As Randy and I were on our morning walk recently, a friend stopped to tell me he liked the story I wrote about Vermilion Falls. He said he went there for the first time a year ago. I asked if he knew of any other hidey-holes we might enjoy. During this COVID-19 pandemic, we are staying away from crowds and don’t want to stay overnight anywhere, so we are looking for day trips to lesser-known places. He told us about Kawishiwi Falls, another place I’d never heard of. He said to take Highway 169 through Ely, continue past Winton where 169 becomes Fernberg Road and watch for a sign for the Kawishiwi Falls Trail.
We thanked him and continued our walk while discussing when we should go to the falls. Our conversation went something like this:
“Let’s go right now.”
“We’re supposed to be getting a storm today.”
“But we’re expecting rain tomorrow and the next day.”
“I think we should wait.”
“But the weather is absolutely ideal right now.”
“Well, the storm isn’t supposed to hit until 5 p.m., I guess we could go today.”
We turned back toward home, packed a lunch and were on our way.
Driving northeast on Highway 169, we were admiring trees of many shades of green hugging the road when the car ahead of us slowed down. Then we saw a porcupine ambling across the road. Randy is always curious about animal behavior, so of course he pulled off the road so we could observe this little guy for a while. He was a fat little guy and he waddled more than walked.
He went down into the ditch and then tried to climb up the other side, which was lined with steep rocks. He would get up part way and slide down. Then he’d try another spot and come down again. Up and then down, again and again. It was quite comical, but he was very determined. He finally achieved his goal, and we continued our journey.
We got to the falls parking lot and read the sign at the trailhead where we learned that Kawishiwi is derived from the Ojibway language meaning “river full of beaver or muskrat houses.” We also learned that Minnesota Power has been using the force of the river to produce electricity for nearly a hundred years.
As soon as we stepped onto the trail, the fragrance of the forest hit me in the face. It was a very pleasant scent of sunshine on pine with a hint of wintergreen. The hike to the falls was less than a half mile, but it was interesting. Some of the trees were very unusual, so much so that I almost felt as if I was in a foreign country. A tree that might have been a birch, seemed to be growing out of a hollowedout trunk of a huge pine tree. Apparently, as the pine tree rotted, the roots of the younger tree were exposed and took on an eerie look.
Decorating the woods along the winding trail were many wildflowers, the most abundant being bunchberries. (I learned an interesting fact when identifying the flower: the bunchberry is called the fastest flower on earth because when it blooms, it releases the pollen into the air in less than four tenths of a millisecond.) The hike is not difficult, and narrow boardwalks over muddy areas make it even easier. Chipmunks and squirrels scurried across our path and soon we heard the rush of water and knew we were close to our destination.
I was astonished with my first view of the falls. The Kawishiwi River drops 70 feet as it travels from Garden Lake to Fall Lake, making a stunning waterfall. The water pours over a wide area of massive rocks and separates into many little falls. Beautiful! Luckily, we were the only ones in the area, since there was only one bench—an ideal spot for us to eat lunch. As we sat there eating and watching the water crash over the rocks, we saw a lone loon fly right over the falls. What a sight!
From the bench we could also see the dam above the falls. As we were basking in the sun, I wondered why I am so enthralled with waterfalls. The conclusion I came to is that I feel close to God when I observe His wonderful creations. The roaring sound, the sight of the seemingly endless water bounding over the rocks, and the beauty of all that white froth bouncing around gives me a thrill in my heart and a calmness in my soul.
Randy’s foot was bothering him, so he went back to the parking lot to rest. I chose to hike along the portage trail. Being rather full from our picnic, I felt I was waddling like that porcupine we had seen earlier. I didn’t get far along the trail when it became quite muddy. Disappointed, I turned around. When I caught up with Randy, I asked if I could borrow his phone so I could hike back to the falls to capture a few more shots of the cascade. I did get some very nice pictures—of my thumb! (I don’t have a smart phone, so I’m not very experienced at taking photos with one.)
On our way home, we decided to turn into Winton and found it to be a charming little community. It seems to be a paradise for its residents. We stopped in Ely to hike a short distance on the Mesabi Trail. Then we went home to a feast of leftover homemade pizza and a game of gin rummy. It was a good day—a short reprieve from the aloneness I often feel at this time of staying at home as much as possible during the pandemic.
Betty Pond lives in Mt. Iron, MN. She is a frequent contributor to Hometown Focus.