Let me tell you about one of the happiest days I’ve ever had behind a camera. After catching a few hours of sleep in the car, October 12, 2018 started off by waking up at 7:30 in the parking lot of Lake of the Clouds with the hopes of catching the sunrise over the lake with peak fall colors then moving on and see an amazing waterfall or two (or nine).
I left school around 2:30 the day before, with the plan of picking my friend Hailey up in Marquette for a little adventure to the western Upper Peninsula. Rain and sleet followed me the entire way upstate. I stopped in Mackinaw City for some dinner at Scalawag’s (one of my favorite restaurants in the entire state) for some fried whitefish. On my way out I noticed some small breaks in the clouds as the sun was going down and headed over to the Mackinac Point Lighthouse to hopefully catch the sunset behind the bridge. The clouds never lit up but I was treated to some crazy-awesome golden light and waves from the Straits crashing up on the bridge.
I continued on to Marquette to pick up Hailey and then made the final push to the Porcupine Mountains.
The rain stuck around through the night with temperatures dropping into the 30s. We found it incredibly difficult to roll out of our sleeping bags to get the day started. It wasn’t hard to tell there wasn’t going to be a sunrise to see so we closed our eyes for a few more minutes and eventually made our way out while the rest of the photographers who showed up for the same reason were leaving.
The Carp River Valley was covered in gold, only a few green pines popped through here and there. It was stunning in every sense of the word. Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. The rain had let up to a light drizzle at this point and would remain that way for most of the day. The rocks and boardwalk at the main lookout for the lake were extremely slippery and still mildly crowded so we decided to go for a hike along the Escarpment Trail to get a better, less crowded view. We found a spot with a view looking back towards the lake and here I took the shot that ended up on the cover of my 2019 calendar.
From there we went back to the car and headed to the other side of the park to see the waterfalls on the Presque Isle River. September 2018 was a record month for rain in the Upper Peninsula which meant the waterfalls were roaring. In the dozen-or-so times I’ve visited Manabezho Falls I’ve never seen this much water going over it.
The next stop was 2.5 hours away: Hungarian Falls in the Keweenaw Peninsula. There’s three drops on Dover Creek that make up lower, middle, and upper Hungarian Falls. The middle and upper falls get the most attention because of their relatively easy access.
There two times that stand out when I’ve tried to get shots that, in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have and very well could have died doing. One was going out on a frozen pier in St. Joseph without ice cleats, getting to the base of Lower Hungarian Falls is the other.
There’s no trail getting down and probably a 60 degree incline. Getting down is a combination of sitting on your butt and sliding, holding onto tree trunks while you step down ledges, scrambling down sliding down the hillside, and hoping a tree will catch you. Remember when I said September was a record month for rain? That meant the hillside was also a mixture of mud and mush to go along with the rest of the obstacles. It didn’t take long to second guess the decision to go down, but about half way to the bottom Hailey dropped her film camera so we had to keep going to retrieve it. Once we got to the bottom I fired off a few shots of the impressive waterfall and we scrambled back up.
The plan was to sleep in the car again somewhere near Pictured Rocks so we still had a ways to go for the rest of the day. We were cold, wet, tired, and all around pretty miserable after Lower Hungarian. Once we crossed the Portage Lift Bridge and got into Houghton it started to snow. When we got to Baraga I looked over to Hailey and asked if we could try and check out one more set of waterfalls a few miles southeast of L’Anse on the Silver River. She’s not one to turn down an adventure so we turned off US-41 and headed towards the small town of Herman, after a few wrong turns we finally came to a bridge over the Silver River and it was time to hike.
“Oooo this looks really nice,” was the first thing I said when we got out of the car. This section of the river was as smooth as glass, the black water providing a perfect contrast to the dark green pine trees covered in a light dusting of fresh snow. The only sign that another person had ever been there was a single set of footprints that were being covered by the snow as we hiked.
You won’t find these waterfalls on a map and hardly a trace of them on the internet. You’ll find some information about a drop called Upper Silver Falls, but these five drops are about a half mile upstream of that one and have no trail to follow and get access to them. It’s a truly wild hike that you’re all but guaranteed to have to yourself.
We decided to go on the right side of the river. Weaving our way in and out of the trees, up and down the riverbanks, we got to the first drop after a couple hundred yards. It’s a quaint little waterfall aptly called the Herman Cascades. It’s not very tall – maybe 8 feet – but full of character. I put my tripod down, set up the camera, took one shot, and knew this was going to be special. A big smile came over my face when I saw the preview of what I just captured.
The snow picked back up for a few minutes on the way to the second waterfall, Upper Herman Falls. It’s a little smaller than the first and featured the river spilling over a large boulder onto a flat shelf before sliding down again. This waterfall also made its way into my 2019 calendar. By the time we left the second waterfall I was giddy with excitement. I mean like bouncing up and down like a little kid excited. Ever experience one of those times where everything you do, every choice you make ends up being perfect? This was one of those times. Everything was coming together in the most perfect way possible.
The third drop, Herman Falls, I think has the potential to be one of the most impressive in the entire state if the water is high enough. There’s very few sheer drops in the state and if the river was a couple inches higher, this entire 20-foot high waterfall would be covered in water like a mini Tahquamenon Falls. I honestly wasn’t too thrilled at the falls themselves, but they just kept presenting opportunities to me.
We found some really neat frozen mushrooms along the way to the next drop, about a quarter mile downstream of Herman Falls – this would be Upper Baraga Falls. This was another largely unimpressive waterfall that presented itself in an incredible way. The forest became much more dense here than it was previously, meaning it was a lot darker around the river. This just helped the tannins and swirls in the white, foamy water stand out even more. The little bend in the river just downstream of the falls beckoned to be used as a leading line to draw us into the scene and immerse us in the beauty of this river.
Baraga Falls is the final drop on this hike and another that presents itself in an incredible way. This was like a more extravagant version of Rock River Falls in Chatham. The water fans out and cascades over a dome-shaped ledge in such a graceful way, unlike any other in the state. The pines gave way to birch trees on the opposite side of the river and really gave this drop a different feel from the other ones. This is definitely near the top of my must see again list, but next time I want to see it from the other side of the river. The large boulder on the right side of the frame blocks a good view from this side and the opposite is much more open, hopefully giving a more expansive view of these magnificent waterfalls.
I was speechless on the way back to the car and for a good portion of the drive to Munising. This was the happiest I’d been in a long time. School and work had me pretty stressed out for a good while leading up to this trip and the rough weather and challenges faced earlier in the day had me feeling pretty down and honestly pretty defeated. But these waterfalls… this hike… they made it all go away. That’s why I do this photography thing. That’s why I go hiking and look for these remote places. That’s why I love Michigan. They make me happy.
Upon returning home and sharing some of these shots with the world I happened to learn that the set of footprints we followed at these waterfalls happened to belong to a friend of mine, Mr. Phil Stagg! Phil is actually the reason we were able to find these falls in the first place. He’s taken it upon himself to try and find every waterfall in the state (he’s got well over 600 documented now) and has put together some incredibly detailed guidebooks to help us find them. If you want to get out there and explore some of the gems in this state as well, you can find these books at mifalls.com.
Later that winter I was helping a couple with pick out some snowshoes at work and they said they’re going to be using them up in the UP. Always intrigued by the UP, I asked where and the husband replied with “we have a place in a little town that no one’s ever heard of.” Being pretty fluent in the Upper Peninsula myself, I asked where and he said Herman. I pulled out my phone with these photos and showed him. His response was something like “holy shit! I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone take pictures of those falls before!” We talked about the area for a little bit and apparently his great-great grandfather was Herman Keranen, the man the town was named after. That was pretty crazy to learn and pretty cool to share some super-specific excitement with some complete strangers. It’s a small world!