Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Sault means rapids or little falls in French, and Sault Sainte Marie is the rapids on the Saint Mary's River.  And of course you know that the Saint Mary's River connects Lake Superior and Lake Huron, right?  The last tidbit of information is that the word Sault is pronounced "Soo" as in Sue, and that is the actual, official name of the locks on the river.  Now it all makes sense!

We continued our trek eastward from Ishpeming and arrived in Sault Sainte Marie, MI after driving across the UP (Upper Penninsula) of Michigan through beautiful, green forests.  The locals say that the only industries in the UP are prisons and tourists.  It is a sportsman's paradise and very lightly populated.  We set up camp in an RV park about one mile below the Soo locks, on the St. Mary's River where we had a closeup view of the freighters entering and leaving the locks on their way up and down the lake.  Just a few hundred yards across the river is the city of Sault Sainte Maire, Ontario, Canada which is over four times the size of the American city with the same name.

We had a nasty storm blow through during the evening so our only adventure was a walk south along the river for about 3/4 of a mile.  Tuesday morning we began our touristy activities by taking a boat tour.  The tour took us through the locks to the Superior side where we also cruised by a huge steel plant on the Canadian side.  There are two locks on the American side and two on the Canadian, but the Canadian ones are being replaced by one larger one, so all traffic has to use the American side now.  We passed a freighter headed down the lake that was exiting the locks as we went in.  It was being restocked by a supply ship while underway.  As we exited the locks on the way back we passed another freighter, the Mesabi Miner, just preparing to enter upstream.  The Mesabi Miner was the same ship we had watched pass under the lift bridge leaving Duluth just a few days earlier.  It had made its delivery and was on its way back north for another load.

If you are interested in the history of the locks you can Google it, but the quick version is that the rapids prevented ships from venturing between Lake Huron and Lake Superior until the locks were built in 1855.  They have been rebuilt several times as ships have grown in size.    The locks raise or lower boats 21 feet.   Traffic was heaviest during WWII, and has actually declined in recent years as ships have gotten larger and since we have stopped shipping so much grain to Russia.  There is an average of one ship through the locks every one and a half hours.

After our boat tour we went to a drive-in burger place that we were told was great.  We have to agree.  The cheeseburgers were at least half a pound and only $4.  The fries and onion rings were $2 each and more than two people could eat.  Later in the afternoon we visited a museum in the old Weather Service building where we learned that President Grant signed the authorization for the National Weather Service because so many sailors were dying in storms on the Great Lakes (and elsewhere) that they were not aware of.  We also visited some of the obligatory tourist traps along main street so Dom could add to his collection of key chains, and made a Wal-Mart run.  We watched Avatar again on Blu-Ray before turning in for the night.

Today we crossed over the Mackinaw Bridge that connects the UP with the rest of Michigan.  It is one of the engineering wonders of the world at about 5 miles long.  As we crossed, Lake Michigan was on our right and Lake Huron was on our left.  We immediately exited the interstate and followed the Lake Huron shoreline south as far as Alpena where we turned inland a few miles to our RV park.  It was another beautiful drive.

Pictures of the last couple days will be on the gallery soon.


  1. Thanks for clearing up my questions.

  2. I always feel like I get a history and geography lesson whenever I read your blog. Very interesting stuff. Did not know Sault is pronounced soo.

  3. I remember hearing someone say Soo Saint Marie once and not understanding the difference in the spelling and pronunciation. Very interesting stuff.

  4. Just looked at the pictures. Do those freighters only go on the lakes or do they also do ocean?

  5. Wow, who's that big hairy kid in the picture with Dianna?

    I would guess that the water was cold, but Dom and Dianna don't seem to be screaming while swimming (wading) in the lake.

  6. Don, the 1000 footers do not go in the ocean because they cannot get through some of the locks on the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Welland Canal around Niagara Falls. I think the limit is around 740 feet. There is also an icebreaker that works the great lakes that is too big. They built them that way so they could never be used somewhere else. Ocean going ships do come all the way to Duluth. They are called "salties" by the locals.

    Daryl, yes the water was very cold. Neither went in much above their waist. I was the smart one and did not go in at all.