Sault Ste Marie, MI - 06/28/2011

Published at 9:03 PM in ,

Today we arrived in Sault Saint Marie, Michigan.  This city sits on the northeastern edge of the upper peninsula of Michigan.  Just across the International Bridge is Sault Saint Marie, Ontario, Canada.  The word Sault, pronounced "soo," is French for 'falls' or 'waterfalls', for those of you who may have been wondering.  Sault Ste Marie is famous for the locks, connecting Lake Superior with Lake Huron via the St. Mary's River.  On this portion of the St. Mary's River is an area of rapids, and there is a twenty-one foot drop in elevation.  Back in the early shipping days, they would put ships on rollers and 'portage' them around the rapids and back into water.  Most of the time, this took fourteen weeks!  The very first canal built only took one year to complete - a very smart investment of time and resources, if you ask me!

Museum Ship Valley Camp

Our first stop in the "Soo" was the Museum Ship Valley Camp.  The Valley Camp is a cargo steamship that was built  in 1917 and used until 1968.  Now a registered historic site, visitors can walk all through the steamship, viewing all kinds of maritime exhibits and history.

Given the harsh winters in Michigan, the only time road construction can be done is in the summertime.  And where was the road construction? Right in front of ALL of the main attractions in Sault Ste Marie.  We got stuck in an endless maze of road closures.  We finally called the front desk of the Valley Camp, and the helpful woman, Lynn, finally got us there, after a few more wrong turns!  We were very thankful for her help!

The kids and Lynn

Some of the exhibits on the Valley Camp include lighthouse lights that were actually used in local lighthouses.  We learned a lot about the special lenses that were used to make the lights brighter and shine further.

A Fourth-order Fresnel lens

We also found it interesting to learn that Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury, is considered the father of the Coast Guard.  You can learn more about that on our History Fun page.

Jim and Alexander Hamilton

Yes, he's dangerous!

Part of the life boat found from the Edmund Fitzgerald

The Valley Camp is also home to the wreckage of the Edmund Fitzgerald, probably the most famous shipwreck of modern times.  You may be familiar with the Gordon Lightfoot song about the shipwreck  (It was before my time :) ).

Topside, overlooking the International Bridge and the St. Mary's River

Jim at the pilot house

There are three floors of exhibits, plus you can go topside.  We thought you really get a sense of how big the ship is in two areas: topside and in the main cargo hold.

In the engine room

It was really neat to see how the captain's wheel in the pilot house is connected to the engine room.  They noted throughout the ship the parts that connect the two.  The engine room also had a machine shop that was used to manufacture replacement parts for the engine.

We bought combination tickets to the Valley Camp and the Tower of History.  Since it was so late in the day, we decided to save the Tower of History for another day.  However, the Visitor's Center for the locks was open later, so we headed over there, but not before a quick visit to the Gift Shop.

Michael celebrating his Irish heritage

Chrissy celebrating her cheeseburger-ness

The Soo Locks are operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and they run twenty-four hours a day.  The visitor's center is open from 9AM - 9PM, and visitors are provided with a phone number to call and get the latest schedule of ships passing through the locks.  There is a nice, enclosed viewing platform for visitors to get a bird's eye view of the locks in operation.  The center also has several documentary films playing throughout the day.  They had an excellent explanation of the locks and how they work on display.  The kids totally understood by the time we were through.

At the Soo Locks

It was a busy but fun day.  Tomorrow we plan to head into Canada!  We got our passports months ago, and the kids are thrilled to use them.  The bridge is almost three miles long, and quite impressive!  It is worth noting our clothing in the pictures from today.  The high was 48 degrees!! We were FREEZING! We had to go buy more jeans and sweatshirts to stay warm, as well as a pair of shoes for Rachael that weren't flip-flops.  She was NOT happy about that!

See more pictures HERE.

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