Fun with friends continues – Sault Ste Marie U.S. and Canada

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Algoma Art Display

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!

MacArthur Lock -Soo Locks

Our tour boat waiting for the water to fill the lock chamber.  How did I get this shot if we were on the tour?  I didn’t – we went to the visitor center later, and there was the same boat doing another tour!

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.

Soo Locks, Sault Ste Marie, MI

Soo Locks viewed from the International Bridge

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.

MacArthur Lock, Soo Locks

Once the chamber filled to the level of Lake Superior, the gates opened and off we went!

As we crossed under the International Bridge, I noticed these two workers who seemed to be comfortable hanging out up there:

International Bridge

Workers on top of the International Bridge

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:

Saint Marys Falls Hydropower Plant

A quarter mile long building – Saint Mary’s Falls Hydropower Plant

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!

Sault Ste Marie Canal, Canada

Canadian lock at Sault Ste Marie in Ontario

Sault Ste Marie, Ontario

Going “downstream”, the chamber was emptied before the gates were opened

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.

International Bridge

The International Highway Bridge connects the twin Sault Ste Marie cities in Michigan and Ontario

Saint Mary's Falls

Saint Mary’s Falls and the US Hydroelectric plant, viewed from the International Bridge

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.




Civic Center, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario

Flower garden reflected on the Civic Center windows

Sault Ste Marie, Ontario Canada

The foursome next to Saint Mary’s River, Sault Ste Marie, Ontario – eh?

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!

Lake Superior

Touching Lake Superior at Brimley, MI

 Mackinaw City

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.

Mackinaw City

Shepler’s ferry dock

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.

Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge – a beauty

Lake Huron

Lisa sprinkling Don with Lake Huron water during our ride

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.

US Coast Guard cutter

US Coast Guard ice breaker Mackinaw is open for tours.


Steve’s eyeing that Weinerlicious hotdog joint, we went over and got ourselves some of those dogs!

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?

Mcgulpin Rock, Mackinaw City

McGulpin rock, Chi- Sin or Big Rock

Big Rock, Lake Michigan

Don and Lisa sitting at Lake Michigan, accomplishing their goal of seeing all of the Great Lakes!

On our way back to the campground, I couldn’t help snapping a shot of this black beauty amongst the pink flowers.

MacGulpin Point,Mackinaw CityThe 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!

Lowes RV Adventures



Next up:  Back to nature in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula!






Exploring beyond Niagara Falls – what a great place!

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Without a doubt, the three beauties – American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horsehoe Falls – are the main attraction on both the New York and Ontario, Canada sides of Niagara Falls. But there are many other things to do and places to see beyond the falls.  We received lots of ideas from fellow bloggers Erin of Two to Travel’s Phaeton Journeys, Gay of Good-times Rolling and Don and Lisa, our friends from Ohio.  So we tried to check those out, and we discovered other fun things to do along the way.

A short 15-minute drive from our campground on Grand Island (click here if interested in Steve’s review of the KOA campground) took us to Old Fort Niagara, NY.  Our next door neighbor at the campground suggested this worthwhile stop, and it was an interesting one that history buffs will not want to miss.  This was a strategic site on the great lakes which played a critical role in the French & Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812.  It is preserved as it stood in the 1700’s when France and Britain controlled Niagara, and then it was restored between 1926 and 1934.  The three flags – French, British and U.S. – commemorate  the three nations that held Fort Niagara.

French Castle

The french castle in the background is the oldest building in North America’s lake region.

The buildings of Old Fort Niagara represent several different periods of history.  Large plaques representing the arms of France and Great Britain indicate the nation responsible for each building’s construction.

At the museum was displayed the biggest flag we have seen, encased in its own climate-controlled compartment.  It’s the original 15-stars, 15-stripes flag that was flown at Fort Niagara from 1796 to 1818.

Old Fort Niagara Flag

Original Ft. Niagara 15-stars, 15-stripes captured by the British in 1813.

Do you know where buffalo wings originated?  Well, we checked out the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, home to what is claimed to be the originator of buffalo wings.  Caution: when in Buffalo, one should not call the wings “buffalo wings” or “hot wings” – just call them “chicken wings”.  Very strange.  Doesn’t make sense to us, but we don’t want to start a bar brawl with these New Yorkers.  They certainly were packed on a weekday afternoon.  Verdict: the wings were good – big, plump and juicy, fried crispy but not overcooked.  We have had better sauce on our wings, though.  So we would say they were good, but don’t bother flying across the U.S. just to try them.  At least we can say we had the originals!

Anchor Bar

At the home of the original buffalo wings

We crossed the border into Canada again, driving on the Lewiston Bridge to Ontario and exploring several  attractions.  We cruised along the 35-mile Niagara Parkway that runs beside the rampaging river.  Along the route are various attractions worth stopping for if you have time.

At the Sir Beck Hydro Power Plant in Ontario, we took a tour and learned about the new additional Niagara Tunnel that was completed in March 2013. This monster is 47.24′ high and 41.67′ in diameter – “big enough for 5 school busses to park side-by-side”.  The 6.3-mile underground tunnel diverts water from the Niagara River just above Horsehoe Falls, then quickly drops 328 ‘ and rushes downstream to the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station.  Finally, the water enters a pipe called a penstock and through the huge turbines to generate electricity.  This plant generates enough power to supply just about everything within 30 miles .  We were amazed to learn the plant is so efficient that the average maintenance needed by each turbine is just 3 hours per year.

Turbines at Sir Beck HyroPlant

Turbines at Sir Beck Hydro Plant.  They use bicycles to get around this massive place!

Per agreement between the U.S. and Canada, up to 75% of the water flowing toward the three falls at Niagara Falls is diverted into the huge tunnels running to hydroelectric plant “ponds” in New York and Canada.  This is enough water diversion that you can actually see a difference in the flow over the falls at night.  Both Ontario Hydro and the New York State Power Authorities pump this massive amount of water into their gigantic water reservoirs in order to top them up and supply the plants during the daytime hours.  During the day, water diversion is reduced to about 50% so that millions of tourists can enjoy the beauty of the falls. Pretty cool arrangement!

International Control Dam

The International Control Dam can be seen from Goat Island, NY or past Table Rock in Ontario.

The International Control Dam upstream has 18  gates that are raised or lowered in order control the water flow over the Falls for diversion into the Hydro Tunnels of Ontario Hydro and the New York State Power Authority.

Welland Canal is a ship canal which enables ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment, and to bypass Niagara Falls.  It operates just like the Panama Canal – on a much smaller scale (click here to read our post about the Panama Canal).  Welland Canal extends 26 miles from Port Weller Ontario, on Lake Ontario, to Port Colborne Ontario, on Lake Erie.  We were hoping to catch one of the passing ships as we arrived early in the morning and climbed the observation platform at Lock 3 near St Catherine’s.  However, we were informed that the next crossing was several hours away.  Fortunately, at Thorold Lock 7 the ship CSL Niagara was just beginning to navigate into the narrow canal.

Lock 3, Welland Canal

Lock 3, Welland Canal.  Pretty, but not a ship in sight.


The CSL Niagara squeezing into the lock

Thorold, Lock 7

About 20 minutes later, and 25′ higher – good to go!

A stop at Niagara-on-the-Lake was a must, as this little town was adorned with colorful foliage and teeming with tourists.  We contributed to their economy as Steve bought his Tilley hat at the Beau Chapeua Hat Store.  Then we stopped at an Irish Pub so we could sample the Irish Family of Beers and have a hearty lunch (Steve’s eyes rolled back in his head as he enjoyed the corned beef).  There were several fruit stands along the way, but we had to pass them since we were afraid the yummy fruits would be confiscated at the border – which has happened to us before.  We did taste and buy some excellent wine at the Peller winery though, and the border folks didn’t even ask about them.

On the Niagara Parkway, we also checked out the Botanical Gardens and the cool floral clock.

Botanical Garden

Pose at Hornbeam Alley at the Botanical Gardens

Niagara Botanical Garden

Steve wanted to smack this plant just to kill the flies!  Probably against the rules…

Floral Clock

40-foot wide floral time piece.

Continuing south on the Parkway, we ended up back at Niagara Falls where we saw hordes of tourists gawking at the falls.  The Canadian side of the falls are very popular, as you are able to see full frontal views of the huge Horseshoe Falls.

Table Rock

Tourists viewing at Horseshoe Falls at Table Rock on the Canadian side

One of our final stops was at the Skylon Tower, where we were able to view the falls at night from the top.

Skylon Tower

Skylon Tower

My last picture of the Horseshoe Falls at night, viewed from Skylon Tower, is not the best of my captures, as the multi-colored lights did not come out so good.  I still have a lot to learn about night time photography.

Horsehoe Falls at night

Illuminated Horseshoe Falls at night

Crossing the border back into the U.S. at the Rainbow Bridge involved a 40-minute wait.  Although we think we have seen a lot, we know there are many other things worth checking out here.  But alas, after a busy week it’s time to move on.

As I sit here ready to publish this blog, it is beautiful out (in the 70’s) but raining lightly. We were going to ride bikes today, but it looks like we might have to delay it until tomorrow and instead do some reading and enjoy a glass of wine.  Darn, life can be so difficult at times!

Next up:  Parish, NY