Dr. Henry Cowles conducted extensive botanical research along the southern shore of Lake Michigan in the late 1800's. He was puzzled by the interesting variety of plant life found along the dunes. Some plants were native only to areas far north of Indiana, other further south. He set out to determine why this was.
He studied secondary dune succession - the sequence of dune building from the time they rebound from the weight of the glaciers until the land becomes a hardwood forest. This process continues today - the Lake Michigan bed rises a few centimeters each year. Sand dunes are slowly exposed and become inhabited by Marram and other grasses. Once this takes hold, it changes the environment by shading the sand, and the dying material creates humus, enriching the soil. Once the soil is enriched, other forms of plants can become established, further changing the soil and environment. This process continues from barren sand to Marram grass, to weeds, to tall grass prairie, to shade tolerant shrubs, and ultimately to hardwood forest of Oak and Tulip Trees.
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the few places one can see this succession in one place on a short hike. Cowles Bog is the perfect place to experience this . While not technically a bog (the water is not acidic), the wetland supports all sorts of interesting plant life and animal life. The trail begins in the wetlands, winds through sections of mature forest, shrubs, grasslands and then beach, all in a 2 mile hike.
One of the most striking things I noticed on this trail was the lack of garbage. I did not see a single can, bottle or even a piece of paper! It was great to see that this trail is treated with respect. It may also be that people don't care to walk 2 miles to the beach and 2 miles back to their car.
The beach is accessed mostly by boaters. It's a large stretch of open sand perfect for sunbathing or picnicking.