramatic than heading down.
Posted by Tom Gill at Tuesday, June 07, 2016
A hot spring day was perfect for paddling on Sugar Creek. Hundreds of people took to canoes and kayaks, as well as rafts and innertubes, and floated liesurely down the creek, through Turkey Run State Park in rural Parke County, Indiana. A picturesque park located about 40 miles due west of Indianapolis, visitors can float and paddle on the creek, or hike the rugged trails that wind through the canyons.
This spot called the Narrows, is a narrow portion of Sugar Creek, where a covered bridge was built back in 1883. At 137 feet long, the wooden structure is now closed to traffic, but open to pedestrians. Only $3,400 to build, the bridge uses the Burr Arch truss construction, typical of the covered bridges in Parke County.
One of over 30 covered bridges in the county, this bridge is on the border of Turkey Run State Park, and can be crossed by taking trail 1 or 2 from the visitor center. It can also be viewed by driving north along Narrows Road from Indiana 47, just east of the park entrance.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, June 06, 2016
Two boys enjoy the colors of spring as they fish in their favorite spot on this small lake in Illinois. The yellow flowers were only around for a few short days, they've since turned as green as the tall grass surrounding them.
It's a shame more of the plants in Illinois don't retain their color for most of the summer, but so many plants flower at different times, there's almost always something in bloom during the warm months.
Posted by Tom Gill at Thursday, May 26, 2016
With warm temperature come spring flowers, and this meadow was no exception. Yellow wildflowers carpet the ground, surrounded by tall grasses and thistle, providing a contrast to the blue skies and plentiful clouds.
This meadow is surrounded by homes and businesses, but it's large enough to provide an escape from the everyday noises and sights. Walk a few minutes into this field, and one can no longer hear cars and trucks on nearby streets, only birds, insects, and the grasses blowing in the breeze.
While I prefer to get far away from urban areas to enjoy nature, I often find small spots like this in the middle of cities are a great alternative if time doesn't allow travel. Some parks and meadows are only a five minute walk from home or work, and they provide the perfect break from the daily grind.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, May 23, 2016
The final leg of our trip was the hike to Silver Lake from Lake Michigan. As we approached, we were on top of a tall dune, so at first, we could not see the lake, but as we walked closer to the living edge of the dune, the lake appeared below. I would estimate we were at least 75 feet above the lake, but in photos, the distance isn't as obvious until you study the entire image.
The sands of the dunes constantly blow into Silver Lake, in essence, moving the dune grain by grain away from Lake Michigan, and into Silver Lake. The shore of the lake must change constantly.
The depth of Silver Lake is around 20 feet, and the sand of the moving dunes can be seen for quite a bit of depth, yet it appears to drop off very quickly. I haven't been in this lake, so I'm not certain if it does indeed drop, or if the optical qualities of the water simply end at a certain point and the bottom cannot be seen.
Homes across the lake give an idea of the height of the dune, they're quite a bit below us. The home closest to the dune appears to have a bit of maintenance necessary to keep the garage from being buried by the sand. In some spots, the sand is about 3-4 feet up the garage wall. An interesting back yard to say the least.
We back tracked a bit to avoid walking on private property to return to the trailhead. This brought us back into the dunes about a hundred meters or so, and over to the area where the dunes are actively burying the forest. Soon, these trees will die as they become part of the dunes of Silver Lake State Park - only to be revealed in a few hundred years.
Posted by Tom Gill at Wednesday, April 27, 2016
On our hike from Lake Michigan, we encountered plenty of interesting things on the Silver Lake dunes. We began our hike in early morning, after a snowfall which covered areas of the dune landscape. Even with the cold weather, as the day drew on, some of the snow melted, and in some areas, the melted snow left moist spots on the dunes.
These moist areas followed the contours of the low areas of the dunes, creating striking patterns meandering the landscape. They changed rather quickly as the moisture absorbed into the sand, and then evaporated in the bright sun.
Broken only by the occasional leafless tree, the patterns seemed to stretch forever in some places, painting the otherwise mundane surface with interesting patterns.
Over time, trees are buried by the shifting sands, and they die in place. Many decades later, the sands move on and the trees are uncovered, these remnants are scattered around the dunes like driftwood cairns marking the way.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, April 25, 2016
Once past the stand of conifers, we paused to contemplate our route from Lake Michigan, through the barren dunes to Silver Lake. We also paused to take in the landscape, and realize just how large of an area was in front of us. The image above is a panoramic image stitched together from five individual photographs. It gives an idea of just how vast the area is, and how far away the edge of the dune was. The trees in the woods toward the right of the image, are not shrubs, they are full grown pine trees.
I always find a bit of time to stop in such a remote area and take in the surroundings; look and listen for several minutes just to experience nature. Most of the time, I'm hiking quickly to get from point A to point B, and while I experience and admire my surroundings, it's not the same as stopping and immersing yourself in it.
We found a path of dune ridges that would take us through the woods and toward the most barren portion of the dunes in sight. Traveling from beach, to grassy dune, to conifer stand, and wetland, we experienced almost every micro environment Silver Lake State Park had to offer. Ahead lay the desert-like expanse of sand dunes that, in our minds, conjured images of the Great Sahara.
Posted by Tom Gill at Friday, April 22, 2016
As we drew closer to Lake Michigan, we planned out a route following the narrow ridges of the dunes. The ridge meandered through and above forests and ponds, prairie and sand all the way to Lake Michigan. From this perspective, we could see how stands of trees took root in only certain dune valleys, while just across the dune, nothing took hold.
Some of the different environments were clearly evident from the ridge. Vast areas of sand, grassy prairie and conifer stands were just some of the areas we encountered on this hike. Closer to the lake, the ridge as high enough to see over the adjacent conifer forest. Distant dunes along the Lake Michigan shore appeared like distant mountain ranges due to their sand, forest, and snow patches.
Following a hike of over two hours, we reached Lake Michigan and the Silver Lake State Park foredunes along the shore. Blowouts and ponds dotted the landscape, as we followed the shoreline south for about a half mile. Not a single person was visible from this point, probably kept away by the 30 degree temperature and 30 mile per hour winds.
We pushed south, looking for another dune ridge we spotted in the distance on our trek to the lake. This ridge cut through a large conifer stand, and lead to a huge, open area of sand, and the living dunes which spill into Silver Lake. Our hike was half over.
Posted by Tom Gill at Thursday, April 21, 2016