Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Laughing Whitefish Falls

I have to start with a confession. In the last post I included a map of the Eastern UP. On it I marked the location of Wagner Falls. I was TOTALLY wrong. Wagner Falls is south of Munising (headquarters for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore), not south of Marquette, where I placed it. I made my stop at Wagner Falls, then drove east on M-94 to Laughing Whitefish Falls, THEN went to Marquette for lunch. (I must have been pretty dang hungry by then!) So there is now a corrected map in my last post, and I have scanned a Michigan map and marked the locations of the falls, as well as my route across the UP, in yellow.

A lesson in geography, this has been, and how tricksy our memories can be.


...after leaving Wagner Falls I drove west on M-94 to Laughing Whitefish Falls. Hyped to be the prettiest falls in the UP, I couldn't pass it up. The falls are less than a mile hike from the parking area, and when I pulled up I was the only one there. I drenched myself with bug spray and hit the trail.

Sign at the trail head.

According to the sign, the falls are named after Laughing Whitefish Point, where the Laughing Whitefish River flows into Lake Superior. The Ojibwa thought the point looked like a laughing fish when seen from the water. I'm not sure I've ever seen a fish laugh, but evidently the Ojibwa had.

The trail was in pretty good condition, although I could not say the same for the North Country Trail, which intersects it and runs along the escarpment.

North Country Trail.

There was not much to see along the first part of the trail, but as I rounded a bend I was plunged into a fairy forest. Acres of ferns grew under the open canopy.

Cinnamon fern?

There were lots of wildflowers still in bloom, including these yellow lady's slippers.

Yellow lady's slippers

Farther along the trail was this huge patch of maidenhair fern. I've never seen so many in one place before.

Maidenhair fern

Upon reaching the falls, I was unimpressed with the view from the overlook, so I walked upstream to try to get the perspective of the immense drop off and the valley beyond.

The Laughing Whitefish River takes the plunge.

There are stairs leading down into the valley which afforded much better views of the falls.

Laughing Whitefish Falls

Down at the bottom you can see the full expanse of the falls. In wetter times this whole limestone face is covered with whitewater. There was water there, but barely a trickle. It's all in the timing.

Laughing Whitefish Falls.

Leaving the falls I drove up to Marquette, had lunch at Sweet Water Cafe, then headed west on US 41 towards the Keweenaw Peninsula. I have been all the way to the Porcupine Mountains in the Western UP, but I had never been up to the Keweenaw. It was a warm day for the UP, mid-80's, and some storms blew up as I drove west.

Map showing route from Marquette to Houghton. Achingly beautiful country up here.

But once I reached the Keweenaw Bay the temperature dropped by at least 15 degrees, they skies cleared, and I had to put on a jacket and gloves to walk down to the water. All through the U.P. I had seen lilacs in bloom, which was about two weeks behind where we were downstate. But up here on the shores of the Keweenaw, near the cold waters of Lake Superior, the trees were only just beginning to leaf out.

Tiny maple leaves along the shores of Keweenaw Bay.

Keweenaw Bay

From here I drove up to Houghton, where the Ranger III would take us on our journey across Superior to Isle Royale. I spent some time exploring town, getting a few last-minute supplies at the local grocery (including Dramamine) and went for a walk at the Nara Nature Preserve. I walked along a dilapidated boardwalk though invasive plants next to the Pilgrim River, but I did see some birds, including this Common yellowthroat, a bird I have still not gotten a decent image of.

I stayed at a motel (don't recall the name) so I would have one last shower before spending seven days on the island. I made some last minute changes to what I was bringing, then tried to get a good night's sleep. I failed miserably.

Next: The Ranger III and Isle Royale

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