Posted by: kerryl29 | December 14, 2020

The UP: Day of Waterfalls

After the first day in the UP you’d think that Jason and I would have had our fill of waterfalls.  But the Uppper Peninsula of Michigan is so filled with waterfalls, that it’s virtually impossible to overdo them, particularly if the weather conditions are cooperative.  As mentioned in a previous installment, there had been a great deal of rain in the UP during the week that preceded our arrival, which meant that the waterfalls were all flowing quite nicely, even if it had been a few days since there had been any precipitation.  The weather forecast was for partly to mostly cloudy until very late in the afternoon, with breezy (15-25 MPH) conditions.  The cloud situation was fine; the wind was a potential problem.

Of the waterfalls on our list, we decided to hit the locations near Munising first, being low-hanging fruit given their proximity to our base, and then work our way to western Alger County as the day moved along.  (I had been to all of the locations on the day’s itinerary in the past–many of them multiple times, but Jason hadn’t been to any of them.)  Wagner Falls, virtually walking distance from my motel, was our first stop.

Wagner Falls, located just to the southeast of Munising proper, is a Michigan state scenic site, with a small parking area and a trail of perhaps 1/2 mile, most of it a boardwalk, that leads to a viewing platform from which a perfectly fine image of the waterfall can be obtained.  I hoped that the relative shelter of this shallow canyon might provide some protection from the wind, and that turned out to be the case.  The flow of the falls–always pretty good, even in relatively dry conditions–was very nice on this day, but having photographed Wagner from the viewing platform a number of times over the years, I was anxious to try something different.  While Jason set up on the platform, I climbed down from the boardwalk into the stream bed, out of his shot, to investigate the options for photographing Wagner Falls from creek level.

Wagner Falls, Wagner Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

Once again, the advantage of having waterproof footwear was made apparent, as both of these images were made while standing in Wagner Creek

Wagner Falls, Wagner Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

When I was done in the creek itself, Jason and I switched places and, for something to do, I made the requisite image from the platform.

Wagner Falls, Wagner Falls State Scenic Site, Michigan

Before we left the parking area, I suggested that we walk across M-94 and make a quick image of Alger Falls, which is visible right from the side of the road.  There aren’t many compositional options to choose from with Alger Falls, but the color in the immediate area is often pretty good and it’s so accessible it seemed silly not to have a look.

Alger Falls, Alger County, Michigan

I put a quick set of panorama images together for stitching as well.

Alger Falls Panorama, Alger County, Michigan

When we were done at Wagner/Alger Falls we made our way to Munising Falls, a few miles distant, located at the extreme western edge of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  Munising Falls is located in a good-sized canyon and, again, was pretty well protected from the now copious wind.  There are a number of places inside the canyon–reached by a simple quarter-mile long trail–to photograph Munising Falls.  I’ve investigated all of them over the years; the most interesting, by far in my view, is a a high platform to the right of the falls.

Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

On this day, the only issue with this spot was dealing with the breeze.  It was mostly stifled in the canyon, but there was at least some foliage movement the vast majority of the time, and since I wanted to include the overhanging branches in the foreground, that meant exercising enough patience to wait for a lull.  Making matters worse, the focal length necessary for these images was sufficiently long to necessitate a focus stacking approach to ensure sharpness throughout the frame…and that meant needing even longer spells of calm to properly execute the process.

Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Fall color in the canyon containing Munising Falls is notoriously late-turning and relentlessly yellow.

Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

I was taken with one intimate shot of trees–sans waterfall–in the canyon and, even though color hadn’t developed all that much, I decided to produce the image anyway.

Trees Intimate, Munising Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Having finished at Munising Falls we made the extremely short trip to the plot of land, owned and managed by the Michigan Nature Association, that includes both Memorial and Tannery Falls.  I visited this area for the first time in 2013, when things were almost entirely dry.  These waterfalls don’t usually flow unless there’s been recent rain, so I was hopeful we’d see something worthwhile.

Memorial Falls Black & White, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site,Alger Country, Michigan

The problem was that the clouds were thinning at this point and the wind was a constant issue.  I managed to obtain one image of Memorial, which I converted to black and white.  We checked out Tannery, which I actually found more interesting, but between the wind and the light was utterly unshootable.  I made plans to return to this area before the end of the week in the hopes of photographing Tannery Falls.

It was early afternoon at this point and we had two more waterfalls we wanted to photograph–Au Train Falls, about 20 minutes west of Munising; and Laughing Whitefish Falls, about 40 minutes west of Munising.  While not exactly on the same route from the Munising area, some time can be saved by hitting Au Train Falls first, so that’s what we did.

Au Train Falls is on the Au Train River, about 10 miles south of Lake Superior.  The falls area–which is really quite attractive–is impacted dramatically by a dam just upriver from the two sets of waterfalls that make up Au Train Falls.  A power company controls the dam and, by extension, how much water is sent though to the waterfalls.  I have seen Au Train flowing pretty nicely and I’ve also seen it bone dry; there’s no way to know in advance what you’ll get at Au Train Falls on any given day, so you have to go there and check it out.  And that’s what we did; I was quite pleased to see a decent amount of water flowing over the falls.  I’ve been to Au Train Falls every year I’ve visited the UP and this was the second best flow I’ve ever seen.

With waterproof footwear (again!), it’s possible to easily explore the entire river bed immediately below the lower falls.  That’s what I’d told Jason, well in advance, so we were both prepared.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

It’s possible to set up just about anywhere along this stretch of river, so the number of compositions is limited only by one’s imagination and creativity.  Thus, when there’s a decent flow of water, this is one of the best “working the scene” spots, I’ve ever visited, and probably the best such waterfall location.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

We did have some obstacles to overcome.  The wind here was almost constantly a problem.  One way to deal with it was to omit active foliage from compositions, but patience also paid off.  As breezy as it was, lulls were pretty much always forthcoming by waiting long enough.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

The sun was also an issue.  It was genuinely partly cloudy at this point of the day and to obtain the even light necessary to photograph the scene the way we wanted, we needed clouds blocking direct sunlight.  Fortunately, one bank after the other blew in so, even when the sun came out, we could confidently anticipate that within five minutes (at the longest) we’d have soft light again.

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Although a few people straggled by while we were on site, none descended into the river and they didn’t inhibit us much, though we did “get out of the way” for a few people who were trying to photograph the walls from the river bank with their phones.

Au Train River Rapids Black & White, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train River Rapids, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Alger County, Michigan

We were on site for a couple of hours all told, but finally wrapped up and moved on to our last waterfall target of the day, Laughing Whitefish Falls.  It was mid-afternoon when we got there and there were plenty of cars in the parking area when we arrived but masses of people were returning to the lot as we hiked toward the falls and there weren’t all that many people to deal with after we traversed the easy mile-long trail that ends at the top of waterfall.  We surveyed the scene; I pointed out some of the potential tighter shots of the rapids above the waterfall that I’ve discovered over the years.

Laughing Whitefish Falls is a “slide” style waterfall, rather than a sheer drop (such as Munising Falls, pictured above).  This instance represented, by far, the best flow I’d ever seen in a total of six visits to the location.

Every time I visit this site I take the long staircase down to the platform just above water level, eyeball the scene, usually take my camera out…and produce no images.  In fact, I’d never produced a usable image of Laughing Whitefish Falls from the bottom.  But this time, I thought it might be viable.

While we were waiting for a couple of photographers to finish up near the bottom of the platform–and maintaining social distance while doing so–two other people just brushed past us and horned their way in front of us on the platform.  I was really annoyed and decided to return most of the way up the staircase where there’s a spot where it’s possible (with modest difficulty) to descend from another platform onto a rock bench astride the middle portion of the waterfall.  I was convinced that the spot would yield a pleasing image, so that’s what I did.

Laughing Whitefish Falls, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site, Michigan

You can really appreciate the aforementioned “slide” style of Laughing Whitefish in this image.

When I’d finished at this spot, I went back down to the bottom of the staircase and the offending photographers were gone, this gave me an extensive opportunity to look things over.  I was particularly intrigued by the swirls in the pool of water below the flow, something I’d never seen before at this location.

Laughing Whitefish Falls Black & White, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site, Michigan

After producing the above image from the lower platform I decided to descend to ground level, which took a bit of doing (it was about a five-foot drop), but I wanted to check out a different perspective, unavailable from the platform.

Laughing Whitefish Falls, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site, Michigan

We ascended the stairs, all the way back to the top of the waterfall, and began to thoroughly investigate the rapids and the very top of the falls, just before the initial plunge.

Atop Laughing Whitefish Falls, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site, Michigan

Laughing Whitefish River Rapids Black & White, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site, Michigan

My parting shot was a bit of a grab.  The skies were beginning to clear and I was facing an extreme dynamic range situation.  HDR was out, because there was still enough wind to make it effectively impossible to pull off a bracketed sequence of shots.  The question was, would my camera sensor’s dynamic range, along with my customized post processing technique for such situations, hold up?  I decided to find out.  I positioned my tripod very, very low to the ground, got down on my knees and fine-tuned the composition.  I wouldn’t know whether it would work out until weeks later when I worked with the image on the computer but in the end–while not exactly a photograph for the ages–I was able to make it work.

Atop Laughing Whitefish Falls, Laughing Whitefish State Scenic Site, Michigan

It was only a bit more than an hour before sunset when we returned to our vehicle and it was clearing up dramatically.  We decided to try to hit Miner’s Beach again for sunset to see what might develop.  We arrived just in time to find out.  I suggested that we ascend to my “secret spot,” on a rocky shelf beyond the Elliott Creek waterfall, a location I’ve never seen anyone photograph from unless they were with me.  There was just a smidge of color kissing the cloud bank to the west, complementing the gradient in the sky.  I spent my time experimenting with different shutter speeds and produced this modest sequence of images to cap the day’s photography.

Lake Superior Sunset, Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Sunset, Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Lake Superior Sunset, Miners Beach, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan


Responses

  1. Another very interesting and enjoyable post about the UP, Kerry. Thanks for doing these. I always enjoy seeing someone else’s take on places I’ve visited.

    • Thanks, Steve. Which of these spots did you photograph when you were up there?

  2. A lovely series and appreciated the stories that went with them.

    • Thanks, Jane!

  3. Just a gorgeous place and I love your post. Thank you for sharing it with us. It must’ve been magical to see in person.

    • Thanks very much!

  4. Beautiful photograph and scenery

  5. Hi, Unfortunately I won’t be able to like any of your posts ever again as WordPress has blocked my account and disabled my liking function with no reason given. However, to appreciate your work I will comment every now and then. Best wishes and love. ❤🙏

    • Thanks, I appreciate it.

  6. Wow!

    • Thanks very much!

  7. […] fighting off a windy, mostly/partly cloudy day, Jason and I prepared for much of the same on our third full day based in the Munising area.  We […]


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