Wandering the Region- West Beach

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is located in northwest Indiana along the south shore of Lake Michigan. The national lakeshore was established in 1966 and includes 15,000 acres of wetlands, prairies, sand dunes, oak savannas, forests, and historic sites.

The West Beach area is located on the edge of Gary, Indiana and near the town of Porter, Indiana. It is also a quick drive from Interstate 80/90 and 80/94 if you’re passing through the area.

West Beach offers approximately 3.5 miles of trails. This includes the Long Lake Loop, that I wrote about previously at “Wandering the Region-The Long Lake Loop”. I also wrote about the West Beach area in January during my last visit.  You can check out that post here at “A Walk On the Lake: Lake Michigan In Winter”

West Beach offers three trails:

The Dune Succession Trail (ecological succession) is a 1 mile loop trail that highlights the stages of dune development. It is an incredible and scenic trail that offers a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan from atop a 2,000 year old sand dune.

On a clear day, you can see the the city of Chicago, Illinois in the distance.  As you hike along with path (and up some stairs, I promise it’s totally worth it)  you will enjoy the shade so generously offered by the Jack Pines, Black Oak Trees and other species. I especially love watching the prairie grass as it sways in the wind.

The West Beach Trail is a more flat and easier 1.4-mile hike through an area that was sand mined in the 1920’s. This area is being restored as an oak savanna and is a great place to see prickly pear cactus. If you checked out my blog post about the Long Lake Loop, I showed a few photographs that included the prickly pear cacti that were technically on the West Beach Trail and were involved in the recent controlled burn.

Lastly, The Long Lake Loop that runs along the south side of West Beach. The loop is 1.5 miles in length and connects to the West Beach Trail Loop.  You will pass by the shoreline of Long Lake which is popular for birding, running and offers much more solitude than the busier sections closer to the beach area.

I should mention that West Beach is also close the Marquette Trail. I haven’t ventured down that trail yet so I can’t tell you much about it. Click on the link and check out more information and see what others have had to say. I’ll write about that trail in the future.

Below is a gallery of photographs that I took during my most recent visit to West Beach. I hope that you will check it out.

 

 

 

Wandering the Region- The Long Lake Loop

Spring is definitely being Spring in northwestern Indiana.  It was nice on Friday. Then, on Saturday I was pelted in the face with giant pellets of frozen rain. It was so windy that I was looking at the trees outside and praying that the large branches would stay attached to them.

By Saturday evening, there was almost an inch of snow on the ground. The roads were very icy and I could tell it was bad just based on how slow the semi’s were going on the toll road. It was a mess that no one appeared to have predicted.

On Sunday morning, I woke to sun and amazing blue skies. It was still very windy, but the temperature was rising. When I left the house it was a warm 45 degrees and by the end of the day it was almost 70.

I had planned on it being warmer on Sunday and was hoping that the forecast wasn’t going to let me down. It certainly didn’t. It was a bright and clear day that was made for hiking. The wind got in my way a little bit, but thankfully I remembered my sunglasses and that helped a lot with the blowing sand.

I ventured down to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. I really like the West Beach area. It has trails for hiking and a  beach on Lake Michigan. I don’t really  come around the area in the summer due to all of the “people traffic” but in the spring, early summer and fall, it’s perfect.

I took the Long Lake Loop for the first time. I hadn’t veered off to follow that trail before in the past.  I usually went up, what I call, the stairs of doom.  For some reason, I didn’t capture a photo of the stairs. Just imagine a staircase that goes on forever up the front side of a sand dune.

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Standing at the trial head of the Long Lake Loop

Long Lake Loop Trail

Long Lake Loop Trail

The Long Lake Loop trail is just over a mile and a half in length. ( The park offers 3.5 miles of hiking trails total.)  As you walk along the loop trail, it leads you near the shore of Long Lake. It’s a small lake just adjacent to Lake Michigan and is popular for bird watching.  Recently, they conducted the yearly controlled burn and it was interesting to see the vegetation, most notably the cacti, recovering from the burn.

Controlled burn area.

Controlled burn area.

Cacti- controlled burn victims

Cacti- controlled burn victims

It was peaceful. I enjoyed my time just walking along.  I stopped for a little while to enjoy everything around me.

Long Lake

Long Lake

 

Long Lake

Long Lake

It was a great day. I really enjoyed just taking my time and walking the trails.  I’m looking forward to my next visit. I’m glad that I decided to walk along this trail, I think that I will make a point to add it to my visits in the future.

This is also the only trail in this park where you are permitted to have a dog.  Dogs aren’t permitted on the beach and there is a lot of signage to indicate this.  There were a lot of people there who were disregarding the rule, however, I am not one of those people who doesn’t believe the rules do not apply. I hope my readers will also follow the rules.  The dunes are a fragile ecosystem and must be protected.  

Below is a map of the West Beach area courtesy of the National Park Service.

Map of the West Beach area of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Map of the West Beach area of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

A Walk On the Lake- Lake Michigan In the Winter

One of my favorite songs is performed by Toad the Wet Sprocket. It’s called “Walk On the Ocean”.  It’s an oldie but goodie and I’m sure that you probably know it. If you don’t, click on the link and enjoy.

The lyric that resonates with me the most is:

“Now back at the homestead, where the air makes you choke. People don’t know you and trust is a joke,”

Ah life. Ain’t it grand? Sometimes it’s more grand than other times. Quite often it’s of the sarcastic sort. Between the usual stressors of life and the added stressors of life, I am at a tipping point. I’m not so sure it’s a bad thing anymore though.

Trials are part of life. If you’re unhappy you need a change. If you want change you have to make it. Good bad or indifferent, you’re the only one who can do anything about your situation.

My problem is letting go of attachments and fear. I want to make sure that I am doing the right thing.  It never fails that when I am at my breaking point ( again) that the universe catches wind of it and then whispers into the ears of people and situations around me and it makes a positive change. Usually though, it’s only temporary.  That’s the sad part that I have come to realize.

Holding out hope for anything is just another form of bondage.

Or is that the universe ( or God ) telling me to just be patient and hold on? That’s one way to look at it.  Either way, it’s a beautiful day and I decided not to be a headcase and go for a walk at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore at West Beach.

The West Beach location is small. In the summer time it is usually crowded down on the beach, but not so much out on the hiking trails.  Admittedly, the hiking trails around the West Beach location, aren’t a whole lot to shout about.  I enjoy them nonetheless.

I think the best part of exploring the area is climbing to the top of the ominous looking staircase and taking in the views.  If you care to check out the photo gallery, the staircase is pictured in the fourth photograph. It looks challenging to some, but it’s worth the climb.

From the top of the staircase you are above the pines. You have a 360 view of the area. On a clear day you can see the city of Chicago. You can also see this in the gallery on photograph number eight.

I was alone in the park. The final patrons were returning to their vehicles when I arrived. I was lone. This is the way that I prefer it most of the time. I have been hungering for time to myself. This is the best way to get it. I passed by an older gentleman who was walking an Afghan Hound on a leash. I’m sure he thought there was something wrong with me by the way that I was staring. I’d never seen an Afghan Hound in person.

I didn’t have any of my dogs with me.

I started out my hike by walking along the path to the stairs. I made it to the stop and paused for awhile, taking in the views.  The sun was out, the day was clear and you could see Chicago in the distance. It’s approximately 40 miles from where I was standing to the city limits.

I made my way down the back side of the stairs into the dunes. Most of this section of the park is fenced off to keep people from disturbing the dunes. Humans cause a lot of damage in addition to the natural changes that are also occurring. We needs fences and signs to remind us to leave things alone.

I enjoy this section of the stairs going down because you’re above the pines and also at tree level. There is just something about the pines that I like. More than just the smell. They make me happy. They make me feel peaceful.

I eventually landed on the beach.  Lake Michigan is beautiful no matter what season it is. In my opinion though, the best sunsets come in the fall.  In the wintertime, the lake will eventually freeze over in some spots.

If you look at the photographs you will see what are known as “ice shelves”. This is basically the frozen edge around the water.  The waves crash against the store and bit by bit it freezes. If you look at the photographs you will see where the shelf has formed ( in this spot ) approximately 20-30 feet onto the lake.

I went against the warnings and walked out onto the shelf until I was about 6 feet from the edge. I took great care to make sure I didn’t slip and fall and also listened to paid attention to any movement or change that would indicate it wasn’t going to hold my weight. I wasn’t over concerned. It’s been pretty cold lately.

I stood on the edge for quite awhile. Just looking. Thinking. I also managed to take some photographs and make a couple of videos. It held the peace I was looking for and it made me forget what was on my mind when I left my vehicle in the lot.

After I made my way off the ice, I sat down on a small log that was  frozen in place on the edge of the grass and the sand. I sat there for quite awhile just to watch the waves crash into the shelves, and to listen.

On a humorous note, when it was time for me to leave, I walked towards the bath house, which is where I usually exit to go out to the road that leads to the parking lot.  I didn’t realize until I had gone up the steps to the building that the giant garage doors were down and the bars were up. I couldn’t pass through to leave.

Instead of going all the back from the way I came, I decided to take the only other option available.I walked around the stone pillar and went underneath the bath house. Much like structures built along the ocean, the bath house sits up on concrete pillars to protect it from real high tides and or flooding.

That was an adventure.

It was a good day.

It was a good weekend.

I hope that you’ll check out my gallery that’s included in this post in addition to the short video below.  This video is the first one that I have uploaded to YouTube in almost 7 years! It’s only 17 seconds long. Long enough for you to get the gist of what Lake Michigan is like at this time of year on a calm day.

Photo gallery..

 

Enjoy the Silence

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Solitude in the pines.

I went for a walk in my usual place. I have a lot of thinking to do, this is the best place to do it. I have a lot on my mind. Big stuff. Life stuff. Future stuff. Stuff stuff. I needed to get out and breathe and enjoy some solitude.

I arrived to find the parking lot by the trail head empty. My favorite way to find it.  There had been a recent snow fall.  There was evidence of a plow truck coming through and the county parks department that came earlier to unlock the front gate.

The sun was making an appearance. It was 18 degrees, but it didn’t feel that cold.  There was enough snow on the ground that I almost could have justified wearing my snow shoes. I didn’t bring them though. I’m starting to wonder, as January comes to a close, if we will have enough snow this year to  be able to get them out.

I know, be careful what you wish for.  The eastern United States is dealing with a snow storm that around here we just call “winter”. I’m certainly not downplaying the situation out east, we are just used to it here. I live near Lake Michigan and we experience the phenomenon of “lake effect snow“, where we will get a lot of snow dumped on us.

The systems can be pretty crazy. Sometimes you can actually see it ahead of you. You can actually see the outline of the snow on the wind as it’s blowing. Often, you can be stuck in the middle of a white out ( where you can see nothing) while two miles away, the sun is out and they don’t even know it’s snowing down the road.

Sadly, we don’t experience any sort of phenomenon of “lake effect sun”. That’s does not appear to exist. We actually experience more overcast days because of the lake. I love that lake though, don’t let me fool you. I am a huge fan of it and the sand dunes.

On my way to the park I passed a local in his little pick up truck. I know him because I met him on Instagram. He and I are the only people who regularly tag our locations for our photography. I don’t know his real name, but I can point him out in a line up.  He loves the park as much as I do and he runs the trails.  He was there. I recognized his footprints.

I ventured out. Since we were alone, I allowed Lu off the leash. It really doesn’t matter either way, she’s always behind me. It’s a cattle dog thing. Every now and then I instruct her to “go on” and she’ll run a hundred or so yards ahead of me, stop and turn around and run back. It’s always good to let them go and be a dog. Sniff around, dig in the snow a little, run, stalk a chipmunk.

We were spotted by two White Tail Deer who took off through the woods.  Lu and I watched from a distance as they jumped over the downed trees and brush. Then they stopped to watch us to determine if the intruders were any kind of threat to them.

We made our way through the trails. I am fairly predictable here. We completed our loop, stopping on the pier at Lancaster Lake. It has finally frozen over. There was evidence of critters that had been taking short cuts across the frozen water.

Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat. It was simply the perfect morning.

I forgot to think about much else.

I think that’s the point in this…