It was so bitterly cold that we wore face masks to shield every possible inch of exposed skin from the ferocious winds that drifted over the dunes. Bundled in layers with our hoods up and snow boots on, we trekked the snow covered staircases one step at a time at West Beach in the middle of winter. Determined to explore the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in its entirety, we had yet to tackle the Diana of the Dunes Succession Trail. While we had been running outside throughout the winter months, the temperatures off the shore of Lake Michigan were a whole other level of brutal cold.
The landscape was almost unrecognizable when returning to Diana of the Dunes for a summer hike. Initially recorded in our memory banks as mountains of snow as far as we could see, today the warm light reflecting on grassy sand dunes seems to beacon us forward to repeat the trail. Beginning at the West Beach parking lot, we approach the wooden staircase scaling the first dune of the trail that can seem to never end.
Once we reach the top, the stairs take us back down and then up again through the rolling dunes surrounded by a forest of trees. It is as if we are tourists peering in from the safety of our wooden walkway on the evolving wilderness that surrounds us. By the final climb of the dune succession, the panorama of the landscape is simply breathtaking as we absorb the view of dunes, trees, and Lake Michigan from our path of staircases.
This must have been the view that captured the heart of Diana of the Dunes. The trail gets its namesake from Alice Mabel Gray who left Chicago in 1915 to live in the dunes on her own in a makeshift shack for over nine years. Alice was a well-educated woman who studied at the University of Chicago and worked as a mathematician at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. until she took an interest in the history, ecology, and preservation of the Indiana Dunes. She became a legend of her time and was nicknamed “Diana of the Dunes” by newspaper reporters for her daring and free-spirited lifestyle in the wild comparing her to Diana, Goddess of the Hunt. This trail is known today as the #DianaDunesDare. Watch her story here: The History of Diana of the Dunes.
Progressing through a tunnel of trees, the sky opens up and we see Lake Michigan in the distance. In the winter, the shoreline was frozen over and the winds circled us like we were in the middle of a blizzard. We couldn’t see where the water met the beach and had no choice but to retrace our steps than to walk out too far. The lakefront was brutal but mystically beautiful, existing as a powerful force all on its own to be both feared and respected.
Now, as we hike the trail with the sun beating on our necks, it looks as though we are a little too early for the sunset but I run to the water to splash through the waves that hit the sand. With the horizon open in plain view, we are able to access the trail along the beach that loops back to the trailhead with the frozen months behind us. It is amazing just how different this place can be over time and yet how incredibly wonderful it is to experience the dunes in all seasons.
Location: West Beach Parking Lot
376 North County Line Road, Gary, IN 46403