Boating in the Great Lakes – Michigan

On July 16, we went to Soo Locks Boat Tours in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.  It was drizzly and cloudy that day, but it was also warm.  The tour boat took us on a relaxing two hour ride through two sets of locks (on both the US side and the Canadian side) which separate Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  The lakes are at a 21 foot elevation difference from each other, so the locks act as elevators for boats.  When the boat enters a lock, the gates behind are closed, and the lock fills up with water (or empties if you are going down instead of upwards).  Then, the gates in front open, and the boat can sail into the higher lake ahead (or vice versa).  It was really cool to see how the locks work by experiencing it on the tour boat.

On the way back to the dock, we went through the Canadian side of the river and its lock, which borders the city of Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, Canada.  Yes, you heard me right.  There are two cities with the same name, one on the American side of the river, and one on the Canadian side.  Even though the US-Canadian border was closed (for non essential travel) due to Covid-19, we spent all of maybe 30 minutes in Ontario, Canada in the river.  This was as close as we’d get to visiting Canada this year; no passports needed since we weren’t officially touching land on the Canadian side.

After that, we visited Castle Rock in St. Ignace, Michigan.  Castle Rock is a limestone stack, formed by erosion.  We walked up to the overlook by climbing tons of stairs (maybe five stories’ worth).  We didn’t stand on the actual limestone rock, because there was a platform of protective cement on top with rails to keep people from falling over.  Below, we could see forests and Lake Huron.

There were Paul Bunyan & Babe the Blue Ox Statues below all the stirs, which we took a picture by.  These statues were of fictional characters from a tall tale.  Because of COVID-19, Paul Bunyan was wearing a mask.

The next day, July 17, we went to Mackinac Island, which interestingly was American’s second national park (after Yellowstone) from 1875 to 1895.  In 1895, it was turned over to the State of Michigan to become Michigan’s first state park.  During this time as our nation’s second national park, Mackinac Island went from the center of fur trade to a Victorian-era summer vacation destination.

In order to get to the island, we had to ride on a ferry from St. Ignace where we were staying.  Unlike the previous day’s boat ride, this one was way rougher and speedier.  On the way to the island, the wind blew water from the lake into the boat from the right side.  Leaving the island, water sprayed from the left side, and my brothers sat on that side purposely to get a refreshing splash after a hot day of exploring Mackinac Island.

On the island, we went to Fort Mackinac.  During the Revolutionary War, the British decided that Fort Michilimackinac (remember, we went there last week in Mackinaw City) was too vulnerable to American attack.  Therefore, they moved to Mackinac Island, where they built Fort Mackinac.  When the U.S. won the war, it became America’s.  In the years that followed, this fort was a center of the fur trade.

Fort Mackinac was similar to Fort Michilimackinac (see this post), with its buildings restored to look how they would’ve in the late 1800’s.  There were buildings such as a storehouse, hospital, school, living quarters, guardhouse, and blockhouses.  We explored inside of them and read the displays, which explained what each building was used for.  To get into the fort, we had to climb a small distance on ramps.  At the top, there were stunning views of Mackinac Island’s main city area and Lake Huron below.

During our visit to the fort, we watched a few demonstrations.  There were demonstrations where guns and cannons were shot, and there was another where men dressed as soldiers showed how bayonet drills were done.

After visiting the fort, we rented bicycles and rode around the southern side of the island.  An interesting fact about Mackinac Island is that in 1898, all motorized vehicles were banned on the island (due to their scaring the horse-drawn carriages, which was the main mode of transportation on the island at the time).  The ban on motorized vehicles has helped to preserve the historical feel of the island.  Currently, visitors can take horse-drawn carriage rides, as well as rent bicycles (or bring their own over on the ferry), and of course, can also wander around on foot.   We rode our rented bikes around the main downtown area as well as a few miles out where we could see the shoreline and trees.  Near the shore, waves from the lake splashed up onto the concrete in some areas.  There were some uncrowded and very pretty areas.  We also rode through small sections of forest.

Before leaving the island back to St. Ignace, we had to get some fudge.  Some consider Mackinac Island as the fudge capital of the world.  During peak tourist season, 10 thousand pounds of fudge is handcrafted every day.  On the one short street in downtown Mackinac Island we saw about 13 fudge shops.  This tradition started in the 1880’s when the Murdick family started a candy shop for all the tourists and started crafting fudge on marble tables as not only a sweet treat, but a show in seeing how it was being made.

The picture at the very top of this blog post was taken at Fort Mackinac.  I added the speech bubbles.