Saturday, August 6, 2022
Yesterday we made a trip from Mackinaw City up to Sault Ste. Marie, on the northern edge of the Upper Peninsula, next to Canada. We thought we'd check out the Soo Locks, the engineering marvel that allows shipping between Lake Superior and Lake Huron (and the rest of the St. Lawrence Seaway).
Sault Ste. Marie is about 50 miles north of Mackinaw City. We got there and headed straight for the tour boat docks, next to this big rambling mansion. This house seems like it must have some historical significance.
Once aboard our boat, we started our tour by crossing the river and cruising along the shore of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, which is a much larger city than its Michigan counterpart. We then lingered near the locks with other similar tour boats (above) until we could enter the first lock at left, named after General Douglas MacArthur. (Multiple small boats can use a single lock simultaneously.)
In the second lock from the left, above, you can see a freighter called the American Integrity going through.
The locks look like this. There are four of them, varying in size.
Boats going upriver to Lake Superior enter and tie up to the support walls...
...the massive metal gates close behind them...
...and about 10 million gallons of water flow into the lock, lifting the boat 21 feet until it's level with Lake Superior. The doors at the other end of the lock then open and the vessel continues on its way.
The same thing happens in the opposite direction except that instead of adding water to lift the boat, the lock releases it to lower the boat to the level of the St. Mary's River and Lake Huron. All the filling and emptying of the locks is done by gravity; there's no pumping necessary. It takes 16 minutes to fill the lock and eight to empty it, because fewer channels are used for filling.
Before the locks were built, the river fell 21 feet through a series of rapids, some of which are still visible. Boats and/or cargo were carried overland to get around the rapids, a slow, laborious process. So you can see how the locks changed everything.
After we went through the locks, we went under the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge, which carries traffic from Michigan into Ontario. From this angle you can barely tell, but there's a massive backup on the bridge. (The darker span in the background is a rail crossing.)
From there we cruised over to the north shore (still about 14 miles from Lake Superior proper). There are steelworks along the shoreline, including these piles of taconite iron pellets.
We had some interesting characters on our boat.
Finally we turned and went back through the locks and headed back to port. All told our tour took about three hours, but I found it very interesting. I liked it more than the farting horse tour on Mackinac Island.
We took a quick spin through town before heading back to Mackinaw City. I also got to travel (twice!) over the Mackinac Bridge. The first time I recorded the experience from the back seat...
...and the second time I drove it myself!
Today we're headed back down to the deer-hunting cabin owned by Dave's family. We'll spend one more night there before driving back to the Detroit area with his parents. Dave's sister went home before our Soo Locks trip, so she will no longer be able to provide us with an Internet "hotspot" -- which means I'll be offline until late Sunday. (Dave and I don't even have functioning cell phones at the deer-hunting cabin.)
No Internet?! It's so 1992!