The Michigan City East Pierhead is locked in ice - ice that extends as far as the eye can see, and covers over 60 percent of the surface of Lake Michigan. While this ice seems solid, it's made up of chunks of drift ice, pushed by the wind into the shelf ice on shore. Snow and more ice filled in the gaps between the chunks, forming what appears to be a solid slab.
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore can be seen on the horizon at the left of the image. Locked in by mounds of ice on one side, and closed parking lot gates on the other, waiting for spring and thousands of visitors. I prefer visiting in winter, when I'm usually the only person in sight, and the views are ever changing.
The sand dunes of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore seen from far offshore, beyond the shelf ice that lines the beach. The space between the mounds of ice in the foreground, and the 125 foot tall sand dunes in the distance is Lake Michigan - frozen solid with shelf ice, and drift ice. This winter, over 60 percent of Lake Michigan is covered in ice, and liquid water cannot be seen anywhere between shore and the horizon.
If you view this image full size, the ice along the shore is clearly visible; mounded up by waves crashing in to the shore several weeks ago. This provides an example of the extent of the ice.
While this ice appear solid, it's actually floating on the surface of the lake, and moving slowly. Extremely dangerous to walk on, the temptation is far too great for the people who ignore the danger signs and venture out onto the ice - a potentially deadly undertaking.
I was in a safe location while taking this photo, not on the shelf ice.
Following a day of light snow, and weeks of below average temperatures, the ice on Lake Michigan is not only bright white, it's covering over 60 percent of the lake - more than we've seen in decades. The sun made the 16 degree temperatures seem warm, as we made our way through knee high snow to the pier. Once on the pier, we made certain to stay on the actual pier, and not walk on the thick shelf ice that was mounded next to and on to the pier.
The trek out was fairly easy considering all of the ice, but toward the end of the pier, as I made my way around the lighthouse, the surface was very slippery, and the mounds didn't make it any easier to stay upright either.
Going out onto the pier in winter, gives you a great view of the shelf ice - from off shore. Photographs of that, coming soon.
As water flows over and through the sandstone canyon walls, it picks up minerals and particles, and deposits them on the canyon floor. In winter, the minerals and particles freeze in the ice, creating interesting earthtone colored ice that matches the canyon walls.
The colored ice was almost disorienting in some places, as the perfectly smooth colored ice made people and items appear to float above the surface, as well as reflect the canyon walls. Certainly an interesting thing to experience first hand.
Beyond Cedar Point lies a short, blind canyon containing two waterfalls each approximately 20 feet in height. In winter, the waterfalls freeze, often creating caves of ice between the frozen waterfall and the canyon walls. It's great fun exploring these caves; they evolve everyday, and are rarely the same two visits in a row.
Often very slippery to climb into, but well worth the effort; it's as if you're transported to the underworld when inside. Visually similar to rock caves, the ice formations take only a fraction of the time to create as their stone counterparts.
The light penetrates the ice walls, creating mesmerizing works of art from floor to ceiling. Minerals, sand and soil intermix with the ice, resulting in varying colors of ice.
Lake Falls, a 30 - 40 foot tall waterfall, froze solid this winter following a string of cold spells, some down to 17 below zero Fahrenheit. Because of the spray from the falling water, it's often very difficult to photograph so close to this waterfall, but when it's frozen, it's not a problem.
Actuallly, the water is still flowing behind the ice. The intricate formations create a type of "ice pipeline," allowing the water to flow within. As you approach the frozen falls, you can often hear the flowing water, and on this day, we heard the water making a squeaking sound behind the ice.
Unlike most of the other waterfalls in the area, this particular fall does not create large ice caves behind it. More on those in the coming days.
Generally a waterfall cascading 30 to 40 feet to the bottom of the canyon, this year's harsh winter has stopped it in it's tracks. While completely frozen on the outside, water continues to fall behind this wall of ice. Upon arrival, we could hear the water rushing inside, and as we got closer, we could see it through the holes in the ice.
We hiked through the canyon for about three hours- in 15 degree temperatures, stopping to view over six frozen waterfalls of different sizes. With the recent snowfall, many of the ice formations were covered, and not as impressive as past years. In many places, we could hear and see the water of the stream flowing beneath our path - the frozen stream.
We'll head back in the next couple of weeks, to check on the progress of the frozen falls elsewhere in the area.
Ice drifts from Lake Michigan into the St. Joseph River, effectively blocking the waterway, as winter tightens her grip on the region. Not yet quite as dramatic as last year, the ice is beginning to form on the pier and lighthouse
With all the recent coverage of the polar vortex, and frozen lighthouses, a lot more people are making the trek to the shore of Lake Michigan this winter. The lakeshore in winter is amazing - like an arctic mountain range seen from above. For those people who want to get a better look at the frozen lake, this looks like the perfect way to do it. However, what these people don't consider before venturing out onto the ice, is that this is perhaps one of the most dangerous things to do on the shore of Lake Michigan in winter.
The frozen mounds rise 15 or 20 feet above the surrounding surfaces. This is created by waves crashing into the floating ice that collects along the shore called shelf ice. Like a shelf, is not attached to the ground - in this case, it's floating on the surface of Lake Michigan. The ice certainly appears stable, and solid, yet this is deceiving. Cracks, thin spots, faults and holes are often intermixed with the mounds, and covered by drifted snow.
The pounding water undercuts the edges of the ice, and the underside is not consistant, but riddled with air pockets. These defects can lead directly to the 33 degree water below the ice, with no way of climbing back up. Not only is the water unbearably cold - It's difficult to breathe when your body is immersed in very cold water due to contracting muscles. Even worse, you may instinctively inhale or gasp when you hit the icy water, and drown. Once through the ice, it's completely dark, and chances are, you will be swept away from the hole by the moving water. Holes such as the one shown in the photo below, are often hidden by a thin layer of snow or ice.
The people shown in the photo above are probably 200 feet off shore on Lake Michigan, where the depth of the water could certainly exceed 8 feet. If they were to fall through the ice, they would have little or no way to escape without rescue assistance. Even falling off the edge into the water could prove fatal.
Please, no matter how tempting, do not venture on the ice.
On an unseasonably warm winter day, pancake ice and drift ice gather at the confluence of Lake Michigan and the St. Joseph River. While temperatures climbed high to melt the snow, the ice was thick enough to withstand a couple of days of warmth. Temperatures are expected to drop to near zero in the next day or two, helping the ice to grow once again. Dozens of people walked along the frozen beach and piers to get a view of frozen Lake Michigan; a few even ventured out on to the shelf ice. Luckily, nobody fell through the ice into the freezing water.