Indiana Dunes National Park

I apologize for the lack of recent posts but I did not feel well last night after a day at Indiana Dunes — so you will see two posts on this date, one for last weekend at the Dunes, and one short post for today. It was about a five-hour drive to the national park from daughter LJ’s house outside of Cincinnati; we arrived in late afternoon Eastern time, but mid-afternoon at Indiana Dunes due to the crossing of the Central time zone boundary. We were fortunate to secure spots at the national park’s Dunewood Campground, which was a really excellent campground with paved drives into well-spaced, wooded gravel campsites, with tidy fire rings and picnic tables and a clean, modern bathhouse. Although I had booked a separate tent site for LJ and family adjacent to mine, when we arrived there was room on my site for their tent, so we used the other site for parking. Here are some views of our campsite:

Sadly, a group of inconsiderate yahoos had set up camp across the road from our site; although a strong thunderstorm arrived just before midnight, they nevertheless partied and carried on until 2AM in the rain and the lightning (despite posted quiet hours) and then got up at 5AM to yell and party some more before packing up and leaving. This left us tired and cranky for our day in the national park, and we all had some choice words for them at some point or other during the day. In fact, son-in-law Mike slept so poorly that he had to leave early to ride his motorcycle home so he would be ready for work the next day; he had time only to ride to West Beach before making the five-hour drive home to Cincinnati.

We were further disappointed to arrive at West Beach in the national park only to discover that swimming would not be allowed that day due to heavy surf and riptides in Lake Michigan (shades of Popham Beach in Maine!). But we made the most of it nevertheless.

West Beach has the most impressive bath house I’ve ever seen; it is visible just to the left in this photo:

Here are more views from inside the bath house:

We said good bye to Michael at the top of the stairs:

A kind passerby took a family photo for us:

Indiana Dunes National Park consists of seven beaches with associated sand dunes, running 15 miles between Gary and Porter, Indiana, on the southern shore of Lake Michigan about 45 minutes east of Chicago. The National Park surrounds Indiana Dunes State Park, which incorporates several hiking trails among the dunes. The National Park is apparently the result of a conflict between development and conservation, and as a result you can see steel mills bracketing both sides of the park. On the east side of the park is Mt. Baldy, a 126-foot high sand dune, and its associated beach; on the west side is West Beach. We stopped first at the national park visitor center and were advised to start at West Beach, and then see Mt. Baldy — but we had such a good time at West Beach that we ended up staying there for most of the afternoon. Here are some views of West Beach:

Steel mills in both directions, and if you look across the lake, you can see Chicago! Here’s a zoomed-in view:

Layla enjoyed playing in the sand:

Apparently, if left to its own devices, the wind will gouge out bowls in the sand dunes. If the water table rises high enough, these bowls fill to make small ponds called “pannes”, which provide a rich ecosystem of plant and animal life in the dunes. One such panne appears beside the bath house:

There was, circa WWI, a local woman living among the dunes who apparently made it her habit to bathe nude in Lake Michigan; she thus endeared herself to the local fishermen, who called her “Diana (from the Greek goddess) of the Dunes”. The park has incorporated this legend into its dune walk, which is comprised of an impressive set of staircases circumnavigating the dunes of West Beach. These staircases confine visitors to a narrow path above the dunes, thus protecting the sensitive dune grasses from foot traffic. As it is the grasses which hold the dunes in place, the staircases allow one to explore the dunes without doing any harm. The park calls this staircase system the “Diana of the Dunes Dare”, daring you to walk the entire staircase and rewarding you with a special sticker if you do so. We were up to the challenge!

In the photos below, you can see the trail approaching the start of the staircases.

Layla found an interesting huge “dandelion” on the way to the staircase, but despite her best efforts, she could not blow the seeds off it. We decided it was probably not a dandelion after all.

Below are several views of the Diana Dare staircase.

Several striking views of Lake Michigan are afforded by the climbs to the top of the dunes:

I would estimate this staircase to be about a half-mile long in total, but I lost count after 450 stairs, so even if the total length is not a concern, the up-and-down of stair climbing is definitely a consideration. The staircase spills you out onto West Beach, where a short walk west returns you to the parking lot.

We celebrated our achievement at the Dare sign and then returned to the visitor center to collect our stickers!

I was very impressed by this dune walk staircase, as it really allowed one to traverse and explore the dunes, and appreciate what a unique ecosystem they really are. The beaches are lovely and well worth a visit, but the dune walk adds another dimension to the experience.

After we collected our stickers at the visitor center, we drove to the Chellberg Farm and Bailly Homestead, preserved from the early days of the twentieth century. We looked over the chickens and cows, but frankly I saw nothing that was photo-worthy; I have seen plenty of similar farms and farmhouses in rural Maine over the years.

All in all, I think that the Indiana Dunes are a unique ecosystem of beaches and sand dunes, well worth preserving and worthy of constituting a national park. I do not, however, see this park as being on a par with Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, or Maine’s Acadia, parks which (among many others) are so awe-inspiring that they are definitely worth making a special trip to see. But if one is in the Chicago area, or (as I am) passing through, it is definitely worth a stop; and one could probably use up a three-day weekend hiking all the trails here and visiting all the beaches. The beach sunsets are said to be spectacular, but we were somehow unable to roust ourselves out of the Dunewood Campground to go see them. So, to me, Indiana Dunes National Park is not worth a special trip, but I’m definitely glad to have seen this place and learned about it. Tomorrow, on to Minneapolis!

2 thoughts on “Indiana Dunes National Park

  1. Love Love Love reading all of your posts and learning vicariously about all the places I probably will never see. You, LJ, Mike, and Layla all look great. Proud of Layla for doing the steps!!


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