Katie and I were discussing some ideas on how we should celebrate my 23rd birthday. I had just graduated from Michigan Tech a month ago and we were living in Houghton, MI with our puppy Logan. Being only a month into my new job we didn't have a lot of extra cash to do anything crazy, so I suggested a little tour of some Keweenaw waterfalls. Neither one of us were aware that this one outing would spark a long project that would span years and many, many miles.
Before my birthday I did some research for our trip. We had already been to a few of the typical easy waterfalls, like Sturgeon River Falls and Jacob's Falls, but I wanted to spice things up a bit. The plan was to follow the side roads beyond Lake Linden over to Gay and Bete Gris, stopping for a few waterfalls on the way, and then maybe check out the abandoned Air Force Base on Horace Greeley. Based on the sources I found online it seemed possible to do all of this within a few hours. Of course, as this was my birthday and we lived in a college town, we wanted to make it back in time to visit a few drinking establishments that evening.
We left Houghton in the late morning and headed towards Gay. On the way we stopped at Rice Lake near the site of an old forest fire. Katie had learned about this fire in one of her classes, that it was near a blueberry farm and caused some damage to the area, so we decided to check it out first hand. The ground was wet and marshy so we mostly stuck to the two-tracks that wound their way through the burn area while Logan jumped awkwardly from one high, dry spot to the next.
Just past Gay lay our first waterfall stop, Tobacco Falls, which empties directly out into Keweenaw Bay. There is a small park here just south of the river that we almost missed on the first pass. The park has a small parking area right on the beach with a tricky footpath leading under the road, away from the beach to the waterfall on Tobacco River. Brown, swampy water poured over the small ledges, maybe dropping a foot or two and all. Our first waterfall was not terribly impressive.
After taking photos of the waterfall we spent some time playing on the beach. The sand was great fun for Logan, whose little puppy paws had never gotten to dig in such fun stuff before. There were some mountains far off in the distance beyond the cool grey waters of Keweenaw Bay, mountains that I had only the barest of knowledge of. For now we stuck to the sands and rocks of Gay, playing with Logan and skipping a few rocks.
Eventually we left the small park and drove north along Gay/Lac la Belle Road. It was a pretty, if long, drive with frequent views of Lake Superior. Logan napped on and off while Katie and I craned our heads east to the small waves a few dozen yards away.
When we entered the town of Lac la Belle I was surprised to see a roadside waterfall and park just north of our road. There was no mention of Haven Falls on the sources I had used for planning our trip. I parked and the three of us piled out. We walked past the pavilion and over a small bridge towards the waterfall. There was a path leading up the right side, one too steep for a little puppy, so I headed up the short climb alone to photograph the small conglomerate drops. Logan yipped and cried below, worried, until I came back down safely. Happy for the unexpected find we jumped back in the car and headed east to Bete Gris.
I did not expect to find Montreal Falls easily. The winding logging roads, unmarked turns, and strange directions on Google did not promise an obvious route. However, with only a few miles of uncertainty I pushed my concerns aside and turned down the Smiths-Fisheries road. We tried to follow my printed directions and got turned down side logging roads several times. Throwing the papers aside I just listened to the road, turning down the best-traveled forks, and we finally made it to an unmarked parking lot. There were a few other vehicles parked here so I assumed we were at the right spot.
At first our path was an easy one down a blocked two-track. Logan and I headed down to the beach a few times to play in the gravel shore and foaming surf and the two-track above was wide and flat. Then the path narrowed to a foot trail, weaving around huge cedars and, at times, going over root beds perched above the water below. Uneven ground and constant barriers were starting to dissuade us from continuing with we entered a group of dead trees surrounded by swampy ground. Logan got tangled multiple times and Katie was starting to complain so we decided to give the waterfall ten more minutes to show up. And show up it did.
Montreal Falls is a dramatic cascade over dark, jagged rocks right into Lake Superior. We drank in the wildness of the spot, miles from any cabin or road, and rested near the rushing waters. Refreshed from the find I darted around, taking multiple pictures of the different drops. I knew there was an upper drop here so I headed upstream along a narrow footpath but didn't see any sign of a second drop after a few hundred yards. We decided to head back with our tired puppy.
Black files, which had ignored us for the hike out, came out in full force for our return trip. Katie is not a fan of the annoying, biting insects. Taking Logan's leash I led her, swatting away the flies, back to the car. For the last mile I also carried Logan under one arm. His little puppy legs were tired after a long day of hiking and playing.
I knew that the Mandan Loop was close here so on the way back I attempted to head up that, with a small hope to follow it up to Copper Harbor. The side track we followed deteriorated quickly and I turned around defeated. Instead of Copper Harbor we backtracked to Bete Gris, then turned up to US-41 and took that south to Calumet. There was no time for Horace Greeley, which was probably for the best since that mountain is private and well-guarded. The three of us were tired, sweaty, and ready for a rest before night birthday activities took over.
On the drive back I talked with Katie about our adventure. While the online sources I used had led us on an interesting route today they didn't tell us enough. Haven Falls was an accidental find and we drastically underestimated the area around the Montreal River. With a budding knowledge about databases I started to plan out a website that would not just be a complete resource of every waterfall in the area but also be relational to the area and landmarks around them. I didn't know it then, but today was the first of many adventures on this project.