After a great day of biking on Mackinac Island (remember, its pronounced “Mackinaw”), the four of us still had plenty of places we wanted to check out. Don and Lisa, driving from Warren, Ohio to meet up with us, could only get away for a week – they have jobs, after all – bummer! So we filled our days together from our home base at Mackinaw City, driving to the twin cities of Sault Ste Marie – the Michigan and Canadian sides of the international border. On our last day together we explored Mackinaw City on our bikes.
Sault Ste Marie, MI
We had initially planned to watch large freighters move through the Soo Locks system from an observation platform next to the Soo Locks visitor center. But then we found out about a two-hour narrated Soo Locks Boat Tour excursion that would actually take us through the locks – much better!
The Soo Locks are a set of parallel locks located on St. Mary’s river which enable ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. The locks were required to bypass the rapids of the river, where the water falls 21 feet from the level of Lake Superior to the level of the lower lakes. The locks are powered by gravity itself – no pumps are used. Water moves in and out of the lock chambers by simply opening and closing valves, and it takes only a few minutes to fill or empty them with 22 million gallons of water.
Since we were traveling up-bound at the beginning of our tour, the chamber was filled and our boat rose twenty-one feet straight up to the level of Lake Superior. The chamber is able to handle ships up to 800 feet long, so our little tour boat seemed like a toy in there! Once the chamber was filled, the gates opened and we cruised under the International Bridge and a railroad bridge.
As we crossed under the International Bridge, I noticed these two workers who seemed to be comfortable hanging out up there:
The narrator pointed out several interesting buildings and other structures to us as we moved along. One of them was the 1/4-mile long Saint Mary’s Falls Hydropower Plant, which has 72 turbines producing electric power from water flowing down its wooden plank-lined canal. The building is listed as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Check out the columnar supports that are shaped like lighthouses:
After crossing into Canadian waters, we got a close-up look at one of Canada’s largest steel plants. We returned to our dock after passing through the smaller historic and newly-restored Canadian lock, and cruising past the Saint Mary’s Rapids. We learned that more than 11,000 cargo vessels pass through the locks during the 42-week long navigation season. Vessels of all shapes and sizes go through the lock system – for free!
Although we had experienced “locking through” the Panama Canal during our Princess Cruise in 2012, this time it was much faster and close-up. What took most of a day for the cruise ship to complete happened here in about 20 minutes. But these locks were still a man-made marvel when they were built, and we really enjoyed the experience of passing through them. Not to be missed if you’re in the area!
Sault Ste Marie, ON, Canada
We got a glimpse of the Canadian side of Sault Ste Marie from our tour boat, and since we all had our passports with us we decided to head over there and grab some lunch after the tour. The International Highway Bridge connects the U.S. and Canadian cities, Sault Ste Marie and is a 2.8-mile long steel truss arch bridge with a suspended deck. There are two separate spans, a double arch span on the U.S. side which crosses over the four U.S. Soo Locks, and a single arch span on the Canadian side that crosses the single Canadian Lock.
After an excellent lunch at Shogun, an all-you-can eat sushi place (Steve was going through “sushi withdrawal” and needed his fix), we swung by Ontario’s Sault Ste Marie waterfront and walked off some of the calories, while enjoying the flowers and art displays bordering the river.
Before heading back home to Mackinaw City, since Don was driving he demanded that we take a quick detour near Brimley, MI to the lakeshore. He just had to touch Lake Superior before going home! They met their goal on this trip of touching three of the Great Lakes – Superior, Huron and Michigan – way to go, guys!
We were delighted when we learned that the KOA campground where we were staying had a bike path leading directly into town – how convenient! On Don and Lisa’s last day with us, we pedaled off and entered the historic downtown area, which was bustling with tourists. After all, Mackinaw City is the jumping-off point to Mackinac Island, with three ferry services to choose from.
The five-mile long Mackinac Bridge links Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, and spans the connection of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron at the Straits of Mackinac. It is currently the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world, and the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.
Perhaps if we had been dressed appropriately we would have checked out the Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum. The USCG cutter Mackinaw (WAGB-83) is a 290-foot vessel that was specifically designed for ice breaking duties on the Great Lakes. It has been decommissioned and is open for tours.
On the shore of Lake Michigan and Mackinaw City’s west side lies a rock that may not be as famous as Plymouth Rock, but it has been used as a navigational aid since before the Pilgrims landed. McGulpin rock (or Chi-Sin – Big Rock) was used by Native Americans as a navigational aid to gauge the lake’s water levels. It measures 33.0 ft. in horizontal circumference and 37 ft. in vertical circumference. It’s 9 ft. tall and weighs 54 tons. I wonder how the heck it got there?
On our way back to the campground, I couldn’t help snapping a shot of this black beauty amongst the pink flowers.
The four of us had been running around every day – seeing the Henry Ford, biking at Mackinac island, driving to Sault Ste Marie, MI and crossed the international border. We hadn’t had any time to cook, so on their last day I prepared a couple of filipino dishes – lumpia and pancit canton – as a sendoff dinner for our good friends. We had lots of fun and made many memories in a short period of time. That is until next time, somewhere out west!
Next up: Back to nature in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!