Thursday, July 31, 2014

World Famous Soo Locks ... From The Inside!!

The locks that make it easy for ships to go from one lake level (or ocean level for that matter) to the next, are an amazing but simplistic invention.  Water comes in from above to fill the lock, the gates are closed and water drains to the lower lake level so the ship can leave.  Today we'll get to see it up close and personal in a very small boat, making it all the more spectacular!!

Early in the morning the fog came in, but that didn't keep the big Lakers off the river, even though it's pretty narrow through this section.  The river looks wide, but the deep channel is only wide enough for two ships to pass.
When the sun finally came out, it made for a beautiful day to take the Soo Lock Tour Boat for $25 each ... well worth the price!!  Everybody bundled up since it was pretty chilly with a breeze blowing!!
This 1/4 mile long building was beautifully built by Italian stone masons with pillars sculpted on the outside to look like lighthouses.  The Cloverland Electric Power Plant was completed in 1902, providing electricity with water diverted from the river above through a long canal.   Smart fisherman line the front side to catch fish coming through ... those that aren't smashed with the turbines I suppose.  Actually, the fish come up from the river below and hang out here for the best lunch.  You can watch them on the University Fish Cam ... give it a few seconds to load!!
Our first view of the locks from the water shows the Algoma Discovery on the left, inching her way out of the locks so as not to smash into the side ... and I mean inching!!  In the meantime, the Poe Lock on the right received an even larger ship.  I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere, but the Poe lock really was named for Colonel Poe, Engineer Officer during the Civil War.
Yikes!!!  We're right in the middle, trying to dodge the first Laker when the Poe Lock gates open.  The big building in the middle is where the manager of the locks controls every entry and exit ... and he held the ship on the right with red lights until the Discovery was far enough out that we could enter and not get run over!!  
We are actually going to enter the MacArthur lock which is 21 feet below the level of Superior Lake. Originally there were rocky rapids here, so ships were actually put on rollers and hauled by horses along Portage Ave to a dock right next door to us where they went back in the water.  In 1797 it was so hard for the Indians to portage their canoes that they built the first "canoe" locks on the Canadian side of the river, but they were destroyed in the War of 1812.  Seems like this lock idea has been around for quite awhile!!
As we sat moored to the sidewalk above, the valve was opened and water streamed in, rising us up to the top of the lock in record time.  You can see the circle of water coming in ... a million gallons??  I can't remember exactly ... there was so much information being given to us I could have used a tape recorder!!
Once level with the Superior Lake side, the gates opened and we cruised on out under the International Bridge to Canada.  All of these huge locks are operated for FREE to any ship coming through, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
As we made a big circle to the right, the Canadian Steel Company came into site.  Ships bring in coke (made from charcoal), iron ore (which lots of the ships going through here carry) and limestone, placing it in big piles around this plant.
Here the iron ore is loaded onto a train car that dumps it in the blast furnace at the end.  Once all melted together with the coke and limestone, the liquid steel it is rolled into sheets.  Least I think that's what she said!!  
The sheet rolls are then loaded on to barges for their trip to Detroit ... or to whoever needs steel in their manufacturing.  
We cruised past the steel plant and headed to the locks on the Canadian side, back under the bridge.  The big dark metal structure swings around for railroad crossings.  We never did see a train come along, but if it had, there are two big bridges that must swing over the rivers so they can pass.
Much MUCH smaller, the Canadian Lock sides collapsed many years ago, having been built with sandstone that you can see deteriorating along the walls, so they built this small lock inside the big one for local fishermen.  We barely squeezed two tour boats in, and as computers sense our presence, they control the water valves automatically.  Miss Isabelle took a trip to Canada today!!
With lots of gurgling and bubbling, the water level dropped quickly!!
The gates then open automatically and we are again on our way!!   
As we came around the bend, we got a glimpse of the original river rapids that the Indians traveled around and through.  This is the only portion of the Saint Mary's River that was left intact and is where the Sault dropped the mother and scattered her brains .... well at least it had a happy ending ... the boys lived and had lots of fish to eat!!
After another wonderful dinner at Karl's Cuisine ... with the second bread pudding not NEAR as good as the first (knocking it down to fourth place) ... we stopped in at the small museum run by the Historical Society.  When someone asked if any ships were coming through, I check my phone and said the Arthur M. Anderson was up next in the locks.  The museum docent said it was the most famous ship on the Great Lakes, so we quickly went to watch her journey through the locks.
The Arthur M. Anderson was captained by Jessie "Bernie" Cooper in 1975 when he agreed to run with the Edmund Fitzgerald through an upcoming storm.  He was the last to have radio and radar contact with her before she sank and Capt. Cooper came back with the Anderson in the storm to look for survivors, as did several other ships.  Being too long for the MacAuthur lock, she pulled in to the Poe Lock and quickly dropped to Lake Huron level.  
Now frozen to popsicle status, we left the locks and headed back to the rigs to thaw out.  We were just in time to watch the Arthur M. Anderson slide by.  By the way .. the small tug I mentioned last week that was keeping the Tregurtha straight, wasn't keeping her in line at all.  It was a supply boat!  The Captains radio ahead with their list of supplies, which this company acquires ... then as the ship passes by it goes very slow so the supply boat can come alongside and transfer everything to the ship.  That way, the ship never has to dock, saving valuable time and money!!  The small white boat next to the Anderson is doing just that.  
I bought the small Soo Locks Guide Book for $5 on the tour boat, and highly recommend both the tour and the book when you visit Sault Saint Marie!!  

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Relaxing in Sault Saint Marie!!

By 9:00 I was off to the post office to pick up a package with camera cleaner, and discovered that the people parked at the Elks Lodge had left early.  Since a family of 7 with 3 under 3 years of age just moved in to my backyard, I quickly packed up and moved back to the best RV space in town!!
The weather has cooled considerably, so instead of the boat trip up the windy river, we stopped in at the Old Courthouse for some pics.  What a beauty!!!  I'm just crazy about the 1800's architecture!!  An added surprise ... when I checked for a geocache, there was one located close by which we promptly found!!  That makes 60 for me!!
This statue was near the Courthouse with a very interesting story.  This is the Crane of the Sault.  The story goes that two boys ran away from their horrible mother.  When they met the crane and told their story, he flew them to the other side.  When the mother came along looking for them, the crane said he would fly HER to the other side also ... except halfway across he dropped her in the river, smashing her brains all over the rocks ... which became the whitefish in the river.  Comforting story .... but that's exactly what the plaque said!!
From the Courthouse we went to the Kewadin Indian Casino for a players card loaded with $10 (for free) that we could play.  It's not much from the outside, but the inside is very nice with walls of Indian artwork.  Once loaded up with our $10, we headed to the penny machines.  I haven't played any slot machines in years and have no idea which buttons to push.  By the time I figured it out, I was broke, as was Tom.  Barbara left with a little over $3.00 to pay for almost half her dinner, which we ate in the restaurant buffet. 
On a quick trip through the gift shop, we all scored Mackinac Island Fudge, so at least we didn't go home empty handed!!
Back at the rig with my view again exquisite, I watched with the puppies as the Lakers passed by.  It's pretty windy and a chilly 60 degrees, dropping down to 49 at night ... time to dig out the heater!!
As it got dark, I got the itch to shoot some of my favorite kind of photography ... long exposure night images.  The trouble around here is that it doesn't get dark until 10:00 pm and I was shaking in my moccasins from the cold wind coming off the water, as was the camera!!  That small vibration is disastrous in photography, making almost every image blurry!!  Finally, with a 45 second exposure, I was able to capture the beauty of the river!!
For those interested in statistics ... here's a couple about this trip.  Travel from California to the Great Lakes has taken three months, spending lots of "tourist" time (but could have spent more) has cost $1,715 in RV Park fees (no dry camping), and I have driven approximately 3,750 miles using $1,295 of fuel.  Don't ask how much yarn I've purchased ... I threw those tags away ... nor have I kept track of food.  We eat breakfast in and usually have a late lunch/dinner out.  All in all, I think our expenses have been very reasonable!!!  So come on!!!  Don't just go to the same park year after year ... get out and see some of this beautiful country of ours!!!

Lighting The Way On The Great Lakes!!

In the 1800's there were over 3200 commercial ships on the water at any one time.  Today there are only around 200, but they are HUGE!!!  In years past there have been about 300 ships that sank, resulting in the deaths of 320 people at Whitefish Point, the Graveyard of the Great Lakes.  From 1816 when the Invincible was lost, until 1975 when the Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared, lighthouses have been lighting the way on the Great Lakes.

This is the Iroquois Lighthouse at the mouth of the Saint Mary's River.  It has been beautifully restored and is kept up by the Historical Society.
You might think lighthouses have pretty much become a thing of the past around here with the advent of GPS, but many are still in use.  
You can even climb to the top of the tower if you have the nerve ... at first look, it didn't appear scary, but the 72 steps are VERY narrow.  At the top, I had to duck down as I climbed the inside steps and hung on for dear life with one hand while clutching my camera in the other.  YAY ... I made it!!!
The view was amazing as I looked out over the mouth of the river.  Some places are so narrow, it's hard to imagine the ships of old without the best steering abilities, coming through these waters.  
Yikes ... now I have to go down???  I secured my camera so I would have both hands free for a strangle hold on the railing, and with heart pounding, ducking as low as I could, I inched down the first 8 steps ... backwards ... to where I could stand up straight and turn around.  The stairs at our old ranch house were just like this ... but much BIGGER when you're a kid!!
The view from the bottom was even better as the big waves started rolling in.  Although it was mostly sunny yesterday, the wind was blowing up some big rollers.
We continued our adventure to Whitefish Bay where this unique lighthouse stands.  It's over 100 years old, but built with steel pipe.  The living quarters are also unique, in that it is a duplex to accommodate two families ... not split crosswise like you would think, but longways.  One family lived on the ocean side, one on the off side. 
Most of the buildings here have been beautifully restored and access is granted with a museum ticket.  The building on the right held a boiler that was constantly tended, to provide steam power to blow large horns when it was foggy or there was severe weather.  This being located at the top of Whitefish Bay, before passing into the mouth of the Saint Mary's River, it is known as the Graveyard of the Great Lakes.  Since 1971, the lighthouse and horn have been automated and are controlled from Sault Sainte Marie.
This rudder and tiller found by the Historical Society Dive team in 1978, belongs to the M.M. Drake, which took on water and sunk after hitting a ship it had been towing, while trying to save the crew.  I was told by one of the divers here that the 30-45 degree water has great visibility and none of the "growies" you find in salt water that cover and destroy the ships.  They appear pretty much as they did a hundred years ago.  You just have to be able to dive to 146 feet and deeper!!  That requires special certifications that my claustrophobia doesn't allow!!
This point is where most of the accidents happened.  It seems in a lot of cases, ships were passing in the narrow channels, when all of a sudden they would sharply turn into the other, causing enough damage to sink.  In the museum, many of the artifacts from the wrecks have been displayed, along with the circumstances of the sinking.  VERY interesting museum!!!
One of the recent tragedies, the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald and all of her crew in 1975 has never been explained.  In a massive storm, she was being followed by another ship who thought she was too close to the shoals, when suddenly she disappeared from radar.  Her last radio response was that they had it made ... 
Divers finally found the ship in two pieces when they went down in this dive suit to over 400 feet.  At the request of the crew's families, everything was left intact.  A sad ending to all aboard, it will forever remain a mystery as to what happened.
Back in Sault Ste Marie, we had an amazing lunch at Karl's Cuisine ... smoked pulled pork with an apple butter barbecue sauce and white cheddar cheese, toasted to perfection on a grill ... a whitefish sandwich on fresh multi grain bread and a YUMMY Reuben ... followed up with THIS!!  Bread Pudding ... easily ranking #2 on our all-time best bread pudding list, dropping Cabelas Restaurant to #3.  It was soft, gooey, covered in bourbon sauce and light-years above many others we have tried.  Definitely stop in here for the food and service!!!
As we were leaving, one of the big ships came in ... the Walter J. MacArthur Jr ... to the largest lock.  We quickly crossed the street and climbed up the viewing platform to watch her go through.
Right on her heels was the John B. Aird.  Being narrower, she slipped in to the lock closest to us.  The race was on to see who could get through the fastest!!
In the above picture on the right, you can see the level of the Walter J.  In this image, you can see the level after the water had been removed from the lock.
Not without their dings, as nice as these laker ships look from a distance, up close you can see the wear and tear!!  The front ends are all dinged with huge dents from maneuvering into the locks.  
Both ships finally at their lowest level, the Walter J. left first ... the John B. having to wait until the lane was empty before sliding quietly away.
Just another amazing day with the Westerfields on the Great Adventure!!  I just have to keep pinching myself ... I can't believe I drove the whole way and am having such great experiences with these two wonderful people!!  Today I'll move back to the Elks Lodge for the remainder of the week!!

Monday, July 28, 2014

French Fur Traders and Duck Butts!!

In 1668 French Missionaries settled Sault Ste Marie and in the early 1800's it became an important fur trading settlement.  Eventually, after the War of 1812 when the US built Fort Brady, Americans flooded the area and overwhelmed the early settlers.  In 1855 the first lock was built, which improved shipping tremendously.  While leather tanning was the big business here from 1900-1958, tourism quickly rose to the top as people came from worldwide to watch the big ships travel the waterways.

To celebrate those early settlements, one sprang up in a large park in town, full of mostly French settlers.  They not only had tents to sell their wares, but tents that looked like they were from that era that they slept in.  I don't think they fared too well in that downpour of rain the day before.  Most had a wood fire going out front with coffee pots and dutch ovens steaming away.  I had to laugh when one guy dumped out his coffee pot and said "this thing is full of grounds .. how am I supposed to clean THIS!!"   I guess he hasn't been a French Fur Trader very long.
You couldn't find just anything here ... it was only items that might be sold in the 1800's, like trade beads, leather, tea ... there was even a "throw the hatchet" exhibit!!  I stayed away from that when I saw him letting the kids give it a try!!
This young lady really was a blacksmith apprentice, practicing on her homemade bellows.  I'm not sure this is a lucrative profession these days ... I think her chances of employment are limited, but she was doing an impressive job on a small hangar.  Someone said she set her pants on fire the day before, but I think they were just jealous!!
Now THIS guy was interesting.  He made water buckets, by hand, with old tools.  He chopped the cedar log, shaped each stay, put 12 of them together with a hand forged band, then cut a slot in the sides to fit in a bottom piece.  
Course he did mention that the bucket he's holding has been at this stage for a couple of months, so we didn't place any orders.  
Seems most of the tents had a musician or two, so they got together and played some great music!!
I saw the canons with their just-in-case water buckets, but didn't think much about it until we were on our way out, when it sounded like a bomb went off ... about 10 sticks of dynamite worth!!!  Turns out they were firing the canons, with blanks of course ... but boy were they LOUD!!!
We were regaled with the presence of this gaggle of geese yesterday.  The two big males with their heads up were keeping watch while the females ate their fill.  Soon as I got even a little bit close, they honked twice and moved away.
At least I was able to get this big guy before they got too far.  
With the first bunch gone, I went towards the water where another big group was snacking on the grass.  There were duck butts everywhere as they ate, then took a bath before lounging on the closest dock.
This is the only baby we saw ... still covered in fluff as mom kept a close eye out.  They are pretty wary and wouldn't let me get close at all before disappearing in the grass.
Nice campsite ... we are about 5 feet from the rivers edge.  Alas, all good things must come to an end.  With reservations available for only one rig, the Westerfields stayed while I moved to the Aune Osborn RV park just a stones throw away where I have a 30 amp hookup and water for $27 a night.  It's very quiet with lots of space to spread out!!  Many sites here face the water, but call WAY ahead if you want one, since they all seem to be reserved well in advance.
With all the rain Saturday night, I was hoping for a brilliant sunset, which didn't quite happen, but this was beautiful to watch ... at 9:30 at night!!!  The days are definitely long on the East Coast!!
Today's adventure is two hours away, so we're off early!!  See you tomorrow morning!!