Into the Light

Into the Light

Early Fall at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore seems to arrive quickly, and the changes appear almost overnight. The sun tracks differently in the sky, it now sets almost in line with the shoreline instead of over Lake Michigan. Last week, the water temperature was comfortable, only six days later, the feet and legs hurt when immersed in the water.

A westerly walk along the beach is a bit difficult because of the angle of the sun, but from this angle, the sun highlights every wave and grain of sand in sight. A few minutes later, the sun would overpower any photo taken from this angle, and only silhouettes would be possible - a great reason to purposely delay and walk slower toward the parking lot.

The Beach Below

The Beach Below

A climb up the wooded portion of the dune, and a short hike to the ridge, allowed us to view the beach below. This particular dune is still intact, not eroded by the waves, because it sits a quite a distance from the shore.

From this vantage point, we were able to see the entire expanse of beach we just walked, all the way to Kintzele Ditch, almost a mile away. The view extended much more of course, and on clear days, the Chicago skyline can be seen almost 40 miles across Lake Michigan.

Two old homes close to this dune were recently torn down, adding the property to the national lakeshore.  Walking around the area, I can only imagine how beautiful it must have been to have a home situated in such a picturesque landscape.

Smooth Dunes

Smooth Dune

The shadows of the trees are elongated when they fall on the steep, smooth sanddunes along the Indiana shore of Lake Michigan. Constant battering by waves causes erotion, and these dunes, once many meters from the shore, are now only a few feet from the waves. High waves regularly crash into the dunes, and  have collapsed much of the dunes along with the forest on top.

The paths and trails I once walked along the dune ridge are long gone, washed into the lake about three years ago. My morning hike included the winding path through the wooded dunes, into the bare blowout, through the dune savannah, back up to another heavily wooded oak forest, then down to the beach. Clumps of flowering shrubs, wild grape, wisteria, and stands of pine were landmarks along the way - things I recognized and watched change through the seasons and through the years.

Now, hiking on these dunes is not allowed, and it's rather difficult to get up to them from the beach. I imagine some of the landmarks remain, changing with every season, waiting to be seen again.

A Look at Mt. Baldy

Wooded Dunes

Closed to visitors for the past three years, Mt. Baldy continues to change despite the lack of foot traffic. Following the near fatal incident of a boy falling into a sinkhole on a closed portion of the 125 foot tall living sand dune, the area was closed for safety concerns.  According to the park, other sinkholes cannot be ruled out, so the area is not open to visitors unless accompanied by a park ranger.

The emergency conditions, as they're called, apply to much of the area, and signs would have the public believe foot traffic is the reason for much of the erosion along the dunes.  Save our dunes! Keep off the dunes! Anyone who has visited this national lakeshore over many years can clearly see, Lake Michigan is the culprit, not people.  In fact, the paths visitors used to walk along the dunes from Central Beach to Kintzele Ditch are long gone, washed into the lake by waves, not trampled by feet.

View of Mt. Baldy<

The view of Mt. Baldy from the beach has changed over the past few years. The photo above was taken in September 2016. One can barely see Mt. Baldy due to the erosion of the beach. The view is blocked because the beach has washed away.

Below is a photo in approximately the same area, taken in 2009. Standing on the beach, Mt. Baldy is clearly visible.  It's quite a transformation, and it shows the power of Lake Michigan.

Mt. Baldy From the Shore


This erosion has revealed interesting things along the beach including a thick layer of clay that was once buried under the sand dune.  The clay has the appearance of rock, especially when it's broken off by the waves.


This could be the early stages of rock formation, and in a few thousand more years, this clay could become rock. But for now, the lake continues to claim more and more of the shoreline for itself. It's an interesting process - a natural process - that has been going on for thousands of years, and will continue with or without human intervention. While we must stop needless and careless damage to our environment, we must also allow our children to experience the dunes environment first hand, and that means walking through it, and touching it.

Tropical Feel

Tropical Feel

As I explore the beaches and dunes of eastern Lake Michigan, I'm often reminded of the tropics.  The sun, clouds, and water can take on the feel and colors of beaches over a thousand miles away.  It seems morning conditions are more favorable for such a tropical feeling.  The blue sky, white clouds, and colorful water are the most to blame, but on windless days in particular, the water transmits the color of the sand below. Couple that with the shadows of the trees on top of the dunes, and the shallow waters appear like those containing tropical reefs.

The recent hot weather reinforces the tropical feel - even when wandering inland to explore the wooded dunes and savanah with the lake as a backdrop.

Boats and Beach

People from all around visit the Indiana beaches, and on some days, boats line the shore, allowing passengers to enjoy the beach and dunes.

Ever Changing Beach

Ever Changing Dunes

A bright sunny morning in early September reminds us that this may be one of the last hot days we're going to have to explore the beaches of Lake Michigan.  Summer may be winding down, but there are still plenty of beautiful days ahead on the lakeshore - even if it is snowing.

The rise of Lake Michigan has taken a toll on some of the dunes, washing the edges into the lake, but it's a natural process.  The beach is starved of sand, and little sand is replaced as the waves crash into the dunes.

What this process has done is all but eliminated the flat beaches of Central Avenue Beach and Mt. Baldy.  A beach that was once several meters wide, is now touching the water's edge in places. Trees that once stood on top of the dunes have fallen down the dunes and into the lake.

This natural process of constant change makes me wonder how the dunes appeared centuries ago, and what they'll look like centuries from now.