Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

View west towards Chicago from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Photographed 08/11/2012.

Last Saturday my wife and I visited Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, completing our collection of all four national lakeshores (the others being Pictured Rocks, Apostle Islands, and Sleeping Bear Dunes). Unlike the other three lakeshores, Indiana Dunes is in a very urban area. Located at the southern end of Lake Michigan east of Chicago, the park is situated between the bustling cities of Gary and Michigan City and bisected by the Port of Indiana. This area was once a pristine collection of natural coastal dune communities, harboring unmarred coastline, sand dunes, wetlands, bogs, prairies, and forests. It has since been encroached upon and changed by nearly two centuries of settlement, logging, agriculture, and industrial growth.

Dune grass on West Beach against the Port of Indiana. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

Congress acted to establish the park in 1966, giving it protected status to preserve what was left. The natural features and wildlife that remain are still rather impressive. The surrounding human development provides an interesting contrast, and seems important in the discussion between conservation and the needs of civilization.

Blowout on the windward side of Mount Baldy against the Michigan City power plant. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

We began our visit at West Beach, first hiking the Dune Succession Trail. Nothing like a couple hundred feet of stairs to start your day:

Stairs at the start of the Dune Succession Trail near West Beach. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

Once atop our first dune we were able to look out over the area:

View atop a big dune on the Dune Succession Trail. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

Vegetation is an important part of coastal dune communities, and this trail featured dunes in various life stages. Along the shore bare sand and harsh wind create a hostile environment to plants:

West beach looking towards the Port of Indiana. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

Some plants are adapted to these tough conditions. In coastal dunes, the first pioneer species are typically dune grasses. They grow deep roots to reach water and nodules that harbor bacteria and fix nitrogen to make it available to the plants.

Dune grass along the Dune Succession Trail. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

Grasses stabilize the soil and add nutrients, making it possible for other plants to then take root:

View along the Dune Succession Trail. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

Eventually even trees are able to grow:

View along the Dune Succession Trail. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

All this vegetation affects the development and progression of the dunes as they migrate inland. While wind works to move them forward, plants work to slow them down.

View along the Dune Succession Trail. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

Indiana Dunes is more than sand dunes, however. Between the mountains of sand, water collects and forms bogs and wetlands hosting entirely different organisms. Our next stop was at Inland Marsh where a couple of white-tailed deer fawns (Odocoileus virginianus, Cervidaewere waiting:

White-tailed deer fawns (Odocoileus virginianus, Cervidaeat Inland Marsh. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

We then moved on to the Great Marsh Trail.  Here we saw several cool plants, including this spotted bee balm AKA spotted horsemint (Monarda punctata, Lamiaceae)…

Spotted bee balm AKA spotted horsemint (Monarda punctata, Lamiaceae). Photographed 08/11/2012 along the Great Marsh Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

…swamp loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus, Lythraceae)…

Swamp loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus, Lythraceae). Photographed 08/11/2012 along the Great Marsh Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

…and pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata, Pontederiaceae):

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata, Pontederiaceae). Photographed 08/11/2012 along the Great Marsh Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

In the Great Marsh there were also wading birds like common egrets (Ardea alba, Ardeidae)…

Common egret (Ardea alba, Ardeidae). Photographed 08/11/2012 along the Great Marsh Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

…and great blue herons (Ardea herodias, Ardeidae):

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias, Ardeidae). Photographed 08/11/2012 along the Great Marsh Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

In the openings were a number of insects, including the ubiquitous late-summer short-horned grasshoppers (Orthoptera: Acrididae):

Short-horned grasshopper (Orthoptera: Acrididae). Photographed 08/11/2012 along the Great Marsh Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

Our final stop was at Mount Baldy, the largest migrating dune at 126 feet in height. It begins at a blowout at the shore of Lake Michigan:

View north from Mount Baldy toward Lake Michigan. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

…climbs to its crest above the surrounding trees…

View south from Mount Baldy. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

…and the lee side approaches the parking area:

Lee side of Mount Baldy near the parking area. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

Until recently excessive foot traffic helped loosen the sand here, resulting in this dune moving faster than anticipated. In order to slow down its progression toward the parking area and US Highway 12, the park service no longer allows people to walk on the lee side. They also planted dune grass to help slow it down.

Map of Mount Baldy’s progression. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

With the sun getting low, we left Indiana Dunes and made a couple of other sand dune stops at Warren Dunes State Park and Grand Mere State Park in Michigan on our way home. I’ll cover them briefly in the future. After visiting all of these dune locations, by the end of the day I had enough of hiking through sand for one day.

View near Mount Baldy. Photographed 08/11/2012 at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Ecology, Entomology, Geology, National Parks, Vertebrate Zoology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

  1. I visited this park with a group of native American children, some 27 years ago. Their main interest was swimming in the lake. Alas, the beach didn’t open until 10 AM, and we were due in Chicago by 11. Beautiful diversion, though.

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  2. I love being able to read about and see regions away from my home! Keep it up!

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  3. It’s been a while since I was here last. I must go again sometime. Nice post.

    Like

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