The Foredune in Winter

The Foredune

The first dune you encounter as you move from the body of water inland is called the foredune. Generally lower in height and filled with grasses, these can be interesting places to explore. With the recent high water levels of Lake Michigan, and constant erosion, many of these dunes have washed into the lake, leaving the taller dunes directly on the beach. But this one remains for now.

What's a bit more unique about this foredune is the interdunal pond directly behind it.  This may not be unusual in a geologic sense, but at the Indiana Dunes National Park, I've only encountered a few.

In winter, these ponds freeze over and provide a contrast to the warmer looking marram grasses and sand of the surrounding dunes.

Changing Textures

A bit away from the foredune, ice was just forming on the rivers and lakes inland. The change in textures can be seen here, from liquid water, to crystallizing water, to ice, then to snow covered ice. The crystal textures can be seen in the water if you look closely.

Golden Horizon

Glowing Horizon

While changes in the landscape often take weeks, months, or even years, dramatic changes can occur quite quickly - especially when it comes to the sky and light. Hiking through Miller Woods takes a bit of time, and in the time it takes to traverse a dune or to travel from one dune to another, the mood of the sky can change drastically. 

The thinner clouds were a few miles away, toward the horizon, so as the sun attempted to make an appearance, it was only able to penetrate the thin clouds far away.  The horizon was bathed in golden light, making the hike to the beach a bit more magical.

Warm Winter Light

Warm Winter Light

People often talk about "fire and ice" in photography - a warm color in a photo of a very cold, winter subject. While I can't really say I seek out photos like that, they do have a certain appeal. Every once in a while I will encounter a time when the cloudy sky opens up for a while allowing the golden light of the sun to highlight the clouds, and this was one of those days.

The yellow sky was quite a bit in the distance, and seemed it had little chance of heading toward us to illuminate the entire landscape, but there was just enough color at this moment to make the already interesting environment a bit more appealing.

This photo was taken on a hike through Miller Woods, part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in northwest Indiana. Several trails wind through this hilly oak savanna, making the two mile trek to Lake Michigan many more miles long if you explore them all. The landscape is dotted with dozens of small ponds between the hills of the dunes. It's a surprise this land has lasted this long without being taken over by the industry that surrounds it. Steel mills, railroads, and other heavy industry have taken their toll on the dunes of Indiana, but this was never really touched. The steel industry owned the land and ran several railroad tracks through it, but most of it remained rare oak savanna.

Thanks the the park service, this area was set aside for preservation, and it can be visited today.

Winter in the Oak Savanna

Winter at the Oak Savanna

The trails wind through the snow covered oak savanna of Miller Woods in early February. An odd year with very little snow, and relatively warm temperatures (for a Midwest winter) kept the woods looking brown and boring, so this snowfall was a welcome site.

The trails wind for miles through these rolling woods, up and down and around dunes, hills, and dozens of interdunal ponds and wetlands. This area offers great sights in every season, and winter is no exception. I was hoping for clear skies and dark blue liquid ponds, but the cold temperatures the days prior to my visit turned the ponds to ice. The ice was very thin, but perfect for throwing stones onto it to make the metallic and otherworldly sounds as the stones skip along the ice.  This only happens when the ice is just forming, and once the ice thickens, it no longer rings with these sounds.

Frozen Edge

These first days of ice can be quite interesting, especially in areas that border the water. Tall grass, weeds, and other plants poke through the thin ice, and often form unusual shapes and patterns in the ice. These patterns can be fleeting, only lasting a few hours until the ice completely freezes.


Snowflakes

Resting Snowflake

A quick look around the yard just after a snowstorm yielded some interesting snowflake configurations, but the warming temperatures and winds quickly degraded the intricate shapes of most snowflakes.  The warm air began to make the crystal structures turn bloated, yet a few snowflakes kept some of their shapes.

Snow Bridge

Probably less than 1/2 inch, this tiny snow bridge was created by a bunch of snowflakes gathering together. Again, the warm temperatures quickly began melting the intricate crystals.

Transitions

Transition

This marks the 14th anniversary of my blog. It's hard to believe it's been that long.

Generally at this time of year, the dunes are covered in snow and ice, but this winter has so far been different. The dunes are brown and seemingly dull- until you look a bit closer. In the warmer months, leaves fill the trees and block a lot of the features of the dunes themselves. Here in the photo above, you can see the transition from Lake Michigan to the wooded dunes, then to the grassy dunes. The leaf-covered ground is brown and grass-less under the trees, and the transition to the grassy area is quite abrupt. The trails are also easier to see now, as are some of the low growing plants and shrubs. There hasn't been a time I've visited this trail when I haven't discovered something new or different; and I've been hiking this dozens of times each year. Some of the grand things don't change, but if you pay attention, things change week to week all year long. Rolling Dunes Once we climbed the first series of dunes, we headed down into the valley, then up again on the taller dunes. Looking back, we can see the rolling dunes we traversed - hill after hill after hill, some small, others quite challenging. Carrying my usual 40 pounds of camera gear on my back, and a tripod in one had, climbing some of these trails can be difficult, especially those that pass close to shrubs and trees. I tend to get caught up on every possible branch. Winter hiking can be a bit uncomfortable here. There are even transitions in temperature and wind. On the unprotected beach, the wind can go right through you, while in the valley between dunes, there is little or no wind. Dressing in layers certainly helps, you can keep warm while on the beach and remove some layers when in the protected areas where it gets warm. You just need to remember the old saying, warm to start, cold to finish; cold to start, warm to finish. Start off being a bit cool and try to keep from sweating, then if you're not sweating, you'll stay warm for the walk back. It's very uncomfortable on the hike back if you stay so warm at first you begin perspiring. Still, it's well worth the time to hike the dunes in winter - even if you freeze on the way back.

The Seven Pillars of The Mississinewa

The Seven Pillars of Peru A sacred gathering place for the Miami Indians in years past, the Seven Pillars of the Mississinewa lie on the north bank of the Mississinewa River. The 25 foot tall limestone formation was carved by wind and water over thousands of years. The "rooms" created by erosion within the rock face were used by The Miami Indian Council for meetings and other activities for generations. Peru's Seven Pillars One of Indiana's best kept secrets, the Pillars of Mississinewa are owned by the Acres Land Trust along with many acres of land directly across the river where the Pillars can be easily viewed. A 1.8 mile moderately strenuous trail winds through the hilly, wooded preserve where beech and maple trees flourish. The Seven Pillars of Peru A feeling of calm was in the air when visiting this site. I wonder how many tribal meetings and important events took place here over the years. The Miami Indians still gather here today.

The Ladders

The Ladders While hiking trail three in Turkey Run State Park, one must use "The Ladders" - large wooden ladders set up to assist with some drastic elevation changes within the canyon. While not too precarious, the ladders do create a small bottleneck for visitors. It takes a bit of work to turn your back to the drop-off and grab the ladder to descend to the canyon floor - especially when you have 40 pounds of camera gear on your back, a camera and tripod in one hand, and the ladder is icy. A Slippery Time on the Ladders On one visit, people were backed up on the top and the bottom of the canyon, waiting to use the ladders. One at a time, people climbed or descended the ladders. While we waited our turn at the top of the canyon, a person in my group backed up just a bit too far and slid down the side of the canyon. Luckily, he only fell about 6 feet to a ledge, but the ledge had a pool of water about two feet deep. Wet from the knees down, he continued to hike the rest of the day. That could have been a disaster if he was standing a few feet left or right. Each time I visit and hike this trail, I'm grateful the park did not build stairs in this area. The ladders keep this part of the trail a bit more rustic, and make for a more strenuous and interesting hike.

Ice in the Punch Bowl

Ice on the Punch Bowl Winter temperatures created a bit of ice along the edges of the waterfall called the Punch Bowl in Parke County Indiana's Turkey Run State Park. This feature is located just after navigating a tight walled canyon where you either need to hike through a narrow stream, or climb up the side of the canyon wall using some carved hand and foot holds. While not overly difficult, it does offer a bit of a challenge while hiking. Located on a short branch trail, the punch bowl is a narrow waterfall approximately 15 feet tall that flows into a small pool at the bottom of the canyon. Generally this fall is running throughout the year and varies from a trickle to a full flow, so it's a dependable waterfall to freeze during the winter months. Frozen Punch Bowl In warmer times, we enjoy a short additional hike up to the top of the Punch Bowl's waterfall. The small stream meanders through a series of turns and potholes before cascading down to the Punch Bowl, and it's an interesting and mesmerizing flow of water. Entering the Punch Bowl