The Odyssey Will Explore the Fascinating Karst Geology at Mystery Valley

By Chelsea Richardson

[Ed. note: Chelsea Richardson has joined MNA for the summer as a Communications Intern. Chelsea is a student at Central Michigan University, studying public relations. She will be contributing to both the blog and Michigan Nature magazine. We’re excited to have her on board!]

MNA’s June 5 Odyssey Tour will visit Mystery Valley Karst Preserve and Nature Sanctuary in Presque Isle County. Mystery Valley is home to one of the largest karst collapse valleys in the Great Lakes region.

Mystery Valley Sinkhole

Mystery Valley’s sinkhole. Photo from MNA Archives

Karsts are extremely fascinating.  They are an area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced cracks, sinkholes, underground streams and caverns.  Limestone forms from the shells of mollusks and coral reefs accumulating in seas over vast periods of time and being compacted into rock.  In Michigan this deposition occurred in the early Palezoic era, roughly 500 million to 350 million years ago. Lands that karsts occur on are generally lacking surface streams, so water drains mainly or exclusively underground.

The Mystery Valley karst was formed by the collapse of the surface into a network of underground chambers created by erosion of the rock below. Several dramatic earth cracks have formed along with a lake that rises and falls, and sometimes disappears altogether!  Mystery Valley is 1.5 miles long, 500 yards at its widest point and about 150 feet deep.

Here visitors can explore this unique geologic wonder by following the 1-mile Earthcrack Trail. Hikers can view large cracks caused by the moving rock.  These cracks can span more than 100 feet deep in some places.

Mystery Valley Crack

One of Mystery Valley’s deep cracks. Photo by John Porter

Together, the Michigan Karst Conversancy (MKC) and MNA work to protect this natural wonder and its surrounding area. To learn more about karst geology, check out Living With Karst: A Fragile Foundation.

Join Dave Wendling and Tina Patterson on June 5 at 10 a.m. to explore this extraordinary karst, and don’t forget your camera! To RSVP for the Odyssey (and for driving directions), visit the MNA website.

If you can’t make it to the Odyssey Tour, MNA’s Fall Adventure will also tour Mystery Valley, along with several other sanctuaries in the northern Lower Peninsula. Learn more on MNA’s website.

Snow Shoe Hike Introduces Participants to Northern Michigan Geologic Wonder

By Angie Jackson

Nature enthusiasts from across the state gathered in Presque Isle County Feb. 5 for a breathtaking snowshoe hike.

“It’s interesting to see people coming from various areas to learn about a geologically-unique area in northern Michigan,” Michigan Nature Association Stewardship Coordinator Andrew Bacon said. “We had a lot of fun playing and falling in the snow.”

Bacon led the event at Mystery Valley Nature Sanctuary and Karst Preserve, which stretches 76 acres and is cooperatively owned and cared for by MNA and the Michigan Karst Conservancy.

The outing introduced participants to the special natural area and the trail system that was installed this past summer, and then afforded them their first look at the sanctuary in the winter.

MNA member Paul Petiprin and his wife Joyce made the trip from Bay City. They frequently travel to national parks across the country, and they said the outing opened their eyes to the natural beauty that is close to home.

“We’ve discovered that much of what we look for is here in Michigan,” Petiprin said. “There are a lot of different places we haven’t been to that now we can and will visit on our own.”

The group, ranging from beginners snowshoeing for the first time to advanced, trekked two miles and observed Mystery Valley’s stunning geologic formations. Petiprin said he enjoyed learning about the Thunder Bay River and the large sinkhole’s interesting history.

“It’s really astonishing how the hydrology of the site was altered about 100 years ago from the dam that shifted, and now most of the water flow goes out to Thunder Bay,” Bacon said. “It used to go out the sinkhole and then it just disappeared—which is how Mystery Valley got its name.”

After three hours of exploring the sanctuary, participants said they were cold, but thoroughly pleased.

“What we enjoyed the most was meeting other people with similar interests and being outside in the winter,” Petiprin said.

The next MNA winter hike is Saturday, Feb. 12 at Keweenaw Shore and Upson Lake Nature Sanctuary in Keweenaw County. RSVP with the MNA office at 517-655-5655 or by emailing

To find out more about MNA winter events and how to get involved, view our event calendar.