The magnificent scenery of the Indiana Dunes makes it a photographer’s paradise. The epic sand dunes, gorgeous Lake Michigan sunsets, and wooded trails offer unlimited opportunities to take photographs. One of the best places to take pictures is at West Beach in the Indiana Dunes National Park. Chesterton High School Photography Students took a field trip to West Beach to hone their camera skills and take on the Diana of the Dunes Dare.
The Diana of the Dunes Dare is a new hiking challenge on the Dune Succession Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park’s West Beach. The one-mile trail leads up and over Diana’s Dune and through the four stages of dune development.
The signs along the trail tell the story of Alice Mable Gray, otherwise known as “Diana of the Dunes.” Alice was an intelligent and free-spirited woman who left the busy Chicago life in the early 1900s to live in a shanty in the Indiana Dunes’ wilderness.
You can read more about the students’ experiences on the Diana of the Dunes Dare below:
We arose early Friday morning to leave CHS at 6 a.m. We arrived in time to see the sunrise, which allowed us to take some silhouettes and practice compensating for backlighting.
We started out walking along the lake as we made our way to the beginning of the Diana Dunes Dare. When we had climbed about halfway up, we got to see where Diana lived. Diana was born Alice Mabel Gray and lived an unusual life for her time.
Diana was particularly interested in the ecology, history, and preservation of the Indiana Dunes. She was dubbed Diana of the Dunes since she lived in the dunes wilderness in a small shanty for nine years. After hiking the Diana Dunes Dare, we spent more time strolling along the lake and taking pictures. In total, I took 83 stunning pictures and had a fantastic time!
It was amazing the different landscapes around the Indiana Dunes. The wildlife growing and living around the woods, ponds, and lake on the dunes were especially cool to see. Driving up, we couldn’t help but take pictures of the sun just touching a pond near the dunes. It had ducks and geese, all kinds of wildlife.
The walk was beautiful, watching the sunrise and the dunes while slowly proceeding from the lake to a wooded area. The stairs up the rolling dunes and hills allowed for great views of the lake and wildlife around us. It was cool then to see the wooded areas slowly turn back into dunes and sand with little to no vegetation on them. It was also fun seeing how much fun people were having walking their dogs, going on runs, or just taking a stroll with a group of friends.
We woke up early in the morning to catch some good lighting. I was very upset with Schultz, our teacher, for making us get up at 5 in the morning. But I ended up loving it. As the morning went on, more wildlife joined us, and the scenery came to life. It was an incredible experience to be able to wake up with the nature around me.
I really enjoy simplicity in photography. So, as I continued to shoot throughout the morning, that was one design principle I focused on. It was very easy to implement this because the textures around me allowed any picture to become interesting. This photo is a really good example. It was a simple dune, but the grass and trail on it created a really interesting texture combined with the moon behind it. Mr. Schultz and Christine took us out to the pavilion along the trail. It was full of really interesting shapes and lighting. Inside the pavilion, there was a path that led out to the beachfront. It was gorgeous with the lighting from the sun so early in the morning. We all loved taking it in and found really cool opportunities to shoot.
Christine had pointed out the destruction on parts of the dunes along the trail. Many people take advantage of the gorgeous trails but unfortunately go off the paths. This can create large spots of dead grass or sand patches. It destroys natural growth and hurts the organisms living in the dunes.
Although it was a brisk and cold morning, nothing could distract from the beauty of the Diana Dunes Dare hike at West Beach. The trail starts with many flights of stairs that take you through the dune succession. The stairs might seem daunting, but they are worth it for the beautiful scenery. Other than the path, you feel very immersed in the foliage and nature surrounding you.
The path eventually takes you to overlook points that give you amazing views of the lakeshore and many dunes around it. These views were breathtaking and definitely worth the walk. At the lookout spots, you learn details about Diana of the Dunes. She lived a very fascinating life, and her story is one I enjoyed reading about very much. The hiking trail concludes with a short walk along the shoreline, where on a clear day like ours, you can see the beautiful outline of Chicago.
On the way back to the parking lot, there is a selfie station where we took photos to humbly brag about our triumph over the Diana Dunes Dare. The trail and experience were well worth the numb feeling in my toes for a few hours after. I would definitely recommend the Dare for families and people with dogs. We witnessed many dogs enjoying the trail, as well as kids and families.
Getting to go to the Dunes and being given the opportunity to learn not only about the land but Diana as well was a great experience. I got to explore a part of the National Park that I had never been to and also at a new time of day. Seeing the sunrise and hearing all of the birds and other little animals was a peaceful moment that I won’t forget. I highly recommend getting up early and heading out to a new spot to explore.
My favorite part was getting to learn about dune succession. I really appreciated learning that because I have lived in Northwest Indiana my entire life and I feel like we barely learn about the dunes or any of the history and science behind them.
Thanks for joining us on the Diana of the Dunes Trail, CHS!
Celebrate Your Accomplishment!
Have you done the Dare? Stop by the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center or the Paul H. Douglas Center to get your free Diana of the Dunes sticker.
You can also buy a T-shirt or hoodie—you’ve earned it!