Soo Locks and soo much more

Sault Ste. Marie (Sault is pronounced like the girl’s name Sue) is a Michigan city built on the Canadian border.  We were very familiar with the name because for years our television news weatherman back home always used it as a point of reference when giving national temperatures.  Every weathercast we could count on knowing the high or low in Sault Ste. Marie.  It came as quite a surprise during our trip that most of our friends had no clue where it was!


The drive from St. Ignace to Sault Ste. Marie was uneventful other than a bison herd grazing near the interstate.  We had not discussed crossing the border into Canada and had done no research as to what was on the Canadian side so we agreed we would not attempt it that afternoon.  Instead, we headed to the old downtown where the Soo Locks were located.  A friend had recommended this as a must-see.


Having taken a multi-day river cruise before, we knew what it was like to go through locks in the river.  The boat enters a narrow area of the river, a gate typically closes behind the boat, the water level adjusts either up or down, and then a gate opens in front of the boat and the vessel moves out into the open river.  We had passed through over a dozen like this but had never experienced one from the sidelines.


We circled through the downtown area near the locks and found street parking for Wanda that gave us about an hour to explore.  We approached the locks, which had a shaded multi-level viewing platform as well as a museum.  Just as we entered the grounds, a large ship sailed out of the lock.  We climbed to the highest level of the viewing platform for the final glimpse of that ship.  But in a few moments we could see another ship approaching from Lake Huron preparing to enter Lake Superior.  Over the next forty-five minutes we watched it slowly come into the lock, rise a couple stories high, and then proceed forward.  It was awesome.  During this entire time, we visited with a couple from Michigan, there for the same entertainment.  Our hour was almost up, as was theirs, so we all scurried back to our vehicles to avoid parking fines.  After that, we sought out some groceries and gas before the next leg of our journey.


Our next stop was Point Iroquois Lighthouse, built in 1870, on the shore of Lake Superior.  It was a beauty but closed due to either COVID or the season.  One of the best things about this lighthouse was a parking lot within twenty yards of the building—no trudging through sand!


It was now late enough in the afternoon to begin thinking about a place for the night and our app indicated there were two boondocking possibilities not too far away.  As I approached the first parking area and turned into it, Jenni said it was not anything like the pictures she had seen. We decided to leave and drive a hundred yards to the next one but actually passed it up because it looked different as well.  After another couple miles down the road without seeing anything suitable, we circled back to the second option.  It was a small parking lot, large enough for five vehicles, situated between the highway and the shore of Lake Superior.  There was already another couple there with a fifth wheel toy hauler (a trailer that can carry motorcycles or ATVs but sometimes double as a camper as well).  They had two motorcycles with them and a very friendly Doberman puppy.


I wasn’t sure if they would appreciate us camping near them but once we spoke they were super friendly, as was their young Doberman pup much to Annie’s irritation.  Through conversation we learned they had paid $1,700 for their dog.  We countered that Annie was free when we got her.  Jenni later questioned why it was important to share what they paid for the dog but that’s another book.  They were busy with a campfire on the shore and soon were grilling a couple steaks over the flames.  It wasn’t a total roughing experience for them because I also heard the beep of a microwave and heard them talking about mac-and-cheese being ready.  Once they knew which direction we were headed, they were full of suggestions as they had traveled this area many times.  They recommended Tahquamenon State Park for its waterfalls and Brown’s Restaurant for its white fish.  Actually, I think they said to eat white fish anywhere we could get it which was good advice since Brown’s (a dilapidated building on the side of the road) was closed. They left on motorcycles, with the valuable dog, for a sunset ride and returned after we had gone to bed.  While they were gone, I turned Wanda around so we were backed up to the shoreline and could hear the lapping of the waves through the back windows.  It was pretty warm that evening and the black flies were plentiful.  We walked along the water for a break from both.  In the morning we had a gorgeous view of the rising sun across the water.  I felt bad that morning when our smoke alarm was activated, TWICE, while cooking bacon and then an errant elbow blew the van’s horn just before we pulled out.  We didn’t mean to be “those” kind of campers.


It was now the morning of Labor Day and we had no way to judge how busy places might be because of the holiday.  It certainly couldn’t be as bad as the previous year when we pulled into Niagara Falls on Labor Day!


Our first stop was Tahquamenon Lower Falls State Park.  They had very impressive modern facilities and multiple amazing waterfalls.  From there it was a short drive to Tahquamenon Upper Falls State Park where the waterfall was larger yet not as impressive as the lower falls.  The facilities were good but not as new either.  After we visited, and struggled with pronouncing where we were, a friend who traveled the area shared what a local had taught her:  pronounce Tahquamenon like you do phenomenon.  It worked.  I asked her for a tip like that on our next destination:  Kitch-iti-kipi.  She told me to go find a local!


Actually we had forgotten about Kitch-iti-kipi (K-I-K) up until the moment we were at Tahquamenon.  We had seen its beauty in YouTube videos we had watched before leaving home but lost track of just where it was located compared to other sights we were planning to see.  In the end, its promised unique beauty won out over some lighthouses and shoreline so we headed south from the Lake Superior shoreline to the Lake Michigan shoreline and a town called Manistique.  It was a two-hour drive mostly south.  We devised a plan enroute to camp for the night near Manistique, visit K-I-K as soon as it opened in the morning, and then return north.  But as we got closer, we reasoned that we might as well go by K-I-K that afternoon and see how crowded it was.  We found the parking lot to be mostly full but snagged a spot in the shade for Wanda and Annie.  There was a line of people waiting to visit the attraction but in the end we only had to wait thirty minutes.


Kitch-iti-kipi is a clear natural spring located in Palms Book State Park.  To best see it, board a flat bottom boat (raft), turn a wheel attached to a pulley system, and guide the boat out over the springs and back again.  The water appears a clear emerald green and you can see logs and fish below as well as the spring bubbling up through sediment forty feet down at an estimated 10,000 gallons per minute.  We spent about 5 minutes out over the water with over fifty other onlookers before pulling ourselves back to the dock.  So we asked ourselves, was it worth a two-hour drive and thirty-minute wait (our park pass admitted us for free) for a five-minute look?  I voted ‘yes’.  I think Jenni abstained.


At this point, diabetes or not, I was ready for some ice cream.

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