A popular hiking destination southwest of Chicago, Waterfall Glen offers almost 11 miles of hiking trails for jogging, walking, cycling, or horseback riding. The 2400 acre forest preserve surrounds Argonne National Laboratory, and contains woods, wetlands, ponds, and a popular waterfall which is actually a man made dam.
The waterfall is one of the biggest draws of the park, enticing couples, children, families, and dog walkers alike to Sawmill Creek, the stream that flows through the park.
Attractive in all seasons, the park provides a great get-a-way close to the busy urban life of the Chicago suburbs.
Posted by Tom Gill at Wednesday, February 08, 2017
It's been a relatively warm winter after a snowy December, and the shelf ice around Lake Michigan has all but disappeared. Last week, temperatures dropped below freezing again, so the shelf ice along the shore is building again.
While it's not mounded as high as past years, and doesn't extend hundreds of feet out into the lake, it's still interesting to view. One of the good things about this type of ice is that quite a bit of it does not extend over the water, so we were able to explore a bit of it - the parts that formed over the sand.
Should this ice crumble beneath our feet, we would simply drop about two feet to the beach below, not into the freezing, churning waters of Lake Michigan, as if we ventured out onto the shelf ice. Shelf ice is dangerous to walk on, and unless one knows the area very well, even walking on the ice near the shore can cause injury or death.
This ice was formed during heavy surf, so the chunks and mounds formed on dry land, and we did not venture near the portions that extend over the water like a shelf.
Far beyond the chunks of ice, the Chicago skyline peeks over the horizon in the image above. As dangerous as it can be, and as cold as the temperatures are on the beach, one of the best times to visit the Lake Michigan shore is winter.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, February 06, 2017
A thin layer of ice covers the surface of La Porte's Clear Lake, leaving the three locally famous cypress trees surrounded. Sometimes on shore, sometimes submerged, the cypress trees are sometimes referred to as three sisters, or triplets.
The trees are said to have been planted in memory of three young girls who met with an untimely death. But they could have been planted in memory of three children who fell through the thin ice of clear lake in 1928.
Another cypress tree stands a few hundred feet away, so perhaps they just grew naturally. Either way, the three sisters inspire countless people in the city of La Porte.
Posted by Tom Gill at Sunday, February 05, 2017
On our Friday night trip to the Lake Michigan shore, we stopped at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to view the beach at night. The Chicago skyline is not an unusual sight - located about 40 miles across Lake Michigan at this point. On clear nights, the skyline looks like a gem sparkling on the black water of Lake Michigan.
One of the more interesting things for me is watching the numerous airplanes coming and going. To me, they look like bees leaving the hive, and with a long exposure, you can see the light trails they leave.
Due to the light pollution from Chicago, not too many stars can be see around the city, but turn 180 degrees, and the sky is dark enough to see for light years. On this cold, windy night, the moon was in the sky, making it more difficult to see deep into space.
I'm not sure which stars and galaxies are visible here, but I find the bright, glowing light just to the left of center to be very interesting. It must be a star cluster or galaxy.
Posted by Tom Gill at Saturday, February 04, 2017
The beginning of our hike through the wooded dunes of the Indiana Dunes State Park on a cold, January morning. We arrived before sunrise, around 6:45 am, and found ourselves on one of the longest trails of the park.
Snow showers moved in and out all morning, never amounting to much more than a dusting on top of the 1/2 inch of snow on the ground. As we hiked we decided to take additional trails up through the dunes, and realized we were on the "Three Dune Challenge," a hike up and down the three tallest dunes in the park. We found it funny because hiking over only three dunes isn't really a challenge for us, as we probably hike over 5 or 6 during our 12 mile hikes on a regular basis.
This park had quite a few joggers running the long, flat trails, and a few running up the steep dunes. I often thought these trails would be the greatest for cross country training, and I suspect the group of young men running yesterday thought the same.
Posted by Tom Gill at Sunday, January 29, 2017
Snow squalls periodically appeared during our early morning hike along the Lake Michigan dunes of Indiana. While only a small amount of snow fell, the high winds off of the lake drove the snow into drifts, mixing with the golden sand of the beach.
Temperatures were in the mid twenties, but winds made the walk on the beach very uncomfortable, especially when walking into the wind. The previous three hours were rather warm, as we hiked in the protected trails of the wooded dunes. Not unusual for this time of year, we encountered only a few other people, mostly joggers running on the winding, rolling trails of the Indiana Dunes State Park.
Posted by Tom Gill at Saturday, January 28, 2017
Our first visits to Buffalo Rock State Park were rather uneventful -not much worth photographing really. This time, we focused on an area where the rock cliffs were exposed, and found things much more interesting.
The sandstone of the area was once quarried for the silica, and this particular area was created after the quarrying stopped. The cliff walls were created by the quarrying process, yet they appear quite natural given the many canyons of the area. Certainly, the rock is natural, but it's my guess the canyon itself was made much larger by the quarrying process.
The area is relatively hidden from the main trail, but a few smaller trails lead to the edge. Care must be taken not to slip into the canyon, the loose sandstone crumbles at times. Keeping a safe distance from the edge was key, especially with the icy conditions created by the recent freezing rain storms.
Looking up from the bottom of the canyon, rock climbing would certainly be something enjoyable here, but again, the crumbling stone prevents anyone with good sense from even trying.
While much smaller than any of the canyons of nearby Starved Rock, this Buffalo Rock canyon is a bit more interesting than most of those. The colors of the canyon remind us of something in a western desert, and some areas of eroded stone look like the white sand beaches of Florida.
We also kept our distance from the rock walls most of the time. Numerous boulders were laying on the canyon floor, and they appeared relatively fresh. This area had quite an avalanche in resent years, leaving a pile of boulders to explore.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, January 16, 2017
10 degree weather and high winds are not necessarily ideal conditions from a walk on the beach, but it was certainly worth the mile hike to view the frozen lake. With the recent cold spell, Lake Michigan has begun to freeze. Shelf ice extends about 100 feet from the shore, where it meets up with pancake and drift ice as far as the eye can see.
Walking on the beach, you can't really see the ice on the lake, you need to get above the mounds of shelf ice, and the perfect place for a great view is atop one of the dunes. Most dunes in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore are off limits to visitors, leaving only a few open to foot traffic. In fact, many dunes that were closed to foot traffic because of fear of human erosion, are now collapsed and in the lake due to the lake itself, not foot traffic.
We walked about a mile down the frozen beach until we exited the National Lakeshore, where we climbed a wooded dune near the residential area. This area offers a great view of the lake, beach, surrounding dunes, and, in winter, the ice along the shore
While the ice is always interesting from this vantage point, to me, it's most interesting when the sun is shining. The flat light of a cloudy day does not bring out the details and dimension of the ice, but the sun and shadow does. This afternoon, the sky was partly cloudy, with lake-effect show showers just to the east, and the shadows from the clouds can be seen on the drift ice. The shadows of the dunes of nearby Central Beach can also be seen on the ice.
A few more weeks of cold weather, and the ice will continue to grow as the wind and waves pile up the drift ice along the shore of Lake Michigan.
Posted by Tom Gill at Sunday, January 08, 2017
On the winter horizon at sunset, the city of Chicago shines like the golden city of El Dorado. The setting sun is reflected in the glass of the buildings approximately 40 miles across frozen Lake Michigan, giving the horizon a magical glow.
Following a day of walking on the frozen shores of Lake Michigan, we decided to capture the sunset and the golden light on the drift ice of the lake. Upon arrival, we noticed the ice was in shadow, and not illuminated at all. One glance up to the distant horizon and the glowing, golden city caught our attention.
The angle of the sun in relation to the city and us was in perfect alignment to create this golden glow. I suppose just a mile down the shore, and the glow would not exist at that point.
As I've seen so many times before, plans often don't work out, but if you keep your eyes open, something always take the place of the original plan.
Posted by Tom Gill at Saturday, January 07, 2017
Starved Rock's Tonti Canyon has two waterfalls, and both usually freeze into dramatic ice formations. This season's first freeze began the icing, but the relatively warm weather of this day took a toll on the ice. The large hanging ice already fell from the canyon walls, leaving only piles of ice on the canyon floor, and the frozen mounds formed like stalagmites.
The large chunks of ice weigh hundreds of pounds, so when they fall, they can do plenty of damage to anything underneath. When visiting the frozen waterfalls, never walk under them - ever.
The melting ice freezes once it lands on the ground, and in some cases, the canyon floor is glazed with shiny, slippery ice.
Tonti Canyon is a blind canyon, meaning it's a dead end, and only open on one end. Walking to the end of the canyon, one can climb onto the debris pile for a bird's eye view of the entire canyon.
Posted by Tom Gill at Monday, January 02, 2017
The days before Christmas were quite cold in Northern Illinois, cold enough to freeze the waterfalls of Starved Rock State Park. Each year, the waterfalls in most of the canyons of the park freeze when the air temperature drops low enough. A deep freeze right after a warm period, or after a rainfall, creates the largest frozen falls because of the amount of water falling into the canyons.
The frozen falls are approximately 20 feet tall, and presents itself to visitors after a long hike into the canyon.
LaSalle Canyon offers visitors the possibility of walking behind the waterfall, in a sort of ice cave. The rock of the canyon wall is undercut, creating an overhand of rock. When the waterfall cascades over this overhang, it creates an ice wall. Walking behind the falls is breathtaking - the ice is illuminated by the sunlight, and it also takes on the colors of the rock, sky, and anything else in proximity.
Posted by Tom Gill at Friday, December 30, 2016
Part of my annual "First day of Christmas Vacation" trip to Lake Michigan includes a stop at South Haven, Michigan. Generally with hopes of seeing ice on the vivid red lighthouse, but also to visit the small downtown shops for last minute Christmas gifts.
No matter the weather, the pier at South Haven always attracts visitors, and this day was no exception. When I arrived, there were several people wandering around the nearest parking lot and the beach. They jumped out of their cars to snap a picture, then hopped back in and drove away. I decided to wander out to the lighthouse (wearing ice cleats) to view the windward side where most of the ice builds up. The deep red lighthouse was covered in white ice, making the lighthouse look like the outer light at St. Joseph instead of South Haven.
The shelf ice was beginning to build along the beach, and in spots, there were some rather large chunks of ice that took on the look of icebergs. The shore took on the look of the arctic as the sun began to get lower in the sky.
Posted by Tom Gill at Friday, December 23, 2016
A December cold snap has produced this season's first substantial icing of the St. Joseph, Michigan lighthouses. While not as dramatic as some other years, the icing is always interesting and different.
The outer lighthouse generally gets the most ice, as it's located on the end of the breakwater, and receives waves and splashes from three sides depending upon how the wind blows. There is also less chance for the waves to break and reduce size before hitting the breakwater. Splashes from the waves reach a height of 70 feet at times, and this spray is what creates the ice on the lighthouses and other surfaces.
At the point where the breakwater increases in size toward the shore, ice builds up as well. The crashing waves splash up on the catwalk, freezing into giant icicles.
The windward beach hasn't yet received as much shelf ice as the other side of the pier. It can be seen in the foreground just beginning. A contributing factor is the drift ice, and this area hasn't caught any yet.
Posted by Tom Gill at Thursday, December 22, 2016
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