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, October 7, 2014

Cowles Bog Hike, Farewell to the Dunes

Last post on the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore finally makes its appearance today.

Wetlands to the west at beginning of the trail (left side of photo)

On our last day together Sharon and I hiked the Cowles Bog Trail. We made it a loop hike but skipped the section that went all the way out to Lake Michigan.  We felt 3.3 miles was enough and didn't want to struggle our way back up a dune just to see the lake.

Cowles Bog Trail Map

Henry Chandler Cowles was a turn of the century ecologist at a time when the concept of ecology was a new one.  He first visited the Indiana Dunes in 1896.  I got all the following information from National Geographic's article about him.  To give you a little perspective, 1896 was when Utah was admitted as the 45th state, the Tootsie roll was invented, the last Czar of Russia was crowned, William McKinley was our U.S. President and the first modern Olympics was held in Athens, Greece.  Things have changed, including the area he was studying.  Some of the changes are part of the natural progression of an area of this type and some were due to meddling by man.

Stand of maples with Eastern Marsh Fern below

Between 1899 and 1901, Cowles published three landmark papers. He observed that the shape of the land, or topography, and the type of soil have an enormous influence on the type of plants that grew there. These findings introduced ecologists to two important ideas: plant succession and climax formation.

legs too long to be a damselfly - identification help appreciated!

In plant succession, one plant community will create the conditions ideal for other plants to replace, or succeed, it. Every stage of plant succession is more stable than the one that came before.

"Each species affects the soil in a way disadvantageous to itself and thus paves the way for different species to replace it," said Cowles.

Just past the actual shrub enshrouded bog/fen - dense vegetation made it hard to get pictures of fen itself

This process of plant succession led to Cowles' second important theory: climax formation. A climax formation is the most stable plant community created by plant succession. All plant successions are headed toward the establishment of a climax formation.

Marasmius siccus

A climax formation will stay the same unless something destroys the plants or changes the shape of the land. Forest fires and human activity can change the shape of the land. Plant succession will usually start all over again, ultimately leading to a climax formation.

Marasmius capillaris- notice how large my watch is next to them!

In the dunes, the climax formation is an oak forest. The sand dunes near the beach give way to beach grasses, which give way to cottonwood trees, which give way to pine trees. Ultimately, pine trees give way to an oak forest.

Wetland to woodland - showy understory in the Oak forest

After 1901 Professor Cowles concentrated on teaching at the University of Chicago where he remained for the next 30 years.

In 1913, Cowles led a group of German scientists on an ecological tour of the United States. Cowles said, "As there was so much to see in the brief time that we had to see it in, I asked these people who had come here to indicate what they wanted to see in the United States in two months. There were three or four things that all of them mentioned as highly worth seeing, even in the briefest trip to the United States. They were the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone Park, and the fourth was the Lake Michigan dunes."

Rough blazing star?

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) was a result of the 1913 meeting. An offshoot of the ESA later became the Nature Conservancy. Today, the Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving wildernesses and natural habitats.

coral fungi 

Okay, so I interrupt my tribute to Cowles to mention that despite the photos in this post highlighting some fungi and lichen that the dunes area was freakishly lacking in both.  It was kind of creepy to walk past so many mature trees showing no trace of lichen growth whatsoever.  We know what that says about air quality, right?

Sharon spotted these Sandhill cranes as we drove away from the marshland area

Over 40% of Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of particulate or ozone pollution.  However, cleaner diesel fuels and reductions in coal fired plant emissions have improved air quality over the last 14 years overall.  Want to know the state of the air in your region?  Check out this link.  I was surprised to learn that Walworth County, which is not a metropolitan area or heavy industrial area, has ozone air quality that is "unhealthy for sensitive populations".  That means folks like me with mild asthma should "limit prolonged outdoor exertion", which I already do.  Porter County, where Indiana Dunes is located, is rated flat out "unhealthy" and everyone should limit prolonged outdoor exertion while folks like me should avoid it.  Kind of scary.

How do the counties of some of my favorite bloggers with at least semi-permanent addresses stack up against my county?
Mark from Box Canyon Blog - Data Not Collected (I'm assuming that means the air is too good to monitor!)
Linda from Linda's Lens - the Portland area gets a thumbs-up for both ozone and particle pollution
John from Sinbad & I on the Loose - two big thumbs up too!

The shocker came when I looked up air quality for Sharon's home county - Unhealthy, also Failed for particle pollution.  The tiny town of Townsend just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where she does a lot of hiking also ranked Unhealthy but passed for particle pollution.  We'll be there in 2 weeks hiking the trails, so much for "clean mountain air".

If I didn't mention you it's because you move around too much, and hopefully you're going to all the places where the air and the water are clean!


  1. Pam, I wanted to take the time to thank you for your nice comment and link to my blog LAST YEAR! I have been AWOL from my blog for a multitude of reasons and just never saw the comment until I recently began blogging again. You are now a link on my sidebar. I am enjoying your stories and photos! Thank you! cj

  2. Good to know the air in my area rates so highly! Of course, in the spring, when everything is blooming we also rank high in the allergy category. Just keep up on the allergy meds and all is fine.... :)

  3. And of course Mesa failed miserably. But that's not a surprise since you can see the pollution over Phoenix.