Stuck in the Woods at Little Falls

Going to Little Falls

I had been up in Upper Michigan (the UP) for a few days looking for waterfalls and hiking some of the trails in the Porcupine Mountains. That Sunday morning I walked about 4 1/2 miles along one of the major trails there and then took a few short walks to see some waterfalls along the way out of Michigan as I was heading home. I had two more falls I wanted to photograph before I left Michigan and headed south to go home. The first of these was Little Falls in Ontonagon County.

The directions in the Michigan Waterfall book were clear: "Go approximately three miles south of Paulding on US-45 to" the forest highway. "Turn left (east) ... and go about 3.7 miles .... Turn ... north onto the ... trail and go about 1.7 miles to the falls, just off the road on the right."

So I found the forest highway from US-45 and turned in for the 31/2 mile stretch, then found the trail road with no problem. About 1/4 mile from where the falls was supposed to be there was a large puddle all the way across the road.

Around the Mud Puddle

I am usually rather cautious in my driving in the back woods, so I decided not to try to cross the puddle. After all, I couldn't tell how deep it was or what the surface of the road was under the water, and I didn't want to take any chances of getting my car stuck that far from civilization. Besides, it was only a short jaunt to the falls.

I got out and walked the rest of the way to the falls. Actually, I'm not sure whether or not I saw the falls. The description said, "the 30-foot-wide river droops four feet over secttions of black rocks, creating small areas of copper color as the water rushes over the stone". Although I walked farther than I figured it would be to the falls, all I saw was a small area of rapids, so I called that Little Falls, took a picture (which I forgot to label so I can't identify the photo to put it up on this page), and headed back to my car.


Since the trail road I was on was just a one lane road, I had to back up into the dirt to turn my car around. Imagine my surprise when I got stuck! The ground seemed solid dirt/sand combination, and it never occurred to me I would get stuck there. After all, I was so careful not to get stuck in the mud puddle in the middle of the road.

I tried to carefully rock the car back and forth to free myself, but that didn't help. I tried to put branches under the wheels, but that didn't help either. In fact, everything I tried seemed only to dig me in deeper. I knew it wouldn't take much to free me, just someone to give me a little push, or even someone to drive while I gave me a little push. But there was no one else around.

Long Walk

I realized I had seen no one since I left highway US-45 before the 3.7 mile forest highway and the 1.7 mile trail road. I knew there was nothing for me to do but to start walking. I checked the time, and saw that I had enough daylight to get me out to the highway, but not a whole lot left after that. I knew my usual walking speed for long distances was 20 minutes a mile, so I had almost 2 hours of walking ahead of me. I grabbed my sweatshirt because it would be cooling off soon, and I tied my water bottle to my belt loop because I figured I'd want a drink along the way. I locked the car and took off down the trail road.

To keep myself occupied along the walk, I tried to keep track of the distance I was walking. I would locate a tree or some other landmark in the distance that looked about 1/4 mile away, and when I reached that I would mentally chalk up another quarter mile of walking done. As I expected, no car passed me on the trail road, and no car passed me on the forest highway. I finally reached the highway, actually ahead of my mental tally of how far I had walked (I tried to be conservative so I wouldn't reach the point where I thought I had traveled the entire distance but was not yet at the highway.)

I knew the closest town was Paulding, about 3 miles north. Paulding was a small town, and I doubted if there would be anything like a gas station opened (after all, it was Sunday evening), but I figured I could get some help there. I was hoping a police car would come by so I could flag it down, but I rarely see police cars in the UP, and none came by. I wanted to flag down any passing car, but I was afraid to do so, so I headed north along the highway toward Paulding. I figured I could still walk further, although I was getting pretty slow by this time. I also realized I didn't have enough daylight left to reach Paulding before it started to get dark, but I had no other choice at the time.

"Storm Home"

I walked about a half mile or so up the highway, when I saw a small road that looked like a driveway leading from the highway to the east. I decided to check it out. Maybe I could get some help there. I walked in to the top of the small rise in the road, and then I saw it, my "Storm Home."

Now if you are not familiar with Garrison Keillor and Lake Woebegone, I need to explain. Garrison Keillor on his weekly show on PBS, "The Prairie Home Companion", gives "The News From Lake Woebegone", the small town in Minnesota that he describes as "the town that time forgot", where "the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." Anyway, on one episode of "The News From Lake Woebegone" he describes his "Storm Home" in great detail. In Lake Woebegone the school principal assigned all of the country kids a storm home in town where they could go in case there was a blizzard and the school buses couldn't get them home.

As his description goes, as a child Garrison's "Storm Home" was with the Krugers, an elderly couple with an immaculate house and yard. There were lots of flower gardens and a variety of statues in the yard. As I recall (but it's been a while since I heard it) there were petunias, and a ring of marigolds around some deer, and a statue of the Virgin Mary surrounded by some other flowers, etc. etc. Anyway, as he describes it you can visualize this yard and get the idea of a yard that is well tended by the elderly couple, the Krugers. Garrison used to walk by there and imagine what it would be like to stay there. He always felt safe then, and decided he could always go there for help even for problems other than a blizzard, so his "troubles always seemed bearable", because "There is always the Krugers."

Anyway, when I saw this house and yard, I thought it must be my "Storm Home." The house itself was neatly painted and trim, and the lawn was well taken care of. There were several gardens, both flower and vegetable, that were also neat and well cared for with no weeds. There was even an American flag flying in the front yard from a tall flag pole. I thought, "These people have got to be OK."

So I took a chance and walked up to the door and knocked. I got no answer at first, and started to walk around to the back of the house to try another door, when someone knocked on a window and motioned me back to the front door. An elderly Swedish couple was at the door, and I explained to them my plight and asked if they could call someone for help. They invited me in and the husband got on the phone and called for help.

Help at Last

And called, and called, and called. Unfortunately, this was the first day of some season, and everyone he tried to call was still out hunting or fishing or whatever it was, I don't remember. Finally he got through to someone who had a pick up truck, and this man was willing to help me out, so he came to the house.

I directed him to where my car was stuck, he attached a chain to my car, and within a couple of minutes my car was free. He waited to make sure I could completely turn my car around without getting stuck again, and then he led the way out of the forest. By this time it was pitch black.

Oh, he did mention to me that if instead of walking the 6 miles retracing my way out of the forest I had gone back down that trail road past the waterfall about 1/2 mile, I would have come to a ranger station where I could have received help! Needless to say, I never did make it to the other waterfall I had planned to visit that afternoon before leaving the UP.

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  Page last updated 28 Dec 2000.
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