The towering sand dunes along Lake Michigan not far from Chicago are one of the most unexpected natural features of Indiana. Dreams of Duneland is a beautifully illustrated introduction to the Dunes region, its history, and future prospects. This area of shifting sands is also a place of savanna, wetland, prairie, and forest that is home to a wide diversity of plant and animal species. The preserved area of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore sits by residential communities, businesses, and cultural attractions, evidence of a long history of competition for the land among farmers, fur traders, industrialists, conservationists, and urban and recreational planners. With more than 400 stunning images, the book brings to life the remarkable story of this extraordinary place.
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About the Author
Kenneth J. Schoon is Professor of Science Education at Indiana University Northwest and a northwest Indiana native. He is author of Calumet Beginnings: Ancient Shorelines and Settlements at the South End of Lake Michigan (IUP, 2003) and City Trees.
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Dreams of Duneland
A Pictorial History of the Indiana Dunes Region
By Kenneth J. Schoon
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2013 Kenneth J. Schoon
All rights reserved.
Shorelines and Dunes
Generally speaking, within Duneland, the further the land is from the lakeshore, the older it is.
The Glenwood Shoreline
Glacial Lake Michigan (formerly called Lake Chicago) was formed about 14,000 years ago when a glacier melted back from the Tinley/Lake Border Moraine and melt waters were trapped between the ice and the moraine. Of the three major ancient shorelines of Lake Michigan, the Glenwood is not only the oldest but also the highest (at 640 feet above sea level) and the farthest from the lake.
The first sand beach and the oldest sand dunes formed along this Glenwood Shoreline. Today they form a long band of low, forested hills generally between Highways 12 and 20 extending from Wagner Road northeast toward and beyond Greenwood Cemetery in Michigan City. Further west the shoreline is either buried by newer dunes or is south of the Duneland area.
Late in the Glenwood phase, about 12,200 years ago, the glacier retreated past the Straits of Mackinac, the lake level dropped dramatically, and the Glenwood phase was over.
The Calumet Shoreline
A new shoreline formed about 11,800 years ago, when the glacier again advanced into the northern Lake Michigan basin and the lake basin slowly filled up again with rain and more glacial melt waters. When the lake level stabilized at about 620 feet above sea level, a new beach and series of sand dunes were formed, the Calumet Shoreline. This shoreline was a bit north of and twenty feet lower than the old Glenwood. Today this ancient beach can be found along Route 12 in eastern Porter County. In Michigan City, the Indiana State Prison and the International Friendship Gardens are on the Calumet Shoreline.
The Tolleston Shorelines
The third of Lake Michigan's ancient shorelines is called the Tolleston Shoreline. The High Tolleston Shoreline got its start 4,700 years ago. It is north of and about fifteen feet lower than the Calumet Shoreline. As it formed, it was separated from the older Calumet Shoreline by a narrow band of lake water called the Calumet Lagoon. Roughly 3,800 years ago, the lake level starting dropping. The lagoon was separated from Lake Michigan, but it has largely remained a series of wetlands. Long Lake, Cowles Bog, Dunes Creek, and the Great Marsh are all remnants of this one-time part of Lake Michigan. The Tolleston Shoreline extends from these wetlands north to the lakeshore. It contains the tallest dunes in the area.
As the lake level continued to drop, it did so in a pulsating manner. The water level dropped because of erosion south of Lake Huron and rose during periods of greater rainfall. Toward the west, this rising and falling resulted in more than 150 small beach ridges between Miller and Chicago, all roughly parallel to the lakeshore. Geologist J. Harlan Bretz called these ridges the lower Tolleston beaches. Originally, they ranged in height from five to twelve feet and averaged about 150 feet in width. Although most of them were leveled as the industrial cities from Chicago to Gary were developed, a few can still be seen at Gibson Woods in Hammond, western Gary, and the Miller Woods section of the National Lakeshore.
The Current Shoreline
It may come as a surprise to those who only occasionally make summer visits to the beach, but the current shoreline changes constantly. When the lake level is high, the beach is narrow. When the lake level is low, the beach is wider. With every wave, sand is brought up to the shore or washed away. In the dunes area, the overall current of the lake is from east to west, so sand that is washed into the lake often ends up back on the shore a bit further west.
Obstructions in the lake interrupt this flow and cause deposition of sand to the east of the obstruction and erosion to the west. Thus, shoreline erosion is an unwanted consequence of near-shore breakwaters and revetments. This has been called the single most destructive influence on the Indiana coast. It has caused the loss of beach, homes, roads, and dunes. The effect is most easily seen at Michigan City harbor, which has been in place for more than 150 years, longer than any other obstruction.
As hard as it might be to imagine, once upon a time there were no sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline. As the last of the glacial ice receded from this area about 14,000 years ago, melt waters were trapped between the high glacial moraine to the south and the giant ice sheet to the north, and Lake Michigan (formerly called Lake Chicago) came into being. During this period of time, which is known as the Glenwood Phase, the ground was poorly drained, the shoreline was muddy and uneven, and the waters of the new Lake Michigan were icy cold. Almost immediately, wind and rain began to reshape what the glaciers had left behind.
As more ice melted, Lake Michigan grew. Blowing winds whipped up lake water into waves, which then began the now-familiar pattern of washing up on the shore. Riptides returned waters back to the lake. Then as now, each large wave moved some sand onto, along, or away from the beach. At the same time, lake currents moving southward along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan began moving sand toward the south shore of the lake. This action gave the South Shore area a huge amount of raw material for eventual dune building.
A two-step process thus created and is still altering the Indiana Dunes. Waves deposit sand upon the beach, and winds roll, bounce, or blow that sand inland, where it settles when the wind dies down. So in the same way that wind blows snow into drifts, it blows sand into dunes. Obstructions, such as driftwood or marram grass, can slow the wind. Marram grass thrives on the beach, even when it is buried by sand. A clump of marram grass can thus initiate and then sustain the process of dune formation. Farther inland, cottonwood trees also contribute to dune formation. Once these fast-growing and sand-tolerant pioneers establish themselves near the beach, they also slow the wind and thus become buried by sand. When they are buried, rather than dying as do many other trees, they send out new roots and keep growing upward.
Much has happened in the 14,000 years since Lake Michigan first appeared. The waters warmed. Fish and other aquatic species found their ways into the lake, and grasses and trees began to cover the land.
As the wind has not stopped blowing, so the dunes have not stopped changing. Just as a snowdrift can get larger during a snowy and windy winter night, so sand dunes can get larger over time. Dunes may also migrate. Wind may pick up sand from the windward side of a dune and blow it up and over to the other side. When this happens, the dune is called a "wandering dune." In a high wind, the sand blowing off the top of a wandering dune can look like smoke. Smoking Dune at West Beach and Mouth Baldy west of Michigan City are wandering dunes. Mount Baldy moves about five feet downwind (southeast) every year. An advancing dune will bury whatever is on the leeward side of the dune: grass, trees, smaller dunes, a forest, perhaps even lost car keys. It is said that a derailed locomotive lies under one of the moving dunes west of Ogden Dunes. Plant growth, however, can stop this migration. As plant life is established on the dunes, their roots and fallen leaf mass begin to hold the sand in place. As the plants eventually multiply and cover the dune, the dune is stabilized.
Human activity causes changes in our dunes as well. Every time hikers climb a dune, their very footsteps push sand downward a little. On a larger scale, continued use by off-road vehicles can destroy the vegetation that had stabilized the dunes, resulting in resumed wind erosion.
Perhaps some of the most awesome sites in Dune Country are its blowouts. On occasion, something can happen to remove the vegetation from a dune. This might be a man-made excavation or a natural change in lake level resulting in an excess amount of sand blowing inland. With the vegetative protection gone, strong winds can then pick up the exposed sand and blow it away. Over time, a blowout may be covered again with vegetation and thus again stabilized, or it may instead grow as more and more sand is blown away. Our largest amphitheater-shaped blowouts are larger than football fields.
A vital part of Dune Country are its wetlands. Interdunal ponds, great marshes, fens, and bogs can all be found in Duneland. Although generally peaceful in appearance, as opposed to the tall dunes and dynamic blowouts, these natural bodies of water are also in a continual mode of change. Besides the annual variation in vegetation caused by the changing seasons, these wetlands are also affected by changes in the water table caused by periods of drought, heavy rains, or man-made excavations or pumping.
It was at the dunes that Henry Chandler Cowles was able to find landscapes of different ages (Glenwood/Calumet/Tolleston/Recent) right next to each other. He noted that the plant communities of these landscapes differed and thus was able to determine how plant communities at the dunes have changed over the years. His theory of plant succession was a result of his work. Another result of his work is that the Indiana Dunes are often referred to as the birthplace of ecology.
Change is a fascinating feature of Duneland. The glaciers of old, today's wind, rain, and waves, the seasons, animals, and people have all contributed to an endless changing landscape, the landscape of the Indiana Dunes.
Excerpted from Dreams of Duneland by Kenneth J. Schoon. Copyright © 2013 Kenneth J. Schoon. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Constantine Dillon,
PART ONE Scenes of Duneland,
PART TWO Stories of Duneland,
What People are Saying About This
This book highlights the places that inspired people who dreamed of the potential of an unusual and dynamic landscape. Dreams of Duneland brings together disparate and untold stories that were previously scattered among many sources.
I share Ken Schoon's feelings that the dunes and the dunes parks are under-appreciated. Two previous books on the dunes are out of print and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2016.