joanna irl

Indiana Dunes National Park!

It’s official! One of my favorite places to visit while we lived in Chicago, Indiana Dunes, is now the US’s newest National Park!!

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore became Indiana Dunes National Park this month, becoming only the 61st place with that designation in the country. So cool! While the designation doesn’t really fundamentally change much about the park or how it operates (it has been national land since the 1960s and has been a park for over 100 years), it does provide a boost for marketing, while also becoming the first national park in Indiana. So congratulations, Indiana residents!

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

But there are still some cool things to know now that it’s an official National Park! First, according to National Geographic, this 15 mile lakeshore gets about the same number of annual visitors as Mount Rushmore. It’s also the closest thing to a beach that most folks in Chicago are going to experience, and has some legit massive dunes.

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

The dunes are soft sand, and offer a buffer against the storms from the lake to the wetlands surrounding the area. You can hike through the marsh trails (and be sure to note which areas are part of the Indiana Dunes State Park, managed separately from the National Park spaces since regulations are different) or across the dunes. Just be prepared for a workout– the dunes are steep and hiking through sand is no joke!

Indiana Dunes, June 2015
Photo by Joanna Volavka

Indiana Dunes was one of our favorite escapes from Chicago. We could get there in just over an hour from home, but it felt like a whole world away. The Chicago skyline was distantly visible on clear days, but in the other directions it was just sand and water and trees. And while the beaches weren’t like being by the ocean, if I closed my eyes on a warm day and pretended…it was close enough to get by.

joanna irl

Australia 2014: Heading south in Western Australia

Australia, WA open road

Welcome back for another installment of the Great Australia Travelogue of 2014! For the next leg of our journey, we packed up our friends’ SUV and headed onto the open road, south through WA and toward the coast and countryside.

Continue reading “Australia 2014: Heading south in Western Australia”

joanna irl

Joshua Tree National Park, revisited

Joshua Tree NP

As it is springtime (and as he hadn’t been), I took J to Joshua Tree National Park in search of wildflowers. We seem to have arrived about a week (or maybe two) too early, but it was still beautiful and the afternoon sunlight stretching across the desert made the colors all the more vivid.

Joshua Tree flowers

The Joshua trees themselves were blooming, which was fascinating. They seemed a lot greener than I remembered, but maybe that was because I’ve spent more time in deserts since my last visit.

Joshua Tree rock monument

The rocks didn’t look quite real until we got right up close to them, and they look much smaller than they really are. And this isn’t even proper perspective, since the man crouching is very close to me and the rocks are not.

Joshua Tree San Andreas Fault

I also took J to the overlook where you can see the San Andreas fault and the Salton Sea. Pardon our scruffiness, we were camping the night previous.

Joshua Tree wildflowers

On the way out of the park and heading home, we did see the start of the wildflowers. They are bright and are starting to creep over the landscape, and I’m told they eventually blanket the dry ground before fading again for the summer.

(Photos begin here.)

joanna irl

Joshua Tree National Park in January

in the desert

Last week, my sister came to California with me to help me settle back into the new place and to help me out with the errandy type things that always accompany a move, and which are much more easily accomplished with two people. Of course we also did some fun sight seeing (which is also better with two people) and one of the places we went was Joshua Tree National Park. We’ve been trying to get to as many national parks as possible, if you recall, and this was our first DESERT.

We had gone to Disneyland the day before, but that morning it was raining and we decided that rather than spend a second day at Disney in the rain, we’d go to see a damp desert. How often do you get to see one of those? By the time we got there (it was a good bit of driving), the rain had cleared, but it left everything softened, less dusty, and really colorful.


One of our first stops was for a short hike to some Native American petroglyphs. Someone had painted over them, which was a shame because you can’t see their original form, but it was still very cool that they are visible.

The Joshua Trees themselves are bizarre looking, turning in all different directions, with seemingly harry trunks and strange, spiked green balls of leaves. They vary in size and shape, and seem surreal in the landscape, inserted as an afterthought.

Joshua trees

There are also huge piles of boulders and of small rocks. The scale is hard to imagine, but sometimes there are simply huge, smooth rock faces, worn into turrets and towers by the wind, and sometimes there are mountains made of what look like bits of loose stone.

Rock formations

It was chilly out, being January, despite how dry everything was. Apparently it won’t get warm again until March, when all of the wildflowers start blooming and people come to camp and watch the sunsets and all of that. It might be nice to go back then.

The last thing I’ll show you is the view we got of the San Andreas Fault, right before sunset.

San Andreas Fault

It’s hard to see, but it’s the hazy dark line in the middle of the lighter haze. Very pretty view, though. As the sun set, it kept getting colder. We drove to the other major park entrance in the section we were visiting, and saw an oasis. It looked much like the rest of the park, except with palm trees in a very dense, central area. All in all, a very cool day trip.

So that was our first visit to a desert. You can see the rest of the photos here.