Saute Ste. Marie, MI

Terry had traveled across the Mackinac Bridge before but I never had.  He does not necessarily embrace heights so he was wondering how it would feel to travel across the bridge pulling a 38 foot 5th-wheel.  Just before we stopped to pay the toll to cross over, a large flashing sign announced heavy winds and the need for RV’s and buses to travel at speeds no greater than 20 mph across the bridge.  Holy s@*t!  We pay our toll and with some trepidation begin our journey.  With me behind the wheel of our little Toyota truck, I watch Terry pull our “home” across a very long and tall bridge.

Mackinac Bridge connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.  It is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the 3rd longest in the world.  The bridge is about 5 miles in length, suspended over the straits of Mackinac.  At mid-span the height of the roadway is about 200 feet above the water.  Construction began on May 7, 1954 and she opened to traffic on November 1, 1957.

All suspension bridges are designed to move to accommodate wind, weight, and changes in temperature.  It is possible that the deck at the center of the bridge could move as much as 35 feet (east or west) during high winds.  I am thankful we had not heard this before our trek across.

Rainy days and Mondays… That could be our theme song for when we arrived at Mackinaw City Campground, our home for the next week.  We are staying at a “no frills” campground, with water, electric, and 30-amp service, and fairly open spaces.  What more do we really need?  We agree that we have been spoiled given our stays over the past several weeks.  But with an effective rate of $13.25 daily, we are comfortable laying our heads here and venturing out on day trips.

A little side note:  For those of you who have noticed the two spellings, Mackinac and Mackinaw, here is the explanation I have read.  “Blame the French. And the British. You can even blame the area’s Native Americans. When Europeans got here (the French first), they picked up on all these words spoken by the local people and tried to write them down in their own language.”

We got quite a thunderstorm during the night and awoke to overcast skies but temps in the 60’s so we decided to explore Mackinaw City and get an exercise walk in before the rains came.  It is a touristy little town with a nice pier and a fun downtown area.  This is where we will head later in the week to take the ferry over to Mackinac Island.

Wednesday morning was “soupy”, with fog weaving its way through the campground but reports that it was to burn off early so we headed back across the bridge to explore Saute Ste. Marie.  I have never been to the locks before (I am beginning to see that I have lived a sheltered life) so I was excited.

Saute Ste. Marie is an old city, established in 1668.  It is the oldest European settlement in the U.S. Midwest and has a twin city of the same name in Ontario, separated by the St. Mary’s River.   The two cities are joined by the International Bridge.  Shipping traffic in the Great Lakes area bypasses the rapids by way of the American Soo Locks, the world’s busiest canal in terms of tonnage passing through it.  Smaller tour and recreational boats use the Canadian Saute Ste. Marie Canal.

Soo Locks

The Soo Locks are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and consist of two canals and four locks.  More than 11,000 vessels, carrying up to 90 million tons of cargo pass through these locks annually.  Most cargo is iron ore, coal, grain, or stone.  Only two of the four locks are used at this time and The Corps has plans to replace two of the locks with one that is state-of-the-art, to handle the larger vessels of the Great Lakes fleet.

When we arrived at the locks, we went to the viewing deck and did not have long to wait for a ship to arrive.  The MacArthur lock, first of four locks, is able to accommodate vessels up to 730 feet in length and 76 feet in width.  The Algoma Spirit, loaded with taconite, a low-grade iron ore, was 729 feet long and 76 feet wide, a perfect fit.

Algoma Spirit
A Tight Fit, with Two Feet of Wiggle Room on Each Side

Once the vessel is completely inside the lock, the gate closes behind it and the water level is dropped 21 feet, which is the drop in elevation between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

The Algoma Spirit as She is Lowered in the Lock

Once the water level in lowered, the forward gate is opened and the vessel continues her journey.

Algoma Spirit Headed to Lake Huron

The Poe lock is the largest of the four; was rebuilt in 1968 to accommodate 1000 foot vessels, and took 6 years to build.  We were told that last week a ship moving into this lock came in too fast and stopped only three feet short of hitting the sill, which is the underwater concrete abutment that keeps the gate open.  If that had occurred, the ship would have sunk in the lock.

Saute Ste. Marie is a charming little town and the tour of the locks was fascinating.  I am constantly surprised at just how much Michigan has to offer and we are not done yet!

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3 thoughts on “Saute Ste. Marie, MI

  • How fascinating! I, too, have led a sheltered life and have never seen locks before. That ship didn’t look like it had a lot of room for mistakes. How scary that must be for all concerned. You are certainly showing us a lot of reasons to visit Michigan. What interesting places you have been to, so far. Keep up the good work in showing us what you are doing these days.

  • never seen a lock before. and despite what les keeps telling me, i just never have realized that shipping on the great lakes was so significant or that there was a ‘great lakes fleet.’ thanks for convincing me. but more tonnage than the panama canal? wowo

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