I visited Silver Lake Sand Dunes State Park yesterday anticipating the graceful dunes I had seen on previous visits. (See “The Sand Dunes at Silver Lake State Park.”) But, instead, the sinuous dunes I had anticipated looked more like sedimentary rock that had been disturbed by some incredible force.
The dunes freeze in the winter, so only a fine layer of grains of sand at the surface are free to blow with the wind. I suspect that the formations I saw were caused by the expansion and contraction of the ice crystals in the sand as our crazy temperatures have swung wildly this winter. Having anticipated smooth dunes, I needed to shift gears. I decided to go in close and photograph the formations left by the ice and the wind.
Photos from my previous visits to Silver Lake can be found here:
On Sunday, which was the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, I visited the Silver Lake Sand Dunes. The dunes are 1.5 miles wide and 3 miles long, comprising around 1,875 acres between Lake Michigan and Silver Lake. The dunes are a state park divided into three areas – a natural area for hiking sandwiched between a section for off road vehicles and a section for commercial dune rides. I was fortunate that neither section for vehicles was open, so I could explore the dunes in peace.
I arrived shortly before sunrise. I had not been looking forward to the steep climb through sand to get to the top of the dune, but found that the sand was still frozen and the hike was not a matter of two steps forward and one step sliding back through the sand. I was thankful that it was so easy going.
The moon was low in the sky as I reached to top. While there was no snow on the dunes, in some areas there was a thick layer of frost, which gave a ghostly shine in some parts of the dune.
Early morning on the dunes is lovely as the sunlight strikes the peaks and works its way into the shadows.
The way the sunlight plays on the dune is wonderful. It can be dark and moody or light and soft,depending on which side of a dune you are standing.
One of the fun things to photograph in the dunes are the trees that were once buried by the sand but have now been revealed by the work of the wind. I came across a ghost forest that I don’t believe had been exposed on either of my previous visits.
In my past visits, I had never seen a wall of dark sand as in the photo below. I think this occurs because the sand is frozen and not shifting. I will be interesting to see how this wall is transformed once the thaw comes and the wind can have its way.
I hiked for close to three miles in the dunes and got to a point where I could see the forested land to the south of the park. I look forward to venturing back later this year and having another crack at photographing this beautiful place.
Here are links to photos from my two earlier visits to the sand dunes in 2018 and 2020.
Yesterday, I returned to Silver Lake State Park to takes photographs in the vast dunes between the west shore of the lake and Lake Michigan. I visited the dunes two years ago and posted color photographs that I took then. On this visit, I thought I would try my hand at processing the images in black and white.
The shifting dunes are a study in light and shadow as the wind creates sinuous patterns in the sand.
Enhancing the contrast in a photo creates some interesting patterns.
In several areas in the dunes you come across “ghost forests,” the remains of trees that were swallowed up by the dunes and now have been exposed by the shifting sands.