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.