A short, bumpy drive along the powerline's service road brought me to a dirt four-wheeler track heading south. I stepped out of my car and immediately felt the heat rising from the ground like a swelling pool of water. Grabbing some water and a few granola bars, I entered the green forest on the overgrown track at a brisk pace, not particularly looking forward to this hike through the sweltering heat.
After finishing my waterfall project several years ago and putting together my waterfalls of the keweenaw area website I began to explore other Upper Peninsula features, like mountains and lakes. I still visit waterfalls if they are along my route or when I'm with curious friends. However, falls started to crop up that I had missed... deep in the Peshekee Highlands, in a remote area of the Keweenaw, or in unexplored reaches of the Ottawa National Forest luring me back to adventurous bushwhacks through unmarked areas searching for the right creek flowing through the right area. Nealy Falls was one of these trips.
It started with an incorrect marking on a random online pdf along a swampy stretch of the Carp River. I was quite used to these - usually either the latitude or longitude is off by a digit. Tracing northwards on the map a few miles brought me to Nealy Creek, a tiny swamp-fed waterway north of Teal Lake flows into the Carp River. There was no topographic marks or other indication that a waterfall existed here, but the name (it was misspelled as Nelly Falls on the map) and location was enough of a coincidence for me to check out.
The four-wheeler trail veered to the west, away from my route, but an overgrown trail continued south. It didn't take long for this to run out, though. Less than a mile from my car and all semblence of a trail had died out. I was now walking through the nasty brush from logging less than a decade old. To make things worse there was a few inches of nasty black water seeping up through the undergrowth. Nealy Creek's swamp lay less than 1/2 mile to my left, but the bugs and water from it were reaching out to me.
After hacking around the thick swamp I found an old two-track that led to a nice view of Carp River. The river was very small and swampy this far upstream, winding back and forth within a small, brushy valley. To the north of the river (the side I was on) was a bit of a ridgeline separating the swampy area and the river that had frequent juts up and down. I followed this ridgeline east, parallel to the river, until I bumped into Nealy Creek.
There was one thing about this hike that made it stupidly dangerous. My long route through the swamp to the west wasn't the easiest way to reach the falls - heading in from the road to the east would have taken a fraction of the time (or, at least I thought it would). I took this route to avoid a local gun club's shooting range a short distance to the north. Between the power lines I had parked at and the Carp River was the Negaunee Rod & Gun Club gun range. My long hike had taken me far to the west side and below the ridgeline of the Carp River to the south. The eastern route would have been more exposed, both to the range and several houses located along the road.
I had made it to Nealy Creek without seeing or hearing anything from the hunting club, though. The sandy-bottomed creek led me north away from the Carp River and through thick brush before spilling over dark volcanic rock in a small, picturesque drop. The way the water tumbles from one rectangular outcropping to the next was pretty and unique. I searched a small distance upstream but found no further drops or evidence of more elevation change.
Unwilling to follow my path back I headed east towards North Road. I had not heard any gunshots from the club but still stuck below the ridgeline as much as possible on the way out. This area had more recent logging, causing me to zig and zag repeatedly to avoid the brush piles. Eventually I broke free of the dead brances and thorny brush onto the road, clear of any houses or driveways. My car was located a distance to the north and I broke into a quick trot, excited to be out of harm's way. While the waterfall was pretty, it was in no way worth the hike or risk. Judging by the undisturbed undergrowth and lack of knowledge about Nealy Falls, I can assume that most others feel the same way.