Yet another weekend on the run. Officially homeless again, as we have now left the Queen Cottages far behind as we begin our trek south following the warm weather. Nights have become cooler, the trees are changing color quickly, and the time just seems right to exit stage left. I write this from Traverse City, our first waypoint in the Lower Peninsula, with our time in the U.P. officially behind us now. It’s somehow sad to think of leaving the gorgeous expanse of green and blue that is the Upper Peninsula, but satisfying now that a chapter is past and I’ve checked off all of the things that I’ve missed during the years that I lived in lower Michigan.
The first stop on the journey south is Sault Sainte Marie for 2 nights – a great location to see the freighters passing through the Soo Locks, and a jumping point to see Whitefish Point and Tahquamenon Falls.
The Soo Locks are a wonder of modern engineering, replacing a problematic series of rapids with a controlled set of chambers allowing ships to raise or lower the 24 feet to the appropriate water level in the direction that they’re headed. Simple concept, and fairly simple technology with huge hydraulic rams that open and close the lock gates, but it’s amazing when you think of the engineering necessary to design and build them.
After breakfast and watching the American Century (one of 13 1000′ lake freighters in use on the Great Lakes) pass through the locks, it’s off for the hour drive to Whitefish Point to see the lighthouse and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Gorgeous sandy and pebble covered beaches with dune grass and a driftwood graveyard make for excellent photo opportunities and our last chance to dip our toes in Lake Superior. Gitchi Gumee didn’t get us, but the past month spent exploring her beauty certainly holds a place in our hearts.
The lighthouse itself was a bit of a non-event for me other than the obvious photo ops, however the history is interesting in and of itself. The real attraction here is the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Despite being housed in a very small building, it’s packed with nautical artifacts and shipwreck lore, with the crown jewel being the ship’s bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald. Just looking at the bell gives you a chill and mentally transports you to that fateful night of November 10, 1975. The sailor’s truism is that the closest land is always straight down, and the Fitzgerald and crew found their resting place a mere 535 feet away. RIP young seafarers.
On to Tahquamenon Falls – the cornerstone of this trip. Having heard about the falls since I was young, it was about time to see them for myself – weather or no weather! While good weather makes for a great day, flexibility, the right gear, and a good attitude can salvage the day when Mother Nature chooses not to cooperate.
We had considered hiking from the Lower Falls to the Upper Falls and back, but with the drizzle and the late start to the day, we decided to just drive to each section of the falls. A wise choice, as the rain would come and go throughout the remainder of the day.
It’s amazing to see the water cascading over the falls with a very brown color, much different than all the other falls that we’ve seen. This is created by all of the tannins in the cedar swamp pools that the falls are fed from, giving the falls their unofficial local name – Root Beer Falls.
After a day well spent with nature, we headed to the Soo Locks yet again and were lucky enough to catch another freighter going through at night – yet another awesome photo op. Another big day scheduled for tomorrow – Mackinac Island and onto Traverse City. Stay tuned!