Monday, July 12, 2010

Ohio Street Beach

Ohio Street Beach is a small wedge of sand trapped between Chicago's big water treatment plant and the city itself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

North Avenue Beach

North Avenue Beach is a broad crescent of sand held in place by a long curving concrete jetty (groin?). The beach was quiet in the morning, but by afternoon it was packed with volleyball players and sunbathers.

There's a great map of Chicago's lakefront parks at: Lakefront Map

Oak Street Beach

Once upon a time, sand worked its way southward down the west side of Lake Michigan, building out into the lake in a series of spits at the mouth of the Chicago River. But one thing led to another and the beaches were gradually (or not so gradually) left behind as the city moved into the lake.

Then David Burnham came along and saw the potential for a hugely public, albeit hugely artificial, shoreline. Like many other Great Lakes cities, lake fill was an obvious solution, but in Chicago they seemed to have done it better and bigger than others.
The result is miles of public park along the lake front, trimmed with stepped concrete walls, artificial beaches, marinas, and park space. The wind and wave regime hasn't changed appreciably since the city arrived, so sand placed along the shore would move southward rapidly were it not configured with jetties and landfill into a series of north facing pocket beaches. Some are isolated, some segmented by groins.

Oak Street Beach, at the north end of Michigan Avenue, fits into a corner in the lake fill - kept in place by Lake Shore Drive as it curves east around the northern part of downtown. The straight seawall north of Oak Street precludes a beach, so it sort of pretends to be one. Despite what could easily have been viewed as ugly, I thought it was actually pretty neat and it certainly got its share of use, at least later in the day (these shots are mainly early in the morning). I suppose it was underwater in the mid-1980s when lake levels were high.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

St. Joseph

Silver Beach in St. Joseph was crowded at lunchtime on Saturday when we passed through (more pictures at hshipman).

St. Joseph is on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan, at the mouth of the St. Joseph River. As at nearby South Haven and New Buffalo (and Michigan City, in Indiana), waves and longshore transport are from north to south, building up sand on the north side of the river mouth jetties. This also used to happen on other side of the lake, at the mouth of the Chicago River.

Geologically, this sand is destined for the south end of the lake, where it will be blown inland to bury 19th century steel mills and freeways under hundred-foot tall dunes.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Point Pelee

The northern shore of lake Erie (Google Maps) is punctuated by three elegant landforms. The location of each may be determined by glacial features like moraines, but the shape of each is all about wind and waves and moving sediment.
There are good bathymetric maps and geologic explanations of Lake Erie at NOAA's NGDC.

Long Point is a spit, neither a simple nor a small one.

Point aux Pins (Rondeau Provincial Park) is an arcuate promontory that might be categorized as a recurved or cuspate spit. Its southeastern shore is composed of a beautiful series of accreted beach ridges, while its western shore is somewhat more tenuous. There is a big offset in the shoreline at the jetties at Erieau and the map on the wall at the Eau Buoy Cafe showed that in 1868 the natural opening was much larger and located pretty much where the town is today.

Point Pelee, where all of the these photos are from, is a large cuspate foreland, tapering to a slender point. It has lost ground, or at least changed shape, over time, making the riprap on the west side of the tip seem both unfortunate and sort of futile. The sinuous tip vanished southward under the waves, tempting me to wade out farther, but the biting flies argued against it.

Point Pelee is the southernmost point in mainland Canada. The country's true southernmost point is a very similar looking spit at the southern tip of Pelee Island, maybe 25 km south of here.

Lake Erie

This is a more geographically general post than most, since my goal was simply to capture several shots taken as we traveled between the Cape Rondeau area and the western end of the lake. This shoreline consists mainly of bluffs, many of clay or silt, but there are also low beaches, including the large barriers that have formed at Point aux Pins and Point Pelee.

The geography of this shoreline appears to be controlled by larger glacial features and sediment variability, subsequently reshaped by Holocene coastal processes. Humans have left their mark, too, with jetties, lots of groins, and a mish mash of armoring, at least locally. Most of the shoreline development is on the low beaches, probably because the bluffs are eroding quickly enough to discourage building and because the demand for Lake Erie view property isn't the same as on Puget Sound.

The timber groins are at Erie Beach?, just west of Erieau (Aerial).
The bluffs are at Point Alma (Aerial).
The sheetpile groins are on the west side of Point Pelee, near Seacliffe. (Aerial)

Thursday, July 08, 2010


Sandbanks Provincial Park, on the northeastern shore of Lake Ontario, includes two large sandy swash-aligned barriers with their accompanying dunes. I had been curious to get here since my 2008 trip to Ontario, when these beaches were just too much to add to one trip. But our route from northern New England to Chicago took us along the northern edge of both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie and Sandbanks was a nice respite from the highway and the muggy, hot weather.

Westcott Beach

Westcott Beach is on the easternmost end of Lake Ontario, just around the corner from Sackets Harbor. This coast is completely new to me, so I don't have any sense whether this sand was brought in or not, although I don't see why this beach couldn't be natural. The aerial photos show plenty of sand in the area and the orientation of this shore to winds coming down the lake is favorable. Of course, in the winter those winds must blast this area, dumping tons of snow and piling slabs of ice up on the shoreline.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Reid State Park

Reid was not necessarily the ultimate destination of the road trip, but it was the most distant point we reached (well, technically the Five Island Lobster Pound, just down the road, was the farthest east point on our trip) and a symbolic turnaround for me. I explained my connection to Reid during my last visit in 2008 (Griffith Head) -- it's the first beach I have any memories of visiting.

The sand was sculpted into cusps stretching off down the mile-long beach. Long waves, intersecting waves, or just self-organization at work. As someone fond of small diverse beaches and sometimes bored by long, unchanging ones, I find it perfectly reasonable that the latter look for way to rearrange themselves into something a little more interesting.


A long drive across North America ended today with two beaches on its far right edge. The coast of Maine, at least of southern Maine, has a rocky framework with beaches filling in the interstices. In some places, like Ogunquit and Old Orchard, the beaches are long strands and dominate the landscape, while on the midcoast, like at Reid and Popham, the rocky skeleton stands out and the beaches are small and isolated.

Our first view of the Atlantic was through an Independence Day weekend crowd of kites and balloons and sunbathers. The east end of Beach Street crosses to the southern tip of the spit and people covered the sand on both the ocean side and along the river on the inside. Farther south, across the small river, are the rocky headlands that extend south toward Cape Neddick.

The waves were gentle and the beach was flat, with a broad low trough (runnel?) separating the upper beach from an equally subdued bar at the water's edge.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Central Park

I had to include these pictures of The Lake in Central Park. These were some of my favorite shorelines on our road trip although none were actually beaches. I guess that context matters. There are bedrock ledges sloping into the water, marshy edges, forested banks, and of course, a wonderful variety of artificial shorelines and structures.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Hudson River

I don't think there are any beaches in these shots - although there is still a little bit of the original rocky shoreline just north of the Little Red Lighthouse at Jeffries Hook, beneath the George Washington Bridge.

It is hard to consider the shoreline of New York City without contemplating the west side of Manhattan and its long history of ships and railroads and highways and parks (and highways and parks that never were, too, which makes some of the most interesting stories). Although the west side is in much better shape - for both fish and roller skaters - than it was a few decades ago, it is still largely isolated from the rest of the city. Maybe some day they'll figure out a way (and more critically, agree on a way) to bring Manhattan and the River back together.

All of these shots are of the lower Hudson and Manhattan, except the last one from Storm King, 60 miles up stream, which I threw in just because I like the Hudson River.