Arriving in northern Indiana (see yesterday's post), we exited onto State Route 49 from I-94 and stopped at the Visitor Center for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, just north of the Interstate. The Center provides maps of the preserve and introduces visitors to its natural history, component habitats and native wildlife.
During our visit, we hiked across wooded dunes that offered spectacular views of Lake Michigan, walked along the scenic beach and toured the marshes, bogs and fens that lie between the sandy ridges. A diverse understory of ferns, shrubs and wildflowers covers the dunes but a fabulous variety of mushrooms, bracket fungi and other fungal forms was a special highlight. Avian residents included the usual mix of eastern forest birds, joined by great egrets, great blue herons, Canada geese, wood ducks, pied-billed grebes, belted kingfishers and eastern phoebes on the wetlands; along the shore, sightings were limited to ring-billed gulls, herring gulls and a few double-crested cormorants.
Stretching from the steel mills of Greater Gary to the power plant at Michigan City this natural gem is a tribute to regional conservationists who championed its protection. Indiana Dunes State Park. encompassing the central portion of the Lakeshore, harbors a campground, facilities for beachcombers and the Lakeshore's best trail networks but also attracts most of the visitors; a day use fee is charged to enter the Park. Those who visit the Lakeshore later in the fall will escape the summer crowds and have a good chance of seeing migrant sandhill cranes; they may also encounter rare vagrants such as jaegers. Regardless of when you visit, the value of protecting natural habitat from industrial and residential development will be readily apparent.