The Devil's Kettle

Joshua Foer is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Joshua is a freelance science journalist and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Dylan Thuras.


I ought to leave the Minnesota curiosities to Dylan, since that's his home turf, but I was just poking around the Atlas and stumbled on a mysterious waterfall called the "Devil's Kettle," recently added by a user named nursecarman. I realized I'd never seen anything quite like it before.

There is a mysterious waterfall in Judge Magney State Park in Minnesota. Half of the water drops 50 feet into the Brule river; the other half falls into a cauldron and disappears! Dyes and ping pong balls have been dropped into the pothole in an attempt to trace its route and find its outlet--presumably the water winds its way underground to Lake Superior a mile away--but the other end of the Devil's Kettle has yet to be found.

Anyone know of any other disappearing waterfalls like this? I'm guessing there must be others.


  1. As I recall there is a small river that disappears into the earth in Howe Cavern near Cobleskill, NY. Check it out.

  2. some friends and i camped up at magney two summers ago. this is one of the coolest things i’ve ever seen. highly recommended for a long weekend for anyone in the midwest.

  3. I know of two, and they are in the same place. Lost Creek Cave. Outside the entrance to the cave is a 30′ waterfall that the water disappears (hence Lost Creek). Down inside the cave another waterfall does the same. At the base of both waterfalls is just gravel, no visible holes, the water just drains through the gravel to the unknown.

    The cave is also fairly reachable and non-commercial, and the landowner doesn’t mind day trips to see the cave.

  4. drop one of the new iPhones in and test out the stolen/lost recovery feature? Tie it up inside a few high-quality balloons, try and get the buoyancy exactly matched to water so it stays underwater but at the top. I suppose there’s not a lot of cell connectivity in underwater caves though.

    1. Better idean . . . tie the iphone up into a couple of XL condoms! That may do the trick- assuming that it doesn’t go too deep in which case it will be unable to gain signal from the Sattys!

  5. Along the lines of what Franith suggests, it would actually be pretty interesting to design a small buoy/robot with a radio beacon and a GPS receiver. Drop it down the hole, wait for it to reappear. The GPS receiver will log the coordinates where it reappears. Unfortunately, I’d bet against it ever reappearing, there’s just too many obstacles.

  6. @4, it sounds like a great idea, unfortunately almost nothing will transmit though more than 10 feet of water, especially GPS signals.

    Water is one of the best signal absorbing materials known to man, that’s why submarines have to use radio antennas that poke out of the water and use sonar with a very low frequency using wire antennas that span the length of the sub about 5 times.

  7. oh, come on, are you seriously telling me there is no form of tracking device on offer that would help you trace the waterway? I find that extremely hard to believe. Maybe not commercial GPSR – but there is stuff out there.





  9. Dear surface dwellers,

    As suggested by the user above, please send iPhones.

    Also, please stop dying the water. We need to drink that.

  10. Surface Friends-

    The divers are great though, keep sending them. They taste just like Eloi, but chewier though the tanks give us gas.

  11. Upper Proxy Falls on a tributary of Oregon’s McKenzie River east of Eugene disappears underground. The water falls into a pleasing pool, but the pool does not have a surface outlet. It’s very odd but many people don’t even notice.

    Kentucky Falls west of Eugene is a rare double waterfall where two tributaries go over the same cliff just a few yards from where the tributaries join.

  12. I’ve been to this place a few times as a kid. I was told that they once sent a guy down there to find out where it went… he did not, evidently, report his findings back to the overworld.

  13. By a remarkable coincidence, I have just been struck by a truly wonderful idea regarding the safe and permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste.

  14. I’m not suggesting that the GPS be used to track the entire course of the underground stream. If you make your buoy buoyant, when it returns to the surface and floats, it will be on the surface with line of sight to satellites, and will be able to log the first set of coordinates it can measure on reappearing. The first logged set of coordinates will be near the exit of the stream.

  15. Similarly, the Santa Fe River in Florida goes underground via a large sink hole at O’Leno State Park in High Springs, Florida and reemerges three miles away at River Rise State Preserve (also in High Springs, Florida).

    The standard way to find connections between sink holes and springs is by use of biodegradable dyes. If the water from this source is discharged in a lake it may become to diluted to still be visible. There is a photo of such a dye trace on

  16. The problem with dropping /anything/ down the hole is that there is absolutely no guarantee that there is any ability for anything larger than a bacteria to pass through. No amount of dye is guaranteed, either. All that water might be ending up filtered through an ancient peat bog or sand bar, as far as anyone knows.

  17. #4 ruckc: You have a country/state/city for where Lost Creek is?

    #23 bardfinn: I’d have to say dye molecules are much much smaller than bacteria.

  18. I just visited Ruby Falls which is inside a cave near Chattanooga, TN. The guide mentioned that they do not know where the water goes.

  19. What I find strangest about this is that a river or stream would split, not at a delta. Does this happen elsewhere?

  20. It makes sense that the River Styx starts at the Devil’s Kettle, but who removed it from Hell’s Kitchen?

  21. On the opposite end of the scale is California’s Burney Falls. A 100 million US gallons per day (4 m³/s) waterfall fed by a collapsed lava tube.

    If you hike the 1/2 mile (0.8 Km) trail upstream to the source, the crystal clear creek slowly diminishes in volume to just a trickle emerging from a murky pond.

    Very Strange.

  22. I graduated from the University of Minnesota in Electrical Engineering. One of the senior design projects was to create an electronic device to drop into devil’s kettle to map out the cavity. They hadn’t tested it yet since it wasn’t warm enough, so I don’t know how well it worked.

  23. electronic device? Pah! Whatever happened to direct measures? Just fetch a stout, oaken cask and an immigrant child.

  24. oh, Takuan. yet again you have made my day with your oh so witty remarks. bravo! hey, maybe you should write a book or something! i’ll bet you would make millions by sharing your invaluable insight.

  25. Funny, My money works just like that hole.

    And #13, We’re not that nice -we lie on the license plate -we really have over 12000 lakes.

    Plenty of weird here too in the former home of former Governor and former Mayor of my town: Jesse Ventura. We also have Prince and if that ain’t weird I don’t know what is.

    But for truly ultimate weirdness we have Michelle Bachmann!

  26. Onondaga Cave in Missouri has a large river still flowing through, rushing water can be heard from the guided trail, many portions are visible, yet to this day, the source of the water is unknown.
    i found it quite interesting.
    the tour guide mentioned that they added special dyes to all rivers in quite a large vicinity and still no leads.

  27. lost river in hardy county wva. goes underground and reappears a couple miles further on.

  28. has an portion of the abyss been mapped at all? even the entrance? im sure wired equipment must be able to extend some distance down.

  29. Hmmm the only way I can think of tracking this is via radio isotope tagging.. Which of course is radioactive, so much for nature.


  30. Come on this is not rocket science if we can send a man to the moon we can divert a waterfall so we can check a hole out.

  31. Mageni cave in new guinea, a river flows out of several caves 85m up the side of a cliff, presumably the river dissapears somewhere else, but hte cave system hasn’t been fully explored

  32. Take a few long ropes tie it one end to the other end and fix it to a small camera. Let it flow with the water.. ping pong balls doesn’t work because it may stuck at a air pocket along the way to the exits. Dye will just decolorized due to the large volume of water.

  33. i remember from the movie jenifer’s body that scientist poured things in there they never come out is that true??

  34. Use a fish radar on a controllable cable to sonar your way deeper and deeper and at least get an idea of the size of the cavity and the direction it heads.

  35. What if they just put a video camera on some type of string down it.. that way they can find the exact exit&possibly see the route!

  36. Rerout the fall, get some climbing gear and find out whats down their. Or attach a transmitter to a wire and map out where it goes.

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