The early light a few moments after sunrise revealed a storm on the horizon. A fast moving cloud mass approached Goose Lake Prairie and the oldest structure in the county. This log cabin has endured thousands of similar storms in its long life on the prairie.
The cold waters of Lake Michigan are no place to spend a warm spring day. This turtle has the right idea- bask in the 70 degree temperatures.
In all the years of visiting Lake Michigan, I have not seen a turtle along the shore- until last Sunday. This turtle's shell was at least 12 inches across. I've seen hundreds of turtles in the streams and ponds of the dunes - even saw one in the acidic waters of Pinhook Bog - but this was a treat. Maybe he was washed out of nearby Kintzele Ditch, maybe he lives in the deeper water off shore.
Either way, I hope to see many more in the months to come.
It's odd to see leaves on this tree prior to the blossoms, but the buds on this flowering crabapple tree are not far from opening. In a few days, the tree will be filled with the red-pink blossoms, and the air filled with the sweet scent of these fragrant flowers.
Warm weather over the last few weeks, including a week of temperatures over 80 degrees, has caused most flowering shrubs and trees to blossom almost six weeks ahead of normal.
This Shadebush is in full bloom. A lover of sandy soil, this shrub is found on the slopes of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Aside from the coastal dunes, it's not common to find it elsewhere in the region.
Record warm temperatures drew us out to the beach once again. We even walked in the water - in March!
Dan stands in tannin-rich Kintzele Ditch, as it empties into Lake Michigan. The stream water was a bit warmer than the lake this weekend. In the past, this area was still ice covered at this time of year.
These trees are actually growing shorter each year! The sands of Mt. Baldy are slowly moving away from Lake Michigan, and burying the adjacent woods. At a rate of four to five feet a year, the shifting sands will soon completely bury the Oak trees.
Mt. Baldy, a 123 foot tall sand dune is Indiana's largest "living" dune. A living dune moves as the winds blow the sands from one side to another. Here, it's easily seen how the forest is being consumed by the dune. The blowing winds on the windward side often expose logs that have been buried for hundreds (perhaps thousands) of years.
Kintzele Ditch makes it's way to Lake Michigan by meandering through a series of constantly evolving sand dunes. Long hikes along the bank are difficult if not impossible, due to the changing water levels and loose sand. Not wanting to damage any of the dune or plant life, we have never been able to hike more than 200 meters upstream. Maybe this year....
An old iron gate leading to absolutely nowhere. Only a few feet away from the bank of the Little Calumet River, this gate must have guarded the entrance to some significant property.
In the background and a bit to the right of this image is the Bailey Homestead, the property of the earliest settlers in the area. Between this gate and that home, however, is a paved road. This may have been the gate to that property, and over the years, this new road was constructed on the former Bailey property.
Perhaps there was an estate where I was standing to take this image. Nothing but trees can be seen beyond these gates now- and no evidence of a driveway.
A small stream flowing between two sand dunes, Kintzele Ditch is a favorite destination for our weekly hikes along the lakeshore. The stream is the unofficial border between Mt. Baldy and Central Beach, and close to the LaPorte/ Porter county line.
The water is rich with mud and tannin, leaving a trail of brown color in Lake Michigan. The mouth of the stream varies from day to day as the wind and waves alter the beach. The mouth could be hundreds of feet to the west one week, and dead ahead the next.
Visitors to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's Maple Sugar Days can experience the entire process of Maple syrup production.
Here, Mike uses a hand brace to drill a hole into a demonstration tree. Later, he'll pound a metal spile into the hole. The spile not only acts as a spout for the sap, but also as a hanger for the collection bucket.
The bucket is then covered with a piece of sheet metal to keep out debris, animals, and most importantly, rain. The sap already has a high water content, and adding any more will only lengthen the time it takes to boil the sap down into syrup.
These buckets can be seen all over the sugar bush, and can fill up in just one night.
Three kettles hang above open fires, boiling maple sap collected from the trees in the sugar bush. An annual demonstration at the Chellberg Farm, a historical site at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Maple Sugar Days shows the historic methods of making maple syrup.
In this demonstration, the large kettle holds a large quantity of raw sap. Once it boils down, it's transferred to the middle kettle where it boils down even more. The third kettle holds a nearly finished product.
To test the syrup, a twig was bent into a loop, similar to a children's bubble wand. The twig was dipped into the syrup, and when the syrup sticks and covers the opening in the loop, it's ready for bottling.
It's early March, and that means the sap is running - it's maple sugar time at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Each year, the Maple trees in the sugar bush of the Chellberg Farm are tapped for their sap. The sap is collected in galvanized buckets and transferred to the sugar shack for processing.
The sugar shack has a large wood fired boiler where the sap is boiled down until the water content is reduced. Around 40 gallons of sap are needed to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.
Gallon jugs are hung above the boiler to warm them. Warming the jugs this way, slowly brings them to the temperature of the syrup. When the hot syrup is poured into the warmed jug it will not break. However, if the syrup was poured into a cold jug, it would quickly shatter.
A walk through Cowels Bog ends on Boater's Beach. This beach is not normally crowded-especially in February. Apart from a few homes a long walk down the beach, the only way to get to the beach is by boat or a two mile hike through the woods.
I found my first Striped Racerunner lizard in these sands a few summers ago.