Day 9: On which I spend a goodly amount of time seeking the devil or at least his kettle
August 9, 2014
After some confusion about the length of stay at Shoreline Inn (J. thought it was two days), we relaxed on a deck overlooking the beach until the sun became too much, then set out for the next destination, with a brief detour to the Grand Marais Pharmacy — a traditional pharmacy housed in a log-style building.
Our destination was Judge C. R. Magney State Park, which we had missed last year and which I later discovered is home to a not-to-be-missed attraction — Devil’s Kettle. More than an attractive waterfall, Devil’s Kettle is where half of the Brule River, split by a rock formation, flows merrily on its obvious course to Lake Superior. On the other side of the rock, half of the Brule pours into the “kettle,” where it disappears forever, at least in the imagination. No one knows for sure where it reconnects with the Brule, if it does, or if it flows underground somehow to Superior. According to geologist John C. Green:
One [theory] is that, after dropping down the pothole, the river runs along a fault underground, or as a variant, that it enters an underground channel and comes out somewhere under Lake Superior. Both of these ideas have one valid aspect in common: they recognize that water must move downhill.
But the main problem is creating a channel or conduit large enough to conduct the impressive flow of half the Brule River! Faulting commonly has the effect of crushing and fracturing the rock along the fault plane. This could certainly increase the permeability of the rock — its capacity to transmit water — but the connected open spaces needed to drain half the river would be essentially impossible, especially for such a distance.
Furthermore, there is no geologic evidence for such a fault at the Devil’s Kettle. Large, continuous openings generally do not occur in rocks, except for caves in limestoneterranes. The nearest limestone is probably in southeastern Minnesota, so that doesn’t help… Maybe the Devil’s Kettle bottoms out fortuitously in a great lava tube that conducts the water to the Lake… Unfortunately for this idea, they are not the right kind of volcanic rocks.
Rhyolites, such as the great flow at this locality, never form lava tubes, which only develop in fluid basaltic lava. Even the basalts in this area may not be the “right kind”, being flood basalts that spread laterally as a sheet from fissures, not down the slopes of a volcano. No lava tubes have been found in the hundreds of basalt flows exposed along the North Shore.
Furthermore, the nearest basalt is so far below the river bed, and even if it did contain an empty lava tube (very unlikely after its long history of deep burial) the tube would have to be both oriented in the right direction (south) and blocked above this site so that it isn’t already full of debris. And there are no reports of trees or other floating debris suddenly appearing at one spot offshore in Lake Superior. The mystery persists.
How could I miss such an opportunity? This was a longer walk, my energy levels were subsiding, but we had read that there were a few strategically placed benches along the way. And I was highly motivated to push myself. We found the parking area and the signs and launched ourselves down the trail, crossing the Brule. J. quickly became sidetracked by the multitude of mushrooms in the park, so I went ahead. This is a well-marked, well-traveled path, but Judge C. R. Magney is largely untamed, and most of it is inaccessible. As this was the day’s only planned activity, I felt less pressured to hurry. Along the way, I came upon an overlook with a bench and a view of some waterfalls. Also on the way we stopped at a place where you can walk out on to the rocks by the river — a wild spot.
Later J. caught up with me, and we found there are a lot of stairs down (which means a lot of stairs up on the return). Further along, after we’d gotten separated again, I came to another set of steps and fell up the first high one, which made me even weaker with laughing in front of a couple who was sitting there. Half was the humor of how silly I must have looked; the other half was relief I didn’t crack my kneecap.
I wasn’t sure I was going to make it but I did reach Devil’s Kettle — keeping the promise to myself to see it was well worth discomfort on the way. We spent some time at one overlook, then moved on to a slightly lower one, all the while taking photos. Like the other waterfalls we’d seen this year, Devil’s Kettle was running lighter than it sometimes does — I’ve found a video in which a torrent surges over the rhyolite rock obstruction, almost obscuring the split in the Brule. Wherever the kettle half of the water goes, it must be able to accommodate a prodigious volume.
On the way out of the park we disturbed a groundhog, who ran to a drain for cover — and found himself trapped. I took photos and videos as he looked around, trying to figure a way out, but we soon left him in peace.
We stopped at the spot where the Kadunce River flows into Lake Superior, which again was calm. It’s fascinating to think about all that water winding its way for several miles through the woods, only to disperse itself into the breadth and depth of an inland sea, from where it will touch who-knows-how-many people. I looked upstream, which looks like it would be a beautiful walk. I’ve read since that from this spot you can walk over six Kadunce waterfalls in about a mile or so when the water is running low. I wish I had known that sooner — I might have planned a morning or afternoon around it.
Our next stop was at the Dairy Queen in Grand Marais, where we undid any health benefits we’d gotten from walking over the slightly uneven terrain and the steps down and up at Judge C. R. Magney State Park.
We headed south on 61 with few specific plans for the next couple of days and with a sense that our vacation was quickly coming to an end. We found the area we were looking for easily enough, but pulled up at a house that didn’t look like our destination. No doubt used to bewildered tourists, a woman came out and told us how to get to Baptism River Inn — we’d missed the turnoff in the dark, which isn’t surprising. It’s reached over a low, narrow bridge with minimalist if any guardrails. We arrived a little before 10 p.m., to find that hosts and guests were tucked in for the night — good idea.