3 Waterfalls, 2 States, 1 Big Spring…and the End of the Road

As I mentioned in the last post, no matter the time zone, we woke up early after camping in the Porcupine Mountains. Superior was calm and blue and the day ahead was largely going to be spent in the car.

But first, I had a couple nearby waterfalls to check off my list.

We drove not far from our campsite, parked, and headed down a short trail in the woods.

The sun filtered through the thick canopy of green. The temperature was crisp. It felt good to be walking off the stiffness of a cold night in the tent. And then we ran into a little trouble…

Early June being so very early in the season in the Upper Peninsula, it appeared that not all the repairs that might be needed in the very large Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park had been made yet. Or maybe that tree had only just fallen that week. Or perhaps park personnel were following in the footsteps of many a state park I’ve hiked through, many of which have seemed to fall into disrepair (I’ll talk a bit more about that when I get to this year’s Annual Sisters’ Hiking Trip in a later post…)

Intrepid explorers that were were, the boy and I simply made our way around the bridge, down into the ravine, over the stream, and up the other side. Our reward was two waterfalls (and actually very well-kept trails and stairs alongside them).

Manabezho Falls was quite a nice little drop, like a miniature Upper Tahquamenon. But up river a ways we reached Manido Falls, which was my favorite of the two.

I love the pattern and angles in the rock riverbed there. I think I have a thing for falls like this, that don’t simply drop but instead wind their way down various levels.

Manido Falls from another vantage point even reveals little baby waterfalls (on the right, closest to the camera) which I quite liked.

About an hour down the road in the heart of Ottawa National Forest is Bond Falls. I was surprised by Bond Falls. I’d see plenty of pictures of it, but I never appreciated the size of the falls. And in early June, Bond Falls was rushing.

Bond Falls is on the middle branch of the Ontonagon River, a river system that sprawls over a huge chunk of the Western U.P.

This image is public domain.

One cool thing about Bond Falls is that you can go quite a ways up river along lots of rapids, which we did. And along the way you can find lots of large rocks to climb, which the boy did.

After spending the morning at waterfalls, we had a long drive ahead of us, which included trying to find a city with decent cell service so we could connect with Zach via Skype. I believe at that point his 10-day trip to Israel was getting rather long, at least when it came to being away from his family. We tried in one town (Crystal Falls) and when the connection was bad I could tell from Zach’s voice that this wasn’t going to cut it for his only communication with his family that day. I told him I’d reroute and head for Iron Mountain, which was the only “big” city around. This detour took us, ever so briefly, into Wisconsin (about six or seven miles of US Route 2 runs through it). It was my first time in that state.

We were able to connect with Daddy in Iron Mountain (which looked like a really cool town I’d like to visit on purpose someday) and we all felt a lot better. Still, all three of us were getting to the point where we were ready for our traveling days to be over for a bit.

The boy and I drove on, listening to our U.P. Road Trip playlist, toward the city of Manistique on Lake Michigan. But before collapsing at the hotel, I had one more U.P. attraction I wanted to see. Kitch-iti-kipi.

Kitch-iti-kipi, often called The Big Spring, is the largest natural freshwater spring in Michigan. The spring is equipped with a self-serve raft that travels along a cable by means of cranking a large metal wheel. This raft takes you out over the spring and has a hole in the center of it so you can look straight down into the crystal clear water, which is full of trout and other fish. Can you see in the photo below where the sand is disturbed? That’s where the water is flowing in. (BTW, that is really the color of the water. No filter.)

This sign on the raft explains how the spring works.

And this sign answers all your questions about it.

For the past five days, we had experienced freighters going through locks, eight beautiful (and loud) waterfalls, a guided boat tour of incredible cliffs, seeing black bears, going into a mine, climbing over rocks on top of windy mountains, and camping outdoors (the boy’s first time). During most of the (at that point) 24+ hours in the car, we’d been listening to music. After all that, Kitch-iti-kipi was a very quiet end to an epic trip. We had the raft all to ourselves, though there were about a dozen people waiting to get on when we brought it back to shore. I’m glad we did. I don’t generally care for being around a lot of GP (General Public) when I’m exploring outside.

It was just me and my boy and a serenely beautiful place. I felt lucky to be there. Lucky to have made this trip and these memories. Lucky to live not so far away from such beauty.

That night we had the dinner buffet at Big Boy. The TVs (why are there TVs in every restaurant now?) were playing the news on mute, catching me up with all that had occurred while I was mostly offline, including the terror attack on London Bridge. Back to reality, which seems more unreal every month.

After dinner we walked along Lake Michigan, enjoying the perfect weather and the thought of sleeping in our own beds the next night.

And when we saw the bridge the next day, it was a welcome yet bittersweet sight. Truly, once we crossed that five-mile span and touched the Lower Peninsula, the adventure was over. There would be no more surprises.

We knew this road well.

A Changing Landscape and a Hidden Waterfall

On a Sunday morning in early June, my son and I left Munising after breakfast at Bay Furnace Bagel to head to parts west.


It was tremendously foggy and cool for the first fifty miles between Munising and Marquette, but not so foggy I didn’t realize how lovely it would be to live on Lake Superior near the town of Au Train.

The fog lifted and I pulled over for a few shots of Superior.

It is a road trip, after all, and the scenery along the way is half the point.

Around Marquette and beyond, the landscape of the Upper Peninsula begins to change from dairy farms and scrubby wetlands to hills with imposing outcroppings of rock, reminiscent of the foothills of a mountain range.

This is copper country and iron country. And indeed it is part of an ancient mountain range, the Porcupine Mountains, which we’ll get to by and by.

There’s no where else in the state of Michigan quite like it. It reminded me at times of the drive from flat Denver to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Except everywhere there is water. Rivers, creeks, wetlands, waterfalls, a Great Lake, and inland lakes.

One can spend too long in a car, especially when one is nine years old.

Time for a short hike along the storied Sturgeon River to find a waterfall…

The boy has discovered that he loves climbing and leaping around on rocks. Finding such things to climb and leap on was his singular focus in the western UP.

He’s also found that he loves rushing rivers and rapids, the sounds of which we normally don’t hear in the flat, lazy middle of the Mitten where rivers take their time over riverbeds of muffling sediment.

It’s possible he may have gotten tired of my continual admonishments to “be careful” on the sometimes slippery rocks.

We found Canyon Falls at the end of about a 1/2 mile trail. I allowed the boy to come around the fence and down a bit into the gorge for a closer look at these falls, which are tucked away below the trail.

But I didn’t let him get quite as far down as I went to get the best view inside the little “canyon” where they empty out.

After all, one has to have some sense of limits. Even when it is clear that one’s son is busy testing his.

In case you’re wondering where to find these falls, you’ll want to head toward the red star off Highway 41, seven miles south of L’Anse.

Let the Adventure Begin…

I have long wanted to see more of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula than the eastern end I have been fairly familiar with through a childhood trip, a mission trip with our church’s youth group, and three hiking trips with my sister (you can find out more about the hiking trips by poking around in the earlier years of this blog). And I have been keen on getting my son up there while he is still young so that he can fall in love with it as much as I have. So when it was decided that my husband would be going to Israel for ten days I thought that was the perfect time to plan a road trip. I didn’t want us to be stuck at home for ten days without Daddy, bored and lonesome. Much better to distract ourselves with some of God’s natural wonders — and with some of man’s innovations to navigate and utilize those natural resources.

On his last half-day of school on Friday, we headed north over the Mighty Mac to go exploring…

The first stop on our whirlwind tour of the Upper Peninsula (hereafter referred to as the UP — that’s U-P, not “up”) was Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced Soo-Saint-Marie) to visit the Soo Locks, which allow commercial shipping between Lake Superior and the rest of the Great Lakes, and, by extension through the St. Lawrence Seaway, the rest of the world. Here’s where you’ll find them:

Sault Ste. Marie is a rather industrial little town, not “pretty” by most standards, but it has a charm all its own. Growing up in the Bay City area as I did, I tend to like anything to do with boats and shipping. The Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River (which you will find between the Thumb and the rest of the Mitten in the map above) have been important shipping channels for generations. Though downtown Bay City is getting a face lift — the mountains of gravel and big cranes are giving way to new loft housing and a revamped riverfront — the sailboats and freighters and drawbridges are all still there. And now that I’m rather landlocked in the middle of the state, I get a bit of a thrill to see something like this:

That is the Lee A. Tregurtha coming in from the Huron side to pick up iron ore pellets from a Minnesota port on Superior. Huron is the lower of the two lakes, so once this beast gets into the lock, the water level will be raised (powered only by gravity and strategically opened and closed valves) to the Superior level, which takes 22 million gallons of water. Then the doors on the Superior side will be opened and the ship will go on its way.

This spot used to be solely rapids and had to be bypassed on land, which limited what you could ship. Native Americans and French voyageurs and fur traders had to lift their canoes and boats out of the water and carry them to the next lake. Now 7,000 boats and ships pass through the locks each year carrying an average of 80 million tons of cargo.

The long elevated bridge you can see in the next photo is the bridge to Canada, and there are also locks on the Canadian side.

Being so close to Canada, you may see signs like this on local businesses:

Growing up on the east side of the state, we regularly used Canadian coins interchangeably with American coins when they showed up in our pockets. No one ever questioned it. Then when I moved to the west side of the state in college and tried to use a Canadian quarter, the clerk treated me like I was a criminal trying to pull one over on her. She didn’t even know what she was looking at. I was quite taken aback.

But then, Michigan is a very large state, as my son and I found out! More about our adventures in the coming weeks, but in the meantime click here for more interesting facts about the Soo Locks, along with a good aerial shot.