The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called "Gitche Gumee"
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Gordon Lightfoot 1976
The next day we set off on our adventure to the U.P. Our first stop was the city of Sault Ste. Marie, on the Michigan/Ontario border. Sault Ste. Marie is an ancient (by American standards) city, with the Ojibwa (Chippewa) Native Americans living there for over 500 years. In the 1600's French missionaries founded a mission there, making it the third oldest city west of the Applachians. Because of the location between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, it became an important center for the fur trade. After the War of 1812, and the completion of the Erie Canal in 1832, settlers from the East began to pour into the region, and shipping was becoming ever more important. However, the 21 foot drop of the St. Mary's river between Lake Superior and Lake Huron was a major obstacle to shipping. First ships and their cargo were being portaged around the rapids between the lakes, and as ships became larger, just the cargo was removed from ships at the top of Lake Superior, portaged around the rapids, and reloaded onto ships on Lake Huron. The process took weeks, and was becoming unmanageable, and so, in 1855, the first American lock, the State Lock, was finished, vastly improving shipping capabilities on the Great Lakes.
This brings us to the major attraction and reason for us coming here. The "Soo Locks". The State Lock was operated by the state of Michigan until 1881, when it was turned over to the Army Corps of Engineers, who operate and maintain the locks to this day. There are now four locks, the MacArthur and Poe locks being active at this time, with the other 2, the Davis and Sabin locks, closed for renovation work. The 2 active locks handle an average of 10,000 vessels a year. The Soo Locks are widely considered as one of the great engineering wonders of the world and is still the largest waterway traffic system in the world. What's even better is the wonderful Visitor's Center, with a museum dedicated to the history and statistics of this marvel, and a three story observation platform allowing you an up close and personal view of the ships entering and leaving the locks.
We arrived at the Visitor's Center around 11am. The dreaded "No Pets" sign was up, so Al went in to scope out the situation. He came back and said the museum was great, and that there were three ships currently on their way to the locks, with the first supposedly arriving around 11:45am. It was a cool day, and we were parked in the shade, so we took the dogs for a quick walk, cracked open the windows, left them water, and told them we'd be back shortly. They're so good! :-).
There were quite a few exhibits in the museum, showing the history, current usage, and future plans for the locks. There's also a movie, but we didn't go in to see that as the ships were due to arrive soon. There's live cameras posted inside the Visitor Center showing the ships as the steam their way up or down the lakes, and the Visitor Center hostess keeps the timetable updated as to the ships arrivals to the locks.
This is an aerial view of the American locks.
An exhibit showing a model of the Edmund Fitzgerald
The administrative building at the south end of the lock, leading into Lake Huron
The U.S. Hydroelectric Plant. The water not used in the locks is diverted from the St. Mary's River through this plant, which generates over 150 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year. Most of this is used to operate the machinery at the lock system, but the local power authority purchased the leftover and distributes it to local businesses and residences.
The first ship enters the MacArthur lock directly in front of us. The American Courage is sailing from Lake Superior to Lake Huron, headed for Gary Indiana with a load of iron ore. It needs to drop 21 feet from Lake Superior level to Lake Huron level.
The American Courage is being lowered in the MacArthur Lock, as the CSL Tadoussac is entering the Poe Lock. That one is also going down to Lake Huron. There was another Canadian ship coming up from Lake Huron, but they delayed that one for some reason, and these two came through first. In the background you can see the International Bridge, linking Michigan's Sault Ste. Marie to Ontario's Sault Ste. Marie.
It was about a 30-minute process, and the American Courage was completely lowered, the lock gates open, and she was ready to head into Lake Huron. It was really very interesting to watch, and we were so fortunate to arrive when we did. After these two ships and then the Canadian ship coming up, there were no more scheduled for the day until after 5:00pm. Timing is everything!
We headed back to get the dogs, and after being given a good talking to by them :-), we had a quick sandwich, and headed back on the road to our second half of the day. We now headed west to Brimley State park, and the starting point for the Whitefish Bay Scenic ByWay. This drive is in just about every guidebook on travel that I have :-). Whereas many times we like to find "the road less traveled", in other instances the "beaten path" is beaten for a good reason :-).
The beach at Brimley State Park, along the shoreline of Lake Superior. I can see why this is a very popular camping area in the summer...the beach is beautiful!
The obligatory stroll through the campground. As usual for Michigan State Parks, the sites are nicely spaced, huge firepits, electric only sites.
After leaving Brimley, we drove through the Ojibwa community of Bay Mills, where a few casinos were located, and followed the shoreline of Lake Superior. We stopped here at Iroquois Point Light Station, a 65-foot brick tower built in 1870, replacing the wooden tower that was built in 1857. The Iroquois Point Light Station was used for 107 years to warn ships of the tight fit through Point Iroquois and the rocky reefs of Canada's Gros Cap.
Gros Cap Canada across Lake Superior. Can you see the windmills on the mountain tops?
Taking in the view of Lake Superior
The drive follows the curve of Lake Superior, and passes through the vast lands of the eastern unit of Hiawatha National Forest. I will pause here and say if you are doing this drive, be sure you start from Sault St. Marie with a full tank of fuel, and snacks and drinks; the services, if you find any at all, are few and far between :-). We pulled off here, at a turn-out called "The Shallows". It was time for a stretch of the legs, and to see what the shoreline looked like here. We walked down this short path...
and this is what we found! Isn't it beautiful? There wasn't a soul anywhere to be found, the beach was flat and hard, the water so shallow, that Al decided it would be a great spot for Casey to let off some steam.
A long shot of Casey running along the shoreline.
I'm going to stop at this point, as I need to get ready to go to work. But we still have the Shipwreck Coast, Paradise, and Tahquamenon Falls State Park to finish off the day :-). Stay tuned!