Beachgoers who didn’t mind throwing on their parka and trekking out to the beaches of Lake Michigan in early January were treated to a truly strange and beautiful sight, courtesy of Mother Nature. One might think they were in a modern art museum as hundreds of sculptures of sand dotted the beach at Tiscornia Park in St. Joseph, Michigan.
“It was like a different planet,” local nature photographer Terri Abbott told Fox 2. “I’ve never seen anything like them, and I spend a lot of time there!” Located on Lake Michigan’s southeastern shore, roughly 190 miles from Detroit, the strange and prehistoric-looking sand pillars dotted the beach. The pillars weren’t manmade of course, but are known as “sand hoodoos.”
Sand hoodoos take their name from their much larger cousins found in canyons where wind, sand, and water have carved away rock over millions of years to create towering stone pillars. The ones found on the shores of Lake Michigan were substantially smaller, coming in at only around 3 to 20 inches in height, according to Live Science.
“They were frozen and hard to the touch. The intricate and ever-so-sharp edges made them each amazing in their own way,” Abbot said. Despite being a regular at the park, Abbot said she’d never seen the sand hoodoos there before.
In order for the sand sculptures to form, physicist Daniel Bonn told Live Science that the right conditions of freezing winter air and wind were needed. “Roughly, I think that there are liquid patches in the sand that freeze when it gets cold,” Bonn explained. Because Lake Michigan’s coast is so windy, when the wind hits these frozen patches of sand, two things take place. Some of the sand in the wind might stick to the frozen patch, and other grains cut through it, ultimately working to carve out the sandcastle-like cylinders.
While the sand hoodoos make for beautiful photos for photographers, like Joshua Nowicki who snapped some incredible pics, they don’t last long. Wind will eventually tear the structures down or temperatures will rise and they’ll crumble.
Michigan has experienced quite a cold winter so far in 2022, much like a significant portion of the United States, so who knows… the sand hoodoos could return. Gusty conditions around the area have dropped the temperature into the single digits on many a night.
For now though, we’ll just have to enjoy the amazing photos of these natural pieces of art. “The fact that they only exist for a short time makes them very special,” Nowicki said. “You have to be there at just the right time to see them when the shape is still well defined.”
Some of the sand hoodoos resemble chess pieces while others look almost otherworldly as if they could be found on a distant alien planet. “Those things aren’t being built up,” Alan Arbogast, the chair of the Geography Department at Michigan State University, told UPI. “Everything around the features that are standing up was eroded from it. Those are the things that are left behind.”