Winter is upon us and the negative windchills could not be more frightening. However tempting it may be to bake the day away or curl up with hot beverages while binge-watching great television, the opportunity to experience adventure is missing. My lifelong partner in exploration devised a brilliant plan to tackle the winter terrain by hiking the Three Dune Challenge at the Indiana Dunes National Park. Snow boots, hand warmers, and multiple layers later, we were ready to hike.
Commencing from the Nature Center, it wasn’t terribly long on the trail before we were faced with the upward gaze of Mt. Jackson. Each step crunched through the crust of the snow’s surface concealing the sand dune underneath. The first incline seemed to never end as we lifted our legs like marching soldiers determined to finish what we started. Although it was the shortest of the three dunes, it felt longer than the others since it was the first we had to tackle. We were rewarded with a photo opportunity marking the significance of our climb.
Ascending from 176 to 184 feet, we continued more effortlessly while admiring the stillness of our surroundings with only our footsteps and the occasional melodies from snow birds dancing among the trees. From the peak of Mt. Holden, the hazy blue of Lake Michigan bled into the horizon like a watercolor landscape.
The final stretch of the hike was a series of rolling hills and scaling a stair case to the top of Mt. Tom. We paused to appreciate the beauty of that moment in a panorama of snow covered dunes that seemed to endlessly stretch into the distance. The stairs wrapped around to take us back to the trail where we finished in a complete loop right where we had started at the Nature Center. A little back and forth snow ball friendly fire was a lighthearted ending until Derek pelted me with a face full of snow. Oooh, was there revenge to be had, and so the snow ball fight continued…
We enjoyed our winter hike so much so that we ventured out the very next day to the Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve where we hiked a marked 5K route. The air temperature was in the single digits but we were bundled up to our eyeballs in thermal. Derek carried his binoculars along in case he might spot any wildlife along the way. The route looped around the perimeter of the preserve with Coffee Creek cutting through the middle. A herd of deer leaped across our trail into a designated area for wildlife that was marked off from visitors. The trees were fluttered with flocks of birds chattering as we trudged through the snow. It was quite a lovely spot to hike for the afternoon and will be an even better place to return to for a run when the snow melts later in the season.
Time spent together in nature always creates lasting memories for us. We explorers yearn to discover the hidden gems that lie just outside our doorstep. With my trusty sidekick willing to join me in braving the cold, we don’t have to travel far to explore the wild contentment that comes from venturing out with a path of footprints left behind.