Invited to contribute photos with brief caption commentary each week to the Indiana Dunes State Park Facebook page, I began the following series of entries, which I regard as similar to picture postcards that include messages accompanied by an image. My aim has been to highlight specific locations that visitors might find appealing.
Near the end of summer, at a patch of dunes along the beach just west of the park pavilion, where clusters of still flourishing foliage and small full trees grow close to the Lake Michigan shoreline, one can witness an artistic contrast in the spectrum of colors, displaying tan sand, green leaves, turquoise water, and blue skies with splashes of white clouds.
“Twisting Trees Along Trail 9”
In September as summer draws toward its final days, twisting trees along trail 9 where it winds through dune woods toward the shoreline ahead still display full foliage, and the narrow path yet remains protected by shade from a thick canopy of green leaves overhanging on those uppermost branches.
“Sunset at End of Summer”
Labor Day weekend often represents the waning of summer with autumn’s arrival only a couple weeks away, and some believe the best of nature’s beautiful imagery also will end soon. However, sunset views at the Indiana Dunes tend to intensify during fall and winter as the angled light passes through more of the atmosphere. Consequently, rays of late sunshine get scattered, emphasizing a diffused spectrum of brilliant red, pink, yellow, and orange colors in the skies above Lake Michigan.
“Trail 8 Marsh Bridge in Late Summer”
Near the start of Trail 8 at the Wilson Shelter parking lot, the picturesque path crosses a short footbridge spanning marsh water and lushly framed in vivid green by seasonal growth before disappearing into thick woods of mostly oaks. There, the route intersects with Trails 9 and 10, offering visitors a variety of hiking options for exploration while protected from strong sunshine and late summer heat by the cooling shade of dune forest.
“Eastern End of Trail 10”
At the distant eastern end of Trail 10, the longest route in the Indiana Dunes State Park at about 5.5 miles, the sandy path moves inland through a section titled “Paradise Valley” and eventually emerges from a stretch maneuvering within dark hardwood forest into bright sunlight, then descends a shallow slope down isolated foredunes toward the shore, offering a renewed view of Lake Michigan.
“Trail 7 Under Summer Sunshine”
Trail 7 in Indiana Dunes State Park, at just over one mile, is a short but favorite route for viewing evidence of the various stages in development of the landscape. Starting at the Nature Center, this path moves comfortably through thick inland shrubbery, along a lush cove of trees or underbrush, and ascends toward the tops of sand mounds, attractive beach dunes rising above the shoreline that present impressive views of Lake Michigan.
“Beach House Blowout”
Perhaps the most dramatic features in Indiana Dunes State Park are various vast cuts carved by winds into the dunes, such as the Beach House Blowout that can be seen at the eastern end of Trail 9, which runs just inside the first growth of woods along high ridges overlooking Lake Michigan. Each blowout displays an expansive opening in the sand mounds. These gaps in the hills along the lake have been created by a constant erosion from strong onshore gusts over an extended period of time.
“Dune Trail Above Lake Michigan”
In summer, isolated hikers will find some of the finest stretches of trails offering interesting vistas displaying various sights at Indiana Dunes State Park extend along the edges of dune ridges. A section of Trail 9 extending between the Beach House Blowout and the Furnessville Blowout is particularly ideal. On warm sunny days, tall slim blades of marram grass often quiver and the leaves of small trees rustle under the influence of a light wind drifting inland from Lake Michigan, cooling those travelers walking high above the shore. Scattered pockets of wildflowers nod easily with each gentle sweep of breeze. Along the beach below, clusters of ring-billed gulls also can be observed as they flutter just a few feet above the surf’s small waves breaking on the sand. In the distance on clear days the distinctive skyline of Chicago is usually visible, although sometimes a thin overcast could hang above the horizon and some fluffy low clouds nearby might be seen floating overhead.
The month of July annually draws the largest number of visitors gathering for swimming and sunbathing along the shore at Indiana Dunes State Park as they seek a break from the peak of summer heat. Even as isolated squalls of storm cells sometimes suddenly sweep sideways above Lake Michigan, displaying clusters of clouds illuminated by bright sunshine and containing visible curtains of rainfall crossing in the distance, beachgoers appreciate the brief relief brought by rising onshore breezes creating a slightly turbulent surf exhibiting easy ripples of lake waves.
“Dune Trail Below Mt. Holden”
A wide and sandy trail descending from the peak of Mt. Holden—part of the Three Dune Challenge that also includes Mt. Jackson and Mt. Tom—to the beach below might be one of the best brief walks in the Indiana Dunes State Park. Though the way may be a bit steep at times, the whole descent offers an impressive vista of Lake Michigan. In addition, this path passes the spot where Frank V. Dudley, “the Painter of the Dunes,” lived from 1921 until 1952 in a lakeside log cabin cottage with a view from the large front window toward his native Chicago skyline rising across the water. He hosted numerous visitors, including public officials, at this studio so they could witness his gallery of landscape art in an attempt to advocate for the environment, hoping to promote and protect the future of the Indiana Dunes.
Many people eagerly anticipate thrilling colorful fireworks lighting the high skies on July 4 each summer; however, this year many celebratory displays have been canceled due to current conditions concerning public health. Nevertheless, visitors to Indiana Dunes State Park are able to view nature repeatedly performing its own vivid spectacle above Lake Michigan most evenings in every season when a setting sun ignites the horizon.
Traveling Trail Four just east of Mt. Tom—at nearly 200 feet, the highest peak among the Indiana Dunes—hikers move through a wooded hollow sheltered by the inland side of the coastal mounds. A favorite path for visitors in the Indiana Dunes State Park during all seasons, the course extends on the lee side of the dune hills, protected from onshore winds or the heat of the sun. Terrain in this natural haven remains especially refreshing and milder in mid-summer. After a short distance in the cool shade of trees, one arrives at an intersection with Trail Seven, where the two routes unite at a location made famous in a painting titled “The Seventh Trail” by Frank V. Dudley, “the Painter of the Dunes.” Emerging from overhanging branches and stretching toward Lake Michigan, the trails end when a sandy way then winds down a shallow slope toward the shoreline yet spread under bright sunlight.
The late spring and early summer path of sun as seen from the Indiana Dunes State Park coastline during June and July tracks steadily north and then begins its southern return, moving each day toward and behind the distinctive outline of Chicago’s downtown structures. As bright sunsets backlight the city and silhouette famous features of the skyline, they offer opportunities for dramatic photography by beachgoers or those hiking higher paths along the shoreline dunes.
“The Devil’s Slide”
When visitors pass through the entrance gate at Indiana Dunes State Park and drive into the main parking lot behind the Pavilion located at Waverly Beach, a steep sandy slope rising just to the east seems to attract much attention. This feature, named The Devil’s Slide, rises about 100 feet and appears appealing as a moderate challenge for climbing under bright summer sunlight, perhaps good practice for the park’s well-known Three Dune Challenge, which includes the higher peaks of Mt. Holden, Mt. Jackson, and Mt. Tom, each a bit under 200 feet. However, this dune also provides a place in the park permitted for sledding during winter snows.
Dunes Creek wanders through the grounds of Indiana Dunes State Park, at times paralleling Trail Two and also branching toward the marshland at the center of the park. The west end of the creek eventually extends along the short Beach Trail that serves as a shortcut to the shore for visitors at the campground. The winding waterway finally curves around Devil’s Slide and intersects Lake Michigan just beside the Pavilion at popular Waverly Beach. Although a brief path about a half mile long, the Beach Trail snakes beside Dunes Creek as it wends its way between two wooded dune hills. In summer the entire area is filled with rich green foliage and lush slopes displaying tall reeds of grass lining the creek and reflected in its darker water.