Before I ever saw the Devil’s Kettle, I dreamed of it.
About the Kettle I knew very little; only that it was a waterfall, somewhere in northern Minnesota, that poured into a hole rumored to be bottomless.
Years ago, in a dream, my imagination supplied details. I was paddling a canoe across a favorite lake on the border of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The landscape was eerie with silence, the water sapphirine and still.
As the canoe neared the middle of the lake, I could see a horizon line there, like the lip of a waterfall minus the roaring and mist. Drawing closer, the line resolved itself into the rim of an immense hole.
Water flowed over the rim as if into a drain. There was no suction to drag me into the hole—thankfully, this was a dream rather than a nightmare—so I stalled the canoe at the edge and watched the water slip down, down, down, a blue tunnel collapsing into blackness.
Last April, I moved to Grand Marais to take a job with the Cook County Visitors Bureau. Soon I was reminded of the dream and the fact that the Devil’s Kettle is located in Judge C.R. Magney State Park, some 15 minutes northeast of Grand Marais on Highway 61.
I had to see how my dream of the falls and the reality aligned.
The hike to the Kettle is about 2.5 miles round trip. Most of the way, the trail snakes along high bluffs overlooking the Brule River. The hills, plus an Escher-eque wooden staircase near the turnaround point, make for an invigorating afternoon excursion.
Of course, the Devil’s Kettle was different than it was in my dream. At first, there is nothing strange about the waterfall. It is roughly 50 feet tall and striking in a standard waterfall kind of way, split by rocks into two freefalling streams.
One horsetail drops into a huge rocky pool, which feeds more scenic falls downstream. The other horsetail appears at a glance to bounce off a ledge and into the pool, too.
But it doesn’t.
If you look closer, you’ll see that the left-hand flow (looking upstream) disappears into a smaller hole. Nobody has figured out where all that water goes. I stood on the viewing platform above the falls and got goosebumps.
If the Devil’s Kettle were located in, say, Kentucky, or any other area with lots of limestone, it would have a less-dramatic name and there would be no mystery about it. Limestone yields to flowing water, creating vast subterranean labyrinths riddled with rivers.
The North Shore isn’t like that. Here we sit on the Laurentian Shield—the stolid geological heart of North America. We’re talking bedrock many miles deep. There shouldn’t be anywhere for that much water to go.
The logical assumption is that the water flows into a yet-undiscovered underground passage and out into Lake Superior. But despite the best efforts of hydrologists and other folks, who have chucked everything from cameras to ping-pong balls to nontoxic dye into the hole, an outlet has never been found.
No wonder Devil’s Kettle Falls merits its own entry on AtlasObscura.com, a sort of Wikipedia for strange places around the world.
There isn’t much in the way of interpretive signage at the falls overlook, so when a woman and her young son joined me at the platform, I asked if they knew where to look for the Kettle. When they said no, I pointed it out and explained what I knew—and, more importantly, what we don’t know.
It was fun to share the mystery.