On August 24, exactly a month after our visit to West Beach, we were back at Indiana Dunes National Park. This time, we were again there as part of our Let’s Go Outside group of mostly Chicagoans who pick places near the city to go for day hikes six times a year. The group had last done Indiana Dunes in July 2015. Four years earlier, we’d run into some issues finding parking, so I suggested to the group via Facebook earlier that week that we try and get an early start. Our plan was to begin at the Park’s far eastern edge, Mount Baldy, and work our way west with a series of short hikes. If people wanted to join us later, they could text and find out where we were. Also, if people needed to get back to the city early, they could peel off whenever they needed to.
Ultimately, there were four of us who explored the Park that day: Sean, Angela, Mary, and me. It was our first time exploring a National Park with Mary!
In the summer of 2019, after Indiana Dunes became a National Park, Sean and I planned two day trips there. The first trip was on a hot July day with a bunch of my family who were visiting Chicago from both the Detroit area and Seattle. Our choice for the day was West Beach, a unit of the Park that Sean and I had never been to. It boasts both a beach with a bathhouse and lifeguards and some nice hiking trails.
On February 15, 2019, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore became Indiana Dunes National Park, the nation’s sixty-first. The legislation to “upgrade” the National Lakeshore to National Park status, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Gary) with the support of the entire Indiana Congressional delegation (but over the opposition of the National Park Service), had been inserted into the omnibus bill to reopen the federal government after the longest shutdown in history. The legislation, however, added no land to the Park, nor did it change its appropriation budget or increase levels of protection for an exceedingly fragile landscape. Although sites become part of the National Park System in different ways (only Congress holds the authority to establish a National Park while, for instance, a president may unilaterally create a National Monument), since the National Park Service General Authorities Act of 1970, all the units within the National Park System have been managed equally as a single system. But the term National Park holds a special place in the imagination. As Park Superintendent Paul Labovitz writes in the summer/fall issue of The Singing Sands, the Park’s newspaper, “Sixty-one of the 419 [NPS units] are called National Park, and when you think about they way National Park visits are written about and promoted, those 61 are usually the places featured.”
On the afternoon of Thursday, November 15, we concluded our adventures at Guadalupe Mountains National Park with a private visit to the gypsum sand dunes beneath the magnificent western escarpment of the Guadalupes. Beginning around twenty-six million years ago, the area west of the range began dropping and the mountains began rising along a steep vertical fault. Slowly the fossilized Permian coral reef emerged as softer rock layers eroded away. Meanwhile, the dunes out in Chihuahuan Desert lowlands west of the range and were formed by an ancient lake. Much like in Death Valley and huge portions of the Great Basin Desert, all of the streams on the western side of the southern portion of the Guadalupes did not reach the sea but instead flowed to a lake in the depression beneath the escarpment. When the climate became warmer and drier, the lake evaporated, leaving a huge salt flat basin. The gypsum dunes were formed by the wind collecting the sand from the vanished lake.
Thursday, November 15 was our day of transition from Guadalupe Mountains National Park to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. With the backpacking trip as part one, car camping with Phil, Adam, and Sylvan as part two, we were now going to embark on part three and be joined by John, Catherine, and Mariana down from Chicago. But we wouldn’t be checking into our AirB&B in Carlsbad, New Mexico until the evening, so we still had much of the day to see a few more wonders in the Guadalupe Mountains.
Devil’s Hall is a short, narrow chasm a few miles up Pine Canyon from its wide mouth. It is accessible via a two-miles-and-change hike from the Pine Springs Trailhead. After the crazy events of the previous night and morning, our afternoon’s adventure on Wednesday, November 14 was a hike up to Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s only accessible slot canyon of note.
After lunch on Tuesday, November 13, Phil climbed into the tent with Sylvan for the little guy’s nap. Meanwhile Sean, Adam, and I decided to get in a second short hike for the day, this time one a bit more ambitious than our walk through the foothills with the baby that morning.
We chose to check out at least part of the Permian Reef Geology Trail near the entrance to McKittrick Canyon. The entire trail is a 4.2-mile out-and-back 2,000 feet up onto Wilderness Ridge near the Texas-New Mexico state line. We wouldn’t be able to do the entire trail, but we figured it would be worth it to see some of it. We were particularly keen to see fossils.