NOTE: IN ORDER TO BETTER SEE PHOTOS IN THEIR FULL 1600 PX. RESOLUTION, VIEW THEM IN THE ALBUM FORMAT BY CLICKING ON THE LEAD PHOTO OR ANY PHOTO IN THE POST. This is especially true for landscape shots. Thanks to Mark for the idea of adding this alert so the photos can be seen at their best!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dune Succession Hike

I figured I better get my readers to the dunes at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

The Dunes Succession Trail is located in the West Beach area and offers a mile-long look at the stages of dune development.  From the parking lot walk the paved road down to the beach and pass through the bath house.  The trail starts on the other side on the beach on the shore of Lake Michigan.
We weren't the biggest fans of trudging through the sand but it's good for those calves, right?  Did you know that walking on the sand slowly is more difficult than walking fast or running?  Now all those fools running on the sandy trails make a little more sense.

It didn't take long to get to the boardwalk though.  We thought it looked wonderful...until we got a good look at all those stairs!

But, with all the landings the stairs actually weren't that bad.  There is only 250 of them, after all.

The views as we climbed the dunes were kind of excellent.  We even got to see some "crop circles".

Of course they were caused by wind and not by aliens.  Oddly there was no wind except a very light breeze right by the shore the entire time we were in Indiana.  Sharon pointed out that if not for her friendship with me and my incessant chatter about the wicked Midwest wind she would have thought that the weather pattern was normal for the area.  Meeting the "locals" whether through blogging or while on location can help you get a better understanding of the area.

These sand loving sunflowers were everywhere, I think they may be Helianthus debilis whose common name is actually Beach Sunflower.  The flower and the leaves seem to match.

It was hot at the top!  We passed through a little wooded section and then stopped so Sharon could take a phone call before heading back down to the parking lot.  One odd thing we noticed while in the area was that cell phone reception was horrible near the beach.  The things we take for granted!

The weather has shifted today and it's hovering around 50 degrees with brisk winds.  Glad that kind of weather waited until Sharon headed home!  I worked a 10 hour day yesterday but only have one other shift this week for a whole 4 hours.  Have I mentioned how much I love the New Girl?  I tell her at least once every time we work together.  Luckily she loves her new home as much as we love having her there.  More pics from the dunes getaway tomorrow!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Valpo Velvet and the Purple Cow

In Valparaiso, Indiana we stopped at Valpo Velvet to get some ice cream.   Well, Sharon got some ice cream, I got some sorbet.

It's too bad that I'm lactose intolerant because the sundae on the special board sounded A-MAZ-ING!

My favorite part of the stop was the purple cow on the side of the building.  Make sure you read what's in the book, it made me laugh.  Linking up to Monday Mural.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

National Public Lands Day - That's What I Call Fun!

Ask most other folks what they think is a fun way to spend a Saturday and you'll hear things like go to a waterpark, the beach, the shopping mall, a sporting event, or a concert but ask me and I'll tell you nothing beats hiking or any other activity that works up a sweat out on our public lands.

I was up bright and early this morning so I decided I'd get a run in before I showed up for National Public Lands Day.  Turns out the parking for the Calumet Trail and where we were to meet the ranger were one and the same so I got a little preview of the area we were going to work on.

I ran in the other direction for about 9 minutes before I gave up and turned around.  Turns out running under high power lines next to an oil refinery leaves a funny taste in your mouth.  Never again.  I felt so sorry for the birds that were chirping in the trees as I ran past that they have to live there and breathe it all the time.  This is land that needs a lot of love and hard work.

This area (Cowles Bog) is dominated by Red Maple and Yellow Birch trees which are starting to sport their fall color

On the bright side there were no mosquitoes and after a quick shower and a quick "see ya later" to Sharon I was back to show up for work.  I was surprised (and thrilled) to see what I thought was a pretty good turn out, and even recognized Mike from Ohio as a participant in our ranger-led hike the previous day.  We teamed up and after donning leather gloves and grabbing a tool to cut brush we were making our way along Cowles Bog to cut down vines, particularly the highly invasive Bittersweet.

We took turns cutting and pulling but Mike was extra determined!

Everyone gave it a good effort, and though I didn't get a picture of them we even had a couple of schoolbuses full of high school students out to get their service hours fulfilled.  I don't think they worked as hard as we did, but every little bit helps.  (It's not cool to get dirty and sweaty in front of your friends, right?)

We kept at it for just under 2 hours before we admitted defeat in the form of trembling arms and aching backs.  The brush we cut down we had to pick up and throw into the water on the other side of the berm.

I worked harder than this picture looks, I swear I did!

When we cleared a space through the brush this is what we saw.  It's a long battle to get this stuff down and gone because of course berries will drop down off the vines or be dispersed by the animals who eat them and start new seedlings.

The NPS received a grant in 2009 to begin restoration work on the bog, which is technically a fen because it is more alkaline than a true bog, and they've been very busy reintroducing native plants into the area.  I saw evidence of their work in the form of plant containers waiting to be put in as well as in the difference in the landscape from one side of the berm to the other.

Where we tossed our trimmings

I didn't get an opportunity to walk the Cowles Bog Trail and hope I'll have time to get over there tomorrow morning for a look.  I enjoyed participating in National Public Lands Day and hope I remember to look for an opportunity to participate again next year...who knows, maybe even in Yellowstone!

In the afternoon Sharon and I visited Pinhook Bog which I think was her favorite part of the day because she got to finally see Pitcher Plants!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sunset at the Dunes

Okay, I don't want you to hate us too much.  Really, I don't.

Okay, we rented a house right on the beach, with big windows to see and hear Lake Michigan.

But, all is not perfect.  The dishwasher is out of order.  There's a strange gasoline smell in the bathroom that only occurs at night.  The house overall smells kind of mildewy if we don't keep a few windows cracked.

There's even a permanent guest in the living room that Sharon is not overly fond of.

But....location, location, location!  Just a few miles from just about everything and right on the beach.

We even have a walkway down from the deck to the beach that is lined with native plants.

And since we're at the southern end of Lake Michigan we get sunrise and sunset views.

 Once the sun starts seriously going down it cools off fast.  Don't you feel sorry for us?

And right before sunset we have to put up with the occasional motorboat playing their radio loudly.

Tonight I had to stand on the bench at the corner of the deck to get this shot of the sliver moon.

Now, stop rolling your eyes, all really isn't perfect at the lakeshore.  Do you see what's marring what would be an otherwise lovely view up the shoreline towards Gary?  (Don't get me started on the industrial nightmare that is Gary)

  Isn't it a romantic setting for an evening stroll?

I know Sherry will just be apoplectic at the sight of that! Indiana Dunes was created after decades of advocacy and argument, and unfortunately after some sections had already been industrialized by steel mills and a power plant.  Did you know the town of Gary used to be sand dunes and was leveled to create miles of mills and refineries that stretch all the way to Chicago?  They are trying to protect what is left, but with climate change, pollution and reduced funding it is hard to sustain an already fragile environment.  More on that after I volunteer at Cowles Bog tomorrow maybe.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sharon In Charge

I got in to our rental house at 9:00 p.m. last night and it was up with the pink sunrise to get hopping on our list of things we wanted to see.  Our first stop was the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor Center to try to plan out our "must sees" for the next few days.  Sharon was like a kid in a candy store at the brochure racks and her enthusiasm was catching.  After we watched the videos about the park (I was horrified when they said that by the year 2050 half the current species on the planet could be extinct, think about that for a few minutes) we consulted with the ranger about some of the ranger led hikes coming up and came up with a rough plan for the next few days.  I kind of just gave myself over to what Sharon had in mind and let her come up with a plan of action, which was a new experience for me! (And one that turned out very well, I might add.)

Pam's caught on camera for a change

After a quick look-see at the campground and the Beverly Shores train station we headed over to the Great Marsh Trail.  We didn't do the whole trail, just started at one parking lot and made our way to the other with an overlook in between.  But it was nice to be out of the car for a few minutes, and the fall color is just starting to happen which was a treat for the eyes.  

 A local artist thought so too, obviously, and we caught him in action on the paved portion of the trail.

We also caught a Great Egret in action fishing for lunch!

From there we moved on down to the Lake Michigan lakeshore to catch a peek at the Century of Progress Homes.  This is something I might have missed and would have been sorry about.  I have a great fascination with the Chicago World's Fair (1893 Columbian Exposition), and at first thought these homes were part of an exhibition there, but later realized they were part of the 1933 Century of Progress International Exposition.  They were purchased by a real estate developer and moved to the Indiana Dunes, four of the five traveling by barge down the Lake Michigan shoreline.

For more about each individual home follow this link, but my favorite was the  Florida Tropical house.  Its large open roof terraces were perfect for a home situated on a slight dune rise above the lake.  And who wouldn't love that crazy pink color?  The home is subleased for 30 years to an individual who agreed to pay for restoration and to open the home to the public once a year.  Restoration to the home is estimated at approximately $450,000.

 In contrast to the World's Columbian Exhibition's "White City" the Century of Progress Exhibition featured Art Deco buildings in a colorful rainbow palette.  The homes exhibit demonstrated modern conveniences and building materials  A few more interesting facts from the fair: elephants were used to move trees during construction of the fair, almost 50 million people attended, and in addition to being able to watch alligator wrestling there was a building that had live babies in incubators on exhibit.  Also in attendance was the Graf Zeppelin airship which circled Lake Michigan near the exhibition for 2 hours, landed for 15 minutes and then departed for Ohio.

Another stop we made today was to visit Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve, a worthwhile place to visit that wouldn't have probably even been on my radar.  It was a nice place for an evening stroll along its paths and boardwalks, and a great example of what thoughtful urban planning could accomplish.  (The photos below are courtesy of Sharon's camera)

Sharon loves the sound of water

Also part of their intelligent landscaping design was this green roofed restroom.

The preserve features more than 500 species of plants, and if we had arrived a month ago I'm sure we would have been wowed by the flower displays.

There were even a few rather large trees in the preserve, which was such a contrast to the younger forest growth we saw down by Lake Michigan in the morning.

At the end of the day we both agreed our many mini-stops made for a fun first day and a good overview of the area.  We also did the Dune Succession Hike and spotted a fun mural in historic downtown Chesterton, but I'll post those photos separately.  Tomorrow and Saturday we have lots more to see and do as well!

Shady ladies?

But for now all is quiet at the rental house except for the sound of crickets and waves outside my window.  Time to rest up for all the IRL excitement tomorrow with my IRL friend!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sunset Trail to Huber Lake

The 1.4 mile section of Sunset Trail at Governor Thompson State Park was packed with wildflowers in July.

But suddenly the mowed trail crossed over granite.

I'd been walking in the heat for awhile and decided it was as good a time as any to stop for a snack and a rest.

I was busy admiring the lichens when I noticed some adorable plants flowering right next to my pack, growing in the cracks of the granite.

Pale Corydalis

Pale Corydalis growing in a nest of fruticose lichens 

I wandered around checking out the lichens growing on the rock but didn't see anything too unusual.

some sort of Rock Shield

Tile Lichen?

Just when I thought I wouldn't spot anything else new, I noticed some blueberry shrubs growing off to the side.  As I crossed over the section of rock and reconnected with the mown trail the blueberry plants were left behind.


The dragonflies got more plentiful as the trail wound its way toward Huber Lake.  I found a good website for dragonfly and damselfly identification for Wisconsin species, but like the mushroom one I found you have to select each species one at a time to view the photo.

I found some red dragonflies on the website but none with multiple spots on their wings like the one below.

 Damselflies are similar to dragonflies but carry their wings parallel to their body.

Azure Bluet

When I reached the lake I was surprised at how small it was.  It's only 8 feet deep!  Obviously motorboats are not allowed, but apparently there are geocaches in the area for those of you who are into that sort of thing.

Huber Lake

Once I reached the lake I continued straight ahead to hook up to the Thunder Mountain trail again, this time trekking through a sandy area instead of in the woods.


By this time I was 3 miles in, with 2 miles to go back to my car.  I drank the last of my water but luckily the Thunder Mountain trail eventually moved back into the shade.  I just kept checking my shoes every few minutes for invading ticks and I was back to the car and a big jug of water in no time!  It was all worth it.

Today I'm hitting the highway after work to make my way to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.   Lots of sand there and the weather forecast looks great!