Mount Baldy Virtual Ranger Tour

Indiana Dunes National Park


Hi, I'm Ranger Rafi Wilkinson with Indiana Dunes National Park. I'm here at Mount Baldy, and a great day, looking forward to the Virtual Ranger Challenge. I'm gonna take mine right now. I'm gonna head off on the trail. I look forward to seeing your comments on Facebook.

So, we'll talk about this later in the video, but here we are along the trail to the beach, and it's a really interesting feature here. This is the humus or soil layer. The scientists call it a paleosol, especially when it's been buried under the dune, but what we're seeing here is soil from about 3,500 years ago to the present, and so this sand right here is older than 3,500 years, and this has been under the soil layer the whole time, and we'll see that that's really important because scientists can follow this soil layer all around this area, I guess most importantly, underneath Mount Baldy that's been burying it, and so they can kinda see and date where they are within the dune at any region because of the soil layer.

So, this is a really good example. We're not even, you know, to the front of the dune yet, and we see here in the forest. Sand is beginning to cover this whole forest area, and this is a really good indicator of erosion where over on the front side of the dune, we've lost our marram grass, and the wind is now transporting huge amounts of sand up over the dune and actually starting to bury these trees and cut holes and then we can see all these roots systems being exposed and a really good indicator of a lot of erosion that's happening here at Mount Baldy.

So just a friendly reminder here, we really try to do a good job of marking all of our trails and especially here at Mount Baldy, where it's really a fragile ecosystem. In particular, the marram grass can be damaged really easily. We really want you to stand these trails and you know here we see evidence unfortunately of a visitor or visitors climbing up this dune and actually going up to the summit, where it's closed to the public, and so we would just ask that once again that we stay on these trails down to the beach here. One of the things that I really like about Mount Baldy is it's really dynamic. Every day is different out here.

The weather, the beach today, and we have a lot of beach, but also the trail. That final trail down to the beach changes really monthly, and so we see here today, we're actually presented with two choices. We have a trail that's gonna been here around to our right and offers maybe a slightly less steep approach down or we have this straight down all right here, which is really, really, steep.

So good visitor tip for Mount Baldy and really for a lot of Indiana Dunes National Park, where we have a lot of sand is to use the right footwear. I always recommend going one extreme or the other. So, I like hiking boots. I can go all hiking all around Mount Baldy and not get sand in my shoes, or go the entire direction: wear sandals. But if you're gonna wear running shoes or standard shoes, you are definitely gonna fill your shoes with sand and have to empty them out at the car.

Another great tip here at Mount Baldy is how to handle your pets. See here, a great example here we have visitors here. Both of their pets are on a leash. They picked up after their dog, and they're carrying it out, and it just really is enjoyment for everybody, and it really protects our environment. We have a lot of people come out here and think that because their dogs don't bite, it's okay. But also we have so many critical habitats out here. The dogs will unknowingly destroy that. It's really important to keep them on leash.

An the interesting thing to note here in Indiana Dunes National Park is Mount Baldy is actually just one of thousands of dunes to make up our 15 miles of shoreline and all these are different. Some are different shapes. Some are long and straight along the lake. For dunes, we have parabolic dunes, or form like this, and even if you were just to go to Mount Baldy and then drive down to our West Beach and see that the dunes look and behave very differently. And certainly at West Beach, they're very friendly towards hiking them. They're more friendly towards going to the beach and bringing a cooler or chairs whereas here, Mount Baldy, it's a little bit more difficult. So, we definitely wanna advise people a good tip is to please come here. Bring a backpack bring a light lunch, but don't plan on bringing large coolers or large amounts. You have a wagon with a bunch of gear because you're not gonna make it down to the beach.

Here at Mount Baldy, I really wanna point out some really sort of interesting and amazing things about our park. I mean everyone comes here for the lake. They know, you know, we have these 15 miles of awesome shoreline, but right here just in this small little area and that's what Indiana Dunes is all about. We had this clay layer 6,500 years ago, and this was a lagoon. I take a few steps up. I've got the sand cliff that shows us just the erosion that we're having now, these high lake levels, and we see that really the importance of this marram grass we all sit in the summer.

You know it's maybe a couple of feet tall, but what people don't realize is that the roots system, the rhizomes, go more than six feet down and really lock all these dunes together and then in in the foreground or in the background here we can see this. This is really interesting soil layer called paleosol that is really showing up at 3,500 years ago. We had a very stable dune here and years and decades and hundreds of years of stability, but now Mount Baldy has buried it and we see all that sand above that clay soil layer is now new dune as it's moving backwards towards our parking lot.

So I'm standing here in front of some close signs here says "keep off the dunes" and it's really important. We ask visitors to stay off this dune again. I'm sure everyone knows by now we had an unfortunate incident where a kid literally fell into a hole where an oak tree had decomposed and he literally fell over 10 feet in the hole. Luckily, he was rescued, but we have since used ground penetrating radar and we know that there are now dozens of these holes that exist up there and that's why we keep this closed. So,, really we're asking people for their own safety, but behind it is a really fascinating layer. I mean, we see, of course, erosion. We see this with the loss of vegetation that is moving but halfway through that we see this horizontal line that is a soil layer, what scientists will call a paleosol and basically below it is old dune.

It's around 3,500 years old and above it is new dune within the last 100 years, and so we know that roughly 3,500 years ago, we had a very stable situation here was covered soil was being developed, probably forested but a hundred years ago, we started to have a large movement of this dune.

The Michigan City break wall was put in and started starving sand here. We have a lot of visitor traffic up here. We don't know for sure, but we suspect it was deforested in that the 1800s and all that really led to the dune now moving inward. The wind is consistently covering up everything here and we've now moved a quarter mile inland, but this paleosol is a really easy way for scientist wherever they are even using ground penetrating radar to see the ancient forms under the new Mount Baldy as it moves inward.

One of the great things and interesting things about Baldy is that there's so many things going on here in just one small area For a ranger, it could be challenging to tie everything together. For instance, you know here in the middle of the beach, we have what looks like a rock, but this is actually clay, and the clay will break apart, and if we can see that, but there's small white specs and sometimes more pronounced than others. But these are actual animals, the shells from animals 6,500 years ago, when this area right before us was not the shoreline. We were actually in a lagoon formed by a barrier sandbar out there that lasted a couple thousand years, enough time to deposit. And I've seen areas with more than two feet thick of clay and it was an inland marsh. It actually formed, the Great Marsh, that area. So one fascinating history of Mount Baldy.

The other thing is that I know that everyone wants really pristine sand beaches, and a lot of time, we do have these very beautiful uniform beaches, but we also have a lot of this. This is very natural, so, and this is actually small. We do have some larger stuff, cobbles are typically around two and a half inches in diameter. A lot of good skipping stones and our beaches are a mixture of all this because of where this comes from. A lot of this larger stuff, cobble was transported in during the the Ice Age the, last ice age by glaciers down from Wisconsin and Michigan and even Canada. And then we also get a tremendous amount of sand that comes down to drift down, and has for thousands of years, along the shoreline. So these cobbled beaches are very natural and actually, when we get larger stones like this, these are very helpful because even large wave action will not move this away. And so this does help our beaches and keeps our beaches in place when we do have a large cobbled section.

So I'm standing here at Mount Baldy and it's known for its sand, it's beaches. And I have these rock looking structures in front of me and in fact, it is a layer. It is under everything here and it's a clay layer that dates back from about 6,500 years ago. At that time, there was enough sand out in the lake that pushed up and actually formed a barrier to the lake and this became a lagoon. Not unlike what we find at the Barrier Island saved on the Atlantic Ocean, but here it resulted in this lagoon that really provided a lot of marine life. We see a lot of shells in here for that time and it truly what's the creation of the broader Great Lake or Great Marsh system that's here at the national park. And it's impervious to water, so it holds the water in and it's partially why we can have the Great Marsh there with all the sand and because it's clay and this is direct evidence where we see the the water is actually seeping out of this clay layer trying to find a way to kinda get back back to the lake.

Here at the foot of Mount Baldy here along the lake, and several things to point out: one is when we first started here, we saw this very crooked, jagged shoreline and that's really evidence of an erosion of something taking place in particular at Lake Michigan. The lake really wants to have straight shorelines, so anytime we have interruptions or we see crooked shorelines, it's definitely gonna be a potential indicator of erosion and we see here we should have marram grass. It should be all grassed over, but it's not and we see how steep the sand is. It's basically a cliff in here. As we can see marram grass roots, in fact, we can actually see if it's possible. But during your hike definitely look for-- we can actually see a section of boardwalk that used to be part of the trail that was carried over, covered up and now it's exposed, so lots of signs of erosion here taking place, very dynamic with the high lake levels and what's going on recently with the weather.

An important visitor tip when visiting Mount Baldy and actually many places in Indiana Dunes is that our weather can be very different. So in the parking lot when I got here, it was 65 degrees out. People were in t-shirts, but I put on a sweater because I knew in just a third of a mile that I come to the lake and I would need this sweater. So a pro tip for coming to Mount Baldy is to bring a lot of layers. You can always expect wind at the lake and then generally cooler temperatures than what you'll find inland and perhaps at your house.

So another tip here from Baldy is in particular, if you decide to come down to the beach, there is really only one way back up. And currently we can see in the back, we have visitors coming up and it's not for the faint of heart. You are definitely gonna have to climb a loose amount of sand to get out of here, so just know that and make the decision wisely when you do decide to come down.

Thank you for taking the Virtual Ranger Challenge here at Mount Baldy. I really look forward to meeting up with you on Facebook and seeing your photos and seeing your comments and answering your questions. And I really hope that you get the following out of Mount Baldy: I tried to talk about, sort of, visitor tips and, you know, how to best enjoy it. I talked about the paleosol that was a soil layer that is all under Mount Baldy. I talked about the clay layer, the fascinating lagoons that were here at 3500 years ago. I talked about erosion. And then we see so many different signs of erosion, and I kinda discuss how much all this is just one of thousands of dunes here and each one unique and definitely worth it to hit the various parts of the park.

Thanks again for coming out.


Join Ranger Rafi Wilkinson as he discusses intriguing aspects about Mount Baldy while hiking along the trail.


13 minutes, 6 seconds


Indiana Dunes National Park

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