Monday, September 15, 2008

Our Day: All Locked Up

Sept. 15, 2008
Today we were locked up, locked down, and the fun was all locked in too! We spent the day at the Soo Locks, which definitely lived up to our expectations.

We got up early enough today so that Roxy and I could take a walk by the river (and see a ship go past) before we drove about a mile up the road to the Soo Locks Boat Cruise. We took the 10 a.m. cruise, along with a bunch of people on a bus tour from, of all places, New Jersey!

View from the Campground

Anyway, the cruise was great. We started out heading up-river, which took us right into Lock #1, the MacArthur Lock, of the four US locks. I have to correct something I wrote yesterday--we didn't cruise on any Great Lakes today--we were only on the St. Mary's River, which runs for about 20 miles or so between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. Lake Superior is about 21 feet higher in elevation than Huron, and until about 100 years ago, the area by Sault Ste Marie was known for the wide rapids which existed there as the river rushed down from the Superior side to the Huron side. The locks have reduced the rapids to about 4% of what they originally were, and ships can now be lifted in safety the 21 feet of difference, enabling shipping from the ports of the midwest to the ports of the eastern Great Lakes (Erie and Ontario), and on into the Atlantic.

The lock doors open to let us in

Waiting to be lifted up

We're up and the lock doors open to let us out

So our little cruise ship chugged into the lock, and we were accompanied only by a couple of very small barges which made us look big. Too bad, we didn't get to share the lock with a freighter. From there, we cruised a little bit on the upper St. Mary River. We went under a railroad bridge and then under the International Bridge, a 3 mile crossing between the US and Canada. Then we past a large steel factory on the Canadian side, but not much else of note. It was interesting though, that on the horizon we could see large wind turbines. The guide said there were about 125 of them. On our way back through the locks, we saw a ship locking up, carrying more turbines.

International Highway Bridge

Coming back downriver, we locked through on the Canadian side. All the freight goes on the American side, whereas the lock on the Canadian side is very small and is used for smaller boats. In fact, on that side they don't even need to be motorized, meaning that canoes and kayaks have gone through there--that sounds like a totally fun thing to do! On either side of the lock is a park--the side toward the river itself is an island which is accessible by foot traffic right over the lock doors, when they are closed. The entire experience is much more bucolic. We saw a family on bikes with a baby trailer cross over in front of us, before the lock doors opened. We took photos of them while they took photos of us, and I had a fleeting thought to call over to the father and say, "Hey, take our picture and then email it to me--here's my address!!" But I didn't quite have the nerve to do that, LOL!

Entering the Canadian Lock

Once back on the Lake Huron side again, we cruised a bit more before turning back to our pier. It was a great couple of hours. We had some lunch in the RV, and then we walked over to the Tower of History. This is a 20-story tower a block away from the pier, which offers an odd little "video" (really a slide show) of the history of the Sault Ste Marie area. After watching it, we went up to the top for the panoramic view of the river and the lock area. We were SO lucky--the day was so clear and bright and sunny, and the view was fabulous.

One thing of note was several hydroelectric power plants right at this point in the river. 100 years ago, they built a canal through the town to connect the upper and lower rivers. At the mouth of the canal on the Huron (lower) side, there is still the original hydroelectric plant. It is about 1/4 mile long, entirely built from local stone taken out of the river when the canal was built. In the photo below, you can see it. The canal widens out at its mouth (i.e. to the right of the stone building), and goes through the valves which are located along the entire 1/4 mile length of the building. The 20 foot drop in elevation occurs underneath the building, where the turbines are located. It operates just like a little "water mill", with Lake Superior being the mill pond! This power plant has been in use for over 100 years, and it is simply beautiful in its construction and utility. By the way, that is Mo at the edge of the parking lot by the grass, at the center near bottom of the photo!

In the river behind the power plant, you can see a black boat named the John J. Boland heading up toward the locks. While we were on the tower, we saw a boat coming downriver in Lock #2 (the Poe Lock), while a red boat (named the James Barker) was waiting its turn to be locked upriver. We left the tower and quickly drove to the park and visitor center by the locks themselves, thinking we could catch the Barker going upriver through the lock. We got there while it was still locked in, but had already been raised. However, we did watch the black boat (the Boland) go into the lock and get lifted. We had a great ringside view, with observation decks set up at the edge of the lock. The one closest to us, #1, was the one we'd gone through, and the #2 lock is the largest--that is the one the "supertankers" use.

Ships passing

The James Barker leaves the Poe Lock (#2)--Lock #1 is at the lower Lake Huron level

The John J. Boland at the lower level in Lock #2

The John J. Boland raised to the Lake Superior level

As I was watching the Palmer travel out of the lock upriver, and turned to leave, I was stunned to discover yet another boat coming into the MacArthur Lock closest to me, the same lock we'd used in the morning. This was the Frontenac, which TOTALLY filled up the MacArthur slip (which is noticably smaller than the Poe) from front to back and side to side. I couldn't bear to leave until I watched the entire process as the boat was locked through to the Lake Superior level.

It was almost 4 pm before I finally tired of watching the ships (Joe had gone back to Mo about an hour earlier, LOL!) We both went across the street to a fudge and ice cream shop, where we were so happy to find they had several flavors of sugar-free fudge. I had ice cream . Then we finally got back on the road, and drove down to St. Ignace, only a mile or so from where we'd stopped last Thursday to look at the view of the Mackinaw Bridge. We are now at the KOA here, making good use of their very good wifi connection. Tomorrow we plan to go to Mackinac Island, and then Wednesday we are going back south through the center of Michigan. We will be stopping about 200 miles south of here to visit with Paula, my roommate from college! I just called her tonight, we talked probably for an hour, and I am excited to be seeing her again. Last time we saw each other was...... 1980!!!!

1 comment:

Aimee said...

LOL about being unable to walk away from watching the boats go through the locks! you are your father's daughter!!!