This summer I will be working on a series of beach & trail writing and photo exposés with two delightful students from Michigan City Highschool. It is our hopes to get the younger generation away from the computer and cell phone and out into the great outdoors that our area has to offer. Below you will read a his/her perspective of Cowles Bog, one of my favorite trails. Please share with teenagers that you know. Kids can have fun out in nature too!
His: By Brian Saavedra
What the heck is a Cowles and who is Bog?
Cowles Bog sits right alongside Lake Michigan near the town of Dune Acres. Fun fact: Cowles Bog is actually an 8,000 year old fen. Unlike bogs, fens receive their water from surrounding watersheds and the soil reflects the mineral composition of the water. It got its status as a National Natural Landmark in 1966 and was subsequently named after Dr. Henry Cowles, who did studies on succession there. Cowles Bog features a myriad of plant species spread out over five habitats, as well as plenty of birds and other wildlife.
Directions to Cowles Bog
Getting there is easy; Here are some instructions from the National Park Service Website:
• Starting at I-94 and Indiana 49, go north about 3 miles to U.S. Highway 12.
• Take the U.S. Highway 12 exit (exit is on left).
• Turn left onto U.S. Highway 12 / Dunes Highway.
• Take U.S. Highway 12 two miles until you reach Mineral Springs Road.
• Turn right onto Mineral Springs Road; Cowles Bog parking area will be on your left (west).
There are two trails surrounding Cowles Bog: Greenbelt trail and Cowles Bog trail. We decided to hike a complete figure 8 around the trails in order to see the entire trail. After parking and loading up, we started out on the Cowles Bog Trailhead.
The trail starts out relatively straight, apart from these little dips into the water where dead and dying trees littered the ground. I doubt the animals minded too much, because you couldn’t walk five feet without something running across the trail. If there’s any place to familiarize yourself with the dunes wildlife it’s this. The only thing you can hear is the occasional squirrel lurking behind a tree or some strange insect making a splash in the ponds.
Eventually, we made it out of the tunnel of trees, vines and miscellaneous plants; the brush cleared and an enormous field of cattails was visible. The cattails were arranged like the corn fields that Indiana was so used to, and I couldn’t turn my head away without wondering if the next time I looked over it would no longer be cattails but corn that I saw. Weird – this was supposed to be a getaway from all of Indiana’s corn.
About a half mile into the trail, you come across a wooden bridge that carries you over the wetland. It’s nice when an effort is made to keep nature the way it is, but I would much rather walk on a nice bridge than wade through mud.
We were about 30 minutes into our hike and suddenly the swamp-like ground gave way to coarse dirt – no more fancy wooden bridge – There wasn’t much to groan about, however. Here’s where you really started to see how ridiculously diverse the dunes are. Vast stretches of flowers, shrubs, small trees, and everything else you could think of practically covered the floor.
Have you ever walked so much your feet fell off? Yeah, my feet fell off and so did the trail. After two intersections and a steep climb – the one the map kindly warned us about – we remembered why hiking trails is so worth it. See for yourself.
We sat down on the beach and had a short mini-picnic before we set off again. Nothing comes close to laying out on the dunes, closing your eyes, and listening. Distant airplanes. The sounds of nature a half mile away. The faraway droning of the factories. It all combines into blissful background music topped off by the waves slapping the sand. It’s nice to be reminded why living by the dunes is nothing but opportunity.
All good things come to an end.
All of them. The only way back to the trail from the beach was a steep climb that forced us to take a breather halfway up. The view was spectacular though. The lake’s horizon was a band of blue that surrounded us on all sides, poking out through the tree-tops. Absolutely beautiful.
After the hills subsided, the rest of the trail was a lot like the beginning, but wrapping around the rest of Cowles Bog was definitely a good idea. Unlike the Cowles Bog Trail, Greenbelt Trail was mostly open areas and hillsides where the sun would shine down in random places, and you could see pretty far out.
From there, we started to see more ponds as the ground got marsh-y. That’s a word right? The trail kept going lower and pretty soon we were level with the water. It made for an interesting view:
The rest of Greenbelt Trail is a straight stretch that rides alongside the cattail fields before the trees break and you’re walking alongside the railroad.
Back to civilization.
Hers: By Rachael Hennessey
We made it to the Cowles Bog parking lot close to 11:30 and made it back there around 3:45.
It might have taken over 4 hours to make it through the trail, but the sights we saw were unlike others you could find outside of the dunes area here in Indiana. Over five miles of hiking was well worth the pictures and memories.
The small bodies of water that we passed by near the beginning of our walk were enough to peak my interest. The sounds of all the insects and seeing small animals run in and around the precipitation-made ponds gave me a new sense of wonder.
This amazement carried with me even throughout the number of fallen trees that I saw scattered along the edges of the trail. Some people may find these to be debris that should be removed, but it reminded me of just how long the trail must have been there and made me think of how old those trees must have been. Knowing most must have been well over twice my age baffled me. Eighteen isn’t very old to begin with, but these guys made me feel young in a different way.
Reaching the beach felt like an accomplishment that we should have won an award for. The trek there was incredibly enjoyable, but getting to sit down and listen to the sound of waves and the honking of boats was a well-deserved break. Bailly’s Beach is the calmest, most comforting beach along Lake Michigan I’ve visited thus far. I would recommend not passing it up, as it was a good resting stop for tired feet.
After our short lunch/rest break, we found the toughest obstacle of all: the steep inclines. Luckily, they warn you on the map beforehand where each of these inclines are. I don’t think either of us were expecting the workout we got from the long stretch upwards. The product afterwards? Absolutely beautiful and rewarding, so much so that pictures can’t do it justice.
From there on, it was smooth sailing. Not particularly smooth, as the number of roots along parts of the trail required you to keep your eyes open, but it was relaxing. By this time, we were walking along the Greenbelt Trail back. This brought us out from under the trees where we were greeted by the hot sun. The narrow trail became a wide, long stretch of worn down land that eventually lead out to the heart of the bog land.
Several of the paths made from palettes were closed off, so getting a closer look at the area in the distance was tough. The vibrant green color and smell of moss was forever stuck in my mind once we reached this point. I remember taking that picture and thinking, what could possibly top this? Everything melded so well together and it was like the perfect ending to a movie that you would want to watch again and again. Then we met this beauty.
The way the city collided with nature became something new after this. The ending to a day full of fresh air. Everything comes to a close at some point, and I believe this tops it all.
Rachael Hennessey is 18 years old and finishing up her last year in high school. She’s lived in Michigan City all her life. Writing has always been a hobby of hers, and has become something she enjoys doing on a regular basis.