RETURN to part 4
To my surprise this wooded glen obscured a deep gully where the weak, late summer flow of Copper Falls dribbled over a 15-foot drop. Rutabaga excitedly followed behind as we made our discovery. I climbed down into the gulch to see that this was indeed the mystical “disappearing waterfall” we sought.
It was super hard to get decent-looking pics in this heavily shaded environment, with the sun blazing down around it, but I did the best I could.
Here, down between the masses of rock, you can see into what appears to be a subterranean cavity filled with greenish water:
Sure enough, the riverbed dries up immediately beyond the falls:
After spending almost an hour here relaxing and snacking after our long uphill bushwack, we decided to continue following the two-track to the “Big Blue Bat Cage.”
This structure is a cap over a mineshaft designed to keep people safely out, but without destroying the bat habitat within. As you can see however, some people just can’t be thwarted:
There was also a narrow-gauge rail found just within the verge of the woods here. What we didn’t realize is that the impressive ruins of the Copper Falls Mine powderhouse (not to mention the old dam at Owl Lake) were very close by. Because we didn’t have a map printed out we didn’t realize this, and headed back down the slope along the two-track to our car without seeing them.
As we retraced our steps through the shadowy forest, something manmade caught my eye in a sunbeam, on the other side of a creek:
It was some sort of decorative cauldron, or basin, and had been sitting here for a long time, apparently having fallen directly out of the pages of some Welsh mythology textbook:
Neither one of us could figure out just what it was, or why it was here, but it was very intriguing. And it sat a few feet away from what looked at one time to have been a manmade foundation wall, now becoming part of the forest floor:
I wasn’t exactly sure what it might go to, but we didn’t find much else in the vicinity, so we kept going down the trail.
Now that I look back at the map from CCE, I see that there’s an arrow marked “Homestead” in the approximate area where we found the iron basin. I wonder if this wall and the basin were somehow connected to it.
After quite a bit more hiking we began to start seeing some real ruins finally.
Though I said in the last episode that the Copper Falls Mine closed in 1850 after running out of money, in 1851 the “New” Copper Falls Mine was reorganized with the help of a surveyor and civil engineer named Sam Hill, who was a cohort of Douglas Houghton’s.
As Mike Forgrave of CCE explains, the mine’s holdings embrace no less than half a dozen fissure veins as well as an extension of the Ashbed Lode that was being mined by the nearby Phoenix, and Atlantic Mines.
“New” Copper Falls Mine was even more grandiose in its outlay than its original incarnation, sinking seven new shafts and drilling a 2,350-foot adit into the base of the hill.
The next vein over, the Hill Vein, would see another seven shafts delved, as well as a 6,000-foot adit to connect them. By 1853 there was a new 24-head stamp mill at the base of the hill down by Lake Superior to process all the ore being torn out of all these new holes in the ground. Sam Hill also paid for the laying of a new, more improved road, which is now part of M-26, and even more adits were stabbed into the base of the hill to provide the mines with adequate drainage.
The Copper Falls was definitely pulling a lot of copper out now, and expanded the capacity of their stamp mill, but due to all this capital expense on building however, the operation was not making any profit.
Luckily for them however, Mr. Forgave notes that the next vein that they tapped into would turn out to be one of the richest in the Keweenaw—the Owl Creek Fissure. By 1861 the company sold off most of their older land holdings and concentrated on Owl Creek, at which time they actually turned a profit for once.
We were heading steeply downhill again here, and I could see that up ahead some much larger structures were present:
This area is marked as the Spencer Shaft on the map.
Times were good for the Copper Falls Mine in the 1860s-1870s, but a massive stope collapse in 1874 killed seven men and shut the mine down for weeks. In 1878 the original stamp mill burned down, causing further distress and ceasing all production for over a year.
Though as Mike Forgrave notes, Copper Falls wasn’t about to give up yet. By 1880 they were up and running again with a new mill and another engineering upgrade to their adit that allowed for better efficiency, and carried them through another decade of production.
The copper did run out however, as it always does, and by 1893 the Copper Falls Mine was shut down for good.
Lawrence Molloy implies that there was some re-exploration in the 1920s, probably by Calumet & Hecla, and that the town of Copper Falls still had a postmaster until 1916.
I detected that we were immediately adjacent to a poor rock pile, so naturally we climbed it. It was not quite high enough to give us that desired view of Lake Superior however.
We ended up back at the Jeep before we found anything else, scratching our heads in disappointment at our performance. After a bit of wandering around along the road we at least found the pipe sticking out of the hill marking the capped Copper Falls adit:
So we tampered with the lid and looked inside…Rutabaga’s moon-tanned arm lifts the lid:
A website shows how in 1950, some Michigan Tech students got together to dismantle, remove, and preserve the old mine hoist from the 9th level of the Copper Falls Mine by reconstructing it in the front yard of the Sigma Rho Fraternity house in Chassell. The removal project lasted five years, and it wasn’t until 1962 that the machine was fully reconstructed.
Across the road was an old observation tower, so we climbed it.
But the trees had long since grown too tall to see anything from it anymore.
Our next stop was the Arnold Mine, which was not far away. The land on which it sat had been purchased in recent years by the same Society of St. John monks who run the popular “Jam Pot” roadside thimbleberry jam stand. They cleaned up the ruins, maintain the trail to the waterfall, and have generally beautified it as a place of meditation for all. I figured it would be great to be able to photograph the place without brush in the way, but little did I know my camera battery was about to die.
We found the trailhead easily enough, marked by this Orthodox cross:
Rutabaga remarked at how well these monks knew how to maintain a proper trail. Personally, I thought it did a little too much snaking back and forth over every single possible part of the terrain, and should’ve been more direct, haha. Anyway, here is what I believe to be the engine house to the #2 Arnold Mine:
Originally this mine was one of the holdings of the parent Copper Falls Mining Co., which was sold off by 1861. According to Mindat.org, the Arnold Mine explored the Ashbed Amydaloid Lode starting in 1860, and incorporated in 1863. The mine was worked sporadically until 1900, at which time all work ceased, though it had produced two million lbs. of refined copper.
The Arnold Mine shut down and was stripped of its equipment at the dawn of the 20th century, allowing it to succumb to the ravages of nature, which included the deposit of massive amounts of sediment from the nearby Jacob’s Creek, gradually burying its stone ruins.
The Arnold Mine was essentially lost to memory, and literally buried by the sands of time. Mike Forgrave makes the interesting observation that over seventy years later the mine’s ruins made a sudden reappearance during the spring thaw of 1971 when a beaver dam burst, sending massive amounts of water downstream not only washing out roads and at least one local business, but also uncovering the lost foundations of the Arnold. Roy L. Dodge’s Michigan Ghost Towns of the Upper Peninsula also verifies this.
In fact, I encourage you to visit Mike’s old posts on the Arnold Mine, since he has a lot more coverage than I do, as a result of my camera conking-out early.
Or, you can now see more of my photos from my return trip in 2014.
For now, we had to return to the house in Centennial for dinner, to recharge my camera, and because Rutabaga's dad wanted to go to the beach at McLain State Park again to do some rock collecting.
We sat there for a while watching the sunset, which was made interesting by a strange temperature inversion causing a cloud layer over the lake’s surface.
In the fog off to the right, the faint beacon of the Keweenaw Waterway Upper Entrance Lighthouse blinked through the gloom, marking the channel entrance to Houghton. I passed this marker on the ferry when I took my trip to Isle Royale:
Some other people were having a bonfire at the other end of the beach as we made our way home for the night.
CLICK for part 6
Michigan Ghost Towns of the Upper Peninsula, by Roy L. Dodge