Rain, mist and misfit creeks

It was a Pacific Northwest kind of day, Monday. Cloudy. Misty. Mist fading into rain. Rain fading into mist. So I went looking for a Pacific Northwest kind of place.

I decided on Hungarian Falls, a decent two-mile walk down the old railroad grade. Closer than Oregon or Washington state. Lots of greenery even in this early stage of spring.

Mist was in the air on the way down, rain was falling on the way back. It made the red clay of the trail back to the falls stand out brightly against the damp leaf litter on either side. The forest floor was greening up with shoots of new plants. A smoke of green hung in the branches of the trees. Wet birch trunks shone white.

I took a left where the trail forks, following the bench-cut trail down the ravine. Down the ravine there were ferns unfurling, cascading over the edges of sandstone ledges. Bright green. In hollow places in the rock there was dusty mint-green lichen growing, tiny droplets of water clinging to it here and there. Mosses grew thick almost everywhere. Water rushed along in the creek bed. On the south side of the ravine, some earth had fallen away from a steep face of sandstone. Sandstone with sandy-gray striations.

The footing was treacherous the whole way down. In fact I don’t recommend hiking to the bottom of Hungarian Falls, even in dry conditions, and even though the view is always more dramatic from the base of a waterfall. The trail’s bench-cutting is narrow even at its widest places, and in many places trees have fallen across the best routes, making them impassable. Viewed from below, the falls were dramatic. A white curtain of water roaring over the rock ledge.

But with its view out over Torch Lake (absent Monday, obscured as it was by the fog) and its rocky ledges, the top of Hungarian Falls has enough going for it that not much is lost by staying on the high trail. It was at the top of the falls, under the shelter of some pine trees, that I found a small interpretive placard that explained about the ravine’s geology.

I had heard about these signs, and whoever first told me about them led me to believe they were a clandestine project, which to me was a really romantic notion: a geologist putting up signs in the woods under the cover of night to alert passersby to the magnificence of nature.

But this sign had Michigan DNR, Keweenaw Land Trust, and Michigan Tech logos on it and indicated the project had the financial support of nothing less than the National Science Foundation. Which, though less romantic, is cool in its own way: it means the establishment recognizes the importance of alerting passersby to the magnificence of nature.

This particular sign emphasized the changeability of landscapes. And this evoked, for me, the striated sandstone I had seen laid bare by the landslide on the south side of the ravine.

The sign also said Dover Creek, the creek running through the bottom of the ravine, was a “misfit creek”: a watercourse far too small to have produced the ravine it runs within (glacial meltwater did that work long ago). The sign further stated there are many of these misfit streams around the Keweenaw.

The Hungarian Falls hike was a Keweenaw experience on a Pacific Northwest kind of day.