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The mystery of the disappearing river in Judge C. R. Magney State Park

Part of the Brule River flows into a giant pothole. But no one seems to know where all that water goes.

Part of the Brule River flows into a giant pothole. But no one seems to know where all that water goes.

Shawn Perich knows the North Shore. It's his job. He's the editor of Northern Wilds, a monthly toasting all things God's Country. 

Perich moonlights as a tour guide. When out-of-towners roll in, he must take them to visit the area's natural mystery, a stubborn geological riddle that's stumped scientists for decades:  Devil's Kettle Falls. 

The last eight miles of the Brule River's sky blue waters course through Judge C. R. Magney State Park, 25 miles from the Canadian border. That's where the river descends into two adjacent waterfalls.

The lower one chutes into a deep pool before continuing downstream. The higher fall spills into a pothole, prompting a singular question from visitors. 

"They always ask, 'Where does the water from the higher fall go?''' says Perich. "And that's when I have to tell them nobody knows."

There are theories. 

One says that once the water reaches the pothole, it permeates the rock below, then rejoins the other fall's flow somewhere below ground. Another suggests the water runs along an underground fault, following an unseen channel before spilling into Lake Superior.    

Folklore says people have plopped colored ping pong balls into the abyss and waited for them to arrive where Lake Superior welcomes the Brule River. They're still waiting.

Perich remains stumped. He doesn't see how the dense rock surrounding the cascades would be porous enough to facilitate seepage.

"All I know is I'm a trout fisherman and I fish the pool below the falls and it's super deep," he says. "I would not be surprised if it didn't come back out somewhere underneath that pool, but where exactly that would be, I wouldn't know and apparently no one else does either."