As my circle of waterfall exploration expanded away from Houghton over the years new thorns appeared on the horizon. At first the thorns, the more stubborn waterfalls that eluded documentation and trails, were still on familiar land. Madison Gap (or Eliza), Upper Sturgeon, Ravine River - at least I had an idea of the land and surroundings on the repeat attempts. These new thorns were in new territory, pushing east, west, and south out of the Keweenaw, and hunting them was a difficult process fraught with surprises.
One of these new thorns only had a name referenced in an old newspaper article: Little Giant Falls. The article was boasting of the many tourist stops in the Gogebic area, giving me a general area to start my search in. Little Giant Creek was easy enough to find, a small tributary to Presque Isle River near Marenisco, but the creek was a swampy little thing. I kept searching, wondering if there was a drop on the river near the mouth of the creek, looking for other geographic features with a similar name, and found nothing. Little Giant Creek was my best lead.
It was mid-afternoon when I parked on the overgrown forest road off of M-64, maybe a mile east of the bridge over Presque Isle. I hadn't held any hopes on driving down the old road. It's barely a line on satellite images and probably hasn't seen tires in a decade. I pulled off my car a short distance into the woods, just enough to escape notice from passing cars on the highway, and eased out a half-open door. Bugs and vegetation closed in around me. It was going to be one of those hikes.
Shrugging on another cloud of spray I set off down the old track. There were a few downed trees to loop around and a few puddles to skip over on the road, slowing down an otherwise quick pace. As I walked I couldn't help notice the spooky woods around me. All day had been misty and rainy, with the occasional short-lived break of sunshine, and that weather mixed with a dead forest around me to make for a rather spooky scene.
Not even ten minutes into the walk and the powerlines showed up. I paused, gazing over the expanse of grass stretching away. I had picked two potential spots for the falls to be at, both sitting northwest of where I stood. I could continue north on the road and make a beeline west, minimizing my off-road distance, or use the powerlines, which would minimize my forest/swamp hike. I was tired of the road. I headed west through the deep grass, picking my steps with care, hoping to avoid stepping on a nest or into a surprise hole.
Bees buzzed loudly on the tall flowers around me and the grass rasped underfoot. I'm not found of wading through tall grass, especially when it's chest-high on my six-and-a-half-foot frame. Suppose it beat pushing through swamp. I continued west until I was directly south of the creek and, with a grimace, pushed my way into the swamp.
The swamp could be worse. I told myself that as I crawled on all fours over the spongy ground, trying my best to avoid the scratching pine and deadfall. There could be several feet of water over everything like the swamp next to Cliff Lake, or I could be trying to navigate without a GPS like that time out on the Herman swamps. Still, this swamp was not a lot of fun. I really should have checked out the vegetation types before choosing a route.
Over a half hour later and I finally reached the creek, which only sits a hundred yards from the powerlines. The tiny thing gurgled and trickled through thick underbrush next to me. It was larger than I thought it would be, a fact that gave me some hope that this long hike would not be in vain. The brush cleared slightly and I was able to stay mostly upright as I continued north, up the small creek.
Rock walls began to crop up next to the creek, furthering my hope that there would be a decent drop here. Maybe the online maps and topographic profiles had merely missed out on this waterfall because of the thick swamp. No one wants to hack through a swamp. Well, few people want to hack through a swamp. I began to listen carefully to the trickling waters, hoping to hear a small cascade ahead. Then I stumbled upon the silent falls.
A solid rock outcropping stretched bone-dry across the river. It was obvious that this was once a waterfall. Below the rock was a wide, deep pool, dark and foreboding with the swamp's stains. The outcropping was even carved in the center from past water, a shallow dip that would make a meager one-foot drop if it was flowing. It wasn't flowing. Where was the water?
I crept up along the side of the pool, getting close to the outcropping. I could still hear the water trickle, bubbling around roots and plants. Then I saw it. The creek had formed a shallow channel that completely circumvented the rock. Instead of flowing over the waterfall, it simply flowed around. This was weird.
Several pieces of evidence lay here. First, it was obvious that this was once a waterfall. There was an article from the 70s that mentioned a name, the name fit, there was a deep pond with a suspicious rock formation above it. Even the rock was worn and shaped as if water flowed over it. Yet the water now flowed around it. And water tends to choose the path of least resistance. If only soil laid to the side of the rock, and soil is easy to cut a channel through than rock, why was there a waterfall here in the first place?
I could only come up with a few ideas. The first once is logging. Maybe there was large trees here with solid root systems to hold the earth solid and push the water over the rock. Either logging or dying trees gave way, tore up the ground, and gave the creek a different path. The second is rocks. Maybe there were rocks here, huge boulders, that either sank or gave way in the last thirty years to let the water through.
The last, and most probable, is beavers. I do blame them for a lot, I know. Still, if there had been a beaver dam here it could have altered the creek. Maybe an upstream dam, or one on top of these falls, had given way and created a torrent of rushing water that overwhelmed the small drop. Water flowed to all sides of the outcropping and had simply worn a better way.
Whatever killed the waterfall and created the new route had happened recently. The side channel was young, muddy, and oddly shaped. A waterfall had sat here some twenty or thirty years ago, and some recent event had changed things. With one last glance back I left the dry waterfall, feeling a bit spiteful that I had walked through the swamp to find dry rock.
I was not about to retrace my course. Instead I made for the rock walls and climbed them, curious if there was a view and hoping the woods on top would be more open. I got both wishes. A mild and cloudy view opened up to the west over the swamp, falsely bright under the hidden afternoon sun, and the forest was open with hardwood. This was a nice change.
Doing my best to cut a diagonal back to the road quickly brought me into another swamp. I should have known better. North of the powerines the road goes through a pretty nasty stretch of woods, wet swamp on either side of the track. I had hoped to avoid this nasty. I was forced to parallel the swamp, bouncing against it impatiently and being forced back by impassable brush and wet. The woods closed in around me quickly and I began to wonder how I was going to get out of this mess.
When I finally broke through the swamp onto the track I was a mere stone's throw from the powerlines. It may have been easier to retrace my way in after all. A few minutes later and I was back at the car, dripping with dew and sweat. As I pulled out of the woods I couldn't help but wonder if the waterfall could be rebuilt. A few well-placed stones would easily redirect the water over the rock. Eh, maybe it's for the best. Some waterfalls are killed off by man, rivers rerouted or drowned for power and recreation. Maybe, sometimes, nature can kill waterfalls too.