Posted by: kerryl29 | November 16, 2020

The UP: Heading East, Part II

I left off my narrative of the first day in the UP with a description of photographing in the Ottawa National Forest, a bit to the east of Bond Falls.  It was roughly midday at that point, and we were about 45 minutes away from our next planned stop:  Canyon Falls Roadside Park, near the tiny town of Alberta, Michigan.  I’d photographed at this site once before, briefly, in 2003 and had been back on a scouting expedition in 2006 on a windy, blue sky day.

I’ve long felt that this site doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.  Here, the Sturgeon River flows through a narrow canyon at the top of which the short but powerful Canyon Falls flows.  I think most people who visit this location take the short walk down to the falls…glance at it for a minute or two, then turn around and head back to their vehicles.  If so, they’re missing a great deal.  I’ve always felt that the river, both above and below the falls, holds a plethora of photographic opportunities for anyone who bothers to look for them.  Given the near perfect conditions on this day–soft light and no wind, as outlined in the previous post–I would put those assumptions to the test.  How much could this location yield?

Jason and I wandered along the upstream rapids and we both confirmed my thoughts: there were lots of photogenic subjects here.  We decided to explore them more thoroughly on the hike out.  Just before we made it to the falls overlook I mentioned to Jason that we should be certain to check a few downstream spots as well.  What I remembered from my scouting session, 14 years earlier, was that there were a lot of interesting spots below the falls as well.

But we started at Canyon Falls itself.  As noted, Canyon Falls is a gusher under any circumstances, but it was really flowing on this day, following a week of fairly consistent precipitation.

Canyon Falls, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

A rocky ledge provides the best view of the waterfall, and I hastened to make the leaf-strewn platform my foreground.

Canyon Falls, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

With a limited amount of fall color near Canyon Falls it’s best to rely on other means to bring the site to life.

Canyon Falls Black & White, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

We then wandered downstream and it wasn’t long before we found several interesting locations to work.

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

At this spot in the park, the river is flowing through a fairly deep, narrow canyon, so there’s always something of an aerial perspective accessible; it’s difficult bordering on impossible to descend all the way to river level.

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Nevertheless, numerous vantage points of the canyon are available and compositions are only limited only by one’s vision.

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Gradually we made our way back upstream, past Canyon Falls, to the part of the river that runs through a broader plain prior to entering the canyon.  We worked the site back towards the parking area, leaving few stones unturned…or, at the very least, uninvestigated.

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Sturgeon River Black & White, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

As we were hiking out, I spotted another scene that caught my eye.  We’d already packed everything up, as we thought we were done at this site, and I really debated whether I wanted to bother unpacking and setting up again, particularly since I wasn’t even certain that there was a shot to be had.  But then I remembered what I have termed the Bird-in-the-Hand Theory of Photography and decided to go ahead with it.  The resulting image is below.

Sturgeon River, Canyon Falls Roadside Park, Baraga County, Michigan

This sort of experience (should I bother?) turned out to be a recurring theme on this trip, one I will revisit in a dedicated post at some point.

It was around 4 PM by the time we wrapped up at Canyon Falls.  We really only had time for one more location that day, given that we were still a good two hours drive from Munising and there were only about three hours of daylight remaining.  I suggested that we head to the Dead River Falls area, just a bit north of Marquette.  This is a location I’d never been to and wasn’t sure we’d have another opportunity to visit on this trip.  We had to drive right past Marquette on the way to Munising, so I suggested that we make the most of the time we had.  It was more than an hour from Canyon Falls to Dead River Falls and we pulled into the parking area after 5 PM.  We had fewer than two hours to see what we could find.

This is a fairly remote, heavily wooded area with what amounts to an informal trail that meanders upstream along the Dead River.  We made our way into the woods as quickly as possible and rapidly found a scene worth photographing.

Dead River Falls, Marquette County, Michigan

We discovered that Dead River Falls is really a series of cataracts on the Dead River.  Getting from one spot to another was challenging, because the area was extremely muddy in places and hiking the “trail” is a bit of a slog, given that a stream has to be crossed, embankments have to traversed and spots have to be found from which to photograph the scenes.  It was a bit of a challenge in every respect.

Dead River Falls, Marquette County, Michigan

Parts of the area can only be photographed from bluff tops; in other instances, river level can be reached.

Dead River Falls, Marquette County, Michigan

Dead River Falls, Marquette County, Michigan

Shortly before dark, we reached an area of cascades that we could approach.  Given that we were almost out of light, I concluded that this would be the final series of images of the day.  One of these is below.

Dead River Falls, Marquette County, Michigan

We avoided a bit of a mishap, just as we were preparing to leave, when Jason picked up one of his bags without realizing that it hadn’t been zipped closed.  A camera body and a lens (among other things) both rolled out and one took a bit of a tumble, but there was no lasting damage.  By the time everything had been returned to the bag and secured, it was dark.  I put on my headlamp.  We hadn’t hiked very far–probably only a half mile or so from the trailhead, perhaps a bit more–but, as I mentioned earlier, the “trail” was more a suggestion than anything else.  We followed it as best we could.  Navigating the stream crossing in the dark was something of a challenge, but we managed to do it without any real issues.  But it was pitch dark as we approached what we thought was the trailhead.  We remembered that there was roughly a 200-foot stretch of trail that brought us out of the woods that intersected at a right angle with the route we were hiking, but…did I mention that it was pitch dark?  And that the trail wasn’t really marked in any sense?  Yes?

So that’s how we found ourselves perched on a ledge above the rushing river (we could tell the river was below us because we could hear it; we certainly couldn’t see it).  A steep embankment was on the other side of us.  We were sure that the trailhead was somewhere on the other side of that embankment.  We had the choice of going back the way we came and hoping we found the access point to the trailhead or climbing the embankment…and hoping we could find the access point to the trailhead.   I did mention that it was pitch dark, right?  Yes.

Jason suggested we climb the embankment.  I “looked” up and saw what my headlamp allowed me to see–tree trunks, roots, bushes, rocks–and agreed.  It wouldn’t necessarily be the easiest way out, but it would be the most direct and the fastest.  So we climbed…got to the top of the embankment with less trouble than might have been expected given that we were hauling lots of equipment, including tripods…and saw fairly readily that it had been the right decision, because we were able to climb out of the woods and see a light illuminating the readily accessible trail back to the parking area.  All’s well that ends well.

It was another hour before we reached Munising, so unfortunately we didn’t have time to do any scouting in the area for the following morning.  I suggested that we plan to head into the Hiawatha National Forest–I had recommended locations for sunrise and the immediate aftermath, based on my experience in the area–and see how thing looked there.  The next day would be the linchpin for planning the rest of the week.


  1. Absolutely STUNNING! ❤

    • Thanks very much!

  2. Very nicely done, Kerry. Now I wish I’d allocated more time to explore the stream when I visited last year. It looks like the stream is much more interesting than the falls itself. Next time…

    • Thanks, Steve.

      Yes, from the very first time I visited the Canyon Falls site (2003) I’ve been of the opinion that it’s upstream and downstream that’s the star of the show, not the waterfall itself.

  3. I was happy to read the “all’s well that ends well” conclusion to the exit from the Dead River area. Hiking in the dark, even with a headlamp, is definitely challenging. The photos are worth the effort.

    • Thanks, Ellen.

  4. Ah, “suggestions of trails” can lead to some truly memorable discoveries. I’ve often found that the road less traveled is the one more worth the effort.

    • Agreed. It doesn’t always pay off, but a not insignificant percentage of the time it does, and in a big way.

  5. […] the first day in the UP you’d think that Jason and I would have had our fill of waterfalls.  But the Uppper […]

  6. […] a few days shy of peak, mimicking some of the scenes we’d seen in the Dead River Falls area late on our very first day in the UP, as we drove toward Munising.  We explored Marquette County Highway 510 for about 10 […]

  7. […] in fact, had been sub-optimal throughout virtually the entire trip, excepting the very first day in the UP.  The forecast, unfortunately, wasn’t any better for the next several days, all of which […]

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