28 July 2014

July 2014 MICHIGAN Upper Peninsula 4 - Bridge and Falling Waters

This morning we (Jan, Mike C and I) almost missed the boat, or I should say the bridge. I advised it started at 9:30am. Last year they did a little intro talk before the actual bridge walk, so I thought we had some leeway. This year, however, they started the walk promptly at 9:30am. We got to the starting point about 9:40am and were next to the last to join the parade of people walking the International Bridge to Canada.

It was a lovely day. Nice and sunny, but not too hot at this hour. The views of the locks, the ships, the surrounding area were fascinating, even the second time around. Lots of great photo ops.

The next photo is of the Canadian lock that we shared with the little tug boat yesterday.

Once we got to the Canadian side, we flew through customs. As we were at the back of the pack we had a long wait for the return school bus trip to the US. We heard rumor that  there was a shuttle from the nearby casino to the US for only $2. Adventurers that we are, we decided to go for it. Well, that was a mistake.

First we went to the casino. They directed us to a nearby shopping center. The info booth directed us to the shuttle stand, but they said it was not the most reliable. We waited around til long past the expected pick up time. We tried for a taxi, but they didn't go across the border, but he gave us directions to the bus station. We high-tailed it there and were advised we could pick up the shuttle there, but that they had not seen it all day and were not sure it was running...because of the bridge walk tie up.

Not having a lot of faith at this point, we hurried back to the official bridge walk bus stop and got there just in time to take the last bus back to our US starting point. Whoa! That could have been a mess if we hadn't lucked out. All in all the ordeal was not so bad as we got a walking "tour" of da Canadian side of da Soo.

By the time we finally met up with Mike at the hotel we were starved. Back to Moloney's for a quick lunch and then on to Tahquamenon Falls. This was a must-see on Jan's list. It is only 61 miles from the Soo, but an hour and 40 minutes drive time on flat but windy two laners. There is a Lower Falls area, but we opted to spend our time at the Upper Falls. It is one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi with a drop of 50 feet and a width of more than 200 feet.
When I was a youngster you could walk in the rocky space under the falls, but no longer. Instead there are several viewing platforms for contemplating this water wonder. The amber shades of the water are not rust or muddiness. It is caused by tannin leached from the cedar, spruce and hemlock trees in the swamps draining into the river. It is certainly a sight to see. The falls are open year round and must be lovely in winter. For more photos and info, go to:

Back up the 93 steps and the trail to the parking lot we worked up a thirst on this hot and humid day...again in the 80's. Inside this State Park is the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery. We were going for a beer, but ended up slurping "brewery made root beer" floats. We've eaten in their rustic dining room in the past and the food was upscale and delish. Check it out here: www.tahquamenonfallsbrewery.com

Time to head back to the big city of SSM. J & M snoozed away in the back seat on the drive. Mike and I reminisced about other UP trips. Back at the hotel we went to our respective rooms to refresh. We got a call that Jan was down, but Mike was needing a nightcap. My Mike was down so Mike C. and I went to (guess where?) Moloney's for a couple of refreshing gin and tonics.

We split ways, but I decided to take one last look at the locks. Through the park trees I could see the sky was a lovely pink, so I raced down to see the sunset. It was sinking quickly, but a got one photo of the orange sun slipping behind the good ship Kaye E. Barker.

The next morning we did a leisurely good-bye to da Soo. Stopped in Mackinaw City for breakfast at Kensington's. J & M arrived there just as we were leaving, so we said our personal good-byes over one last cup of joe. Checked out the fudge shop next door--some for us and some for our neighbors who were watching Bella. Home at about 4:30pm. Great trip and wonderful company to enjoy it with.

27 July 2014

July 2014 MICHIGAN Upper Peninsula 3 - Oh, Captain, My Captain

Friday night we were on the lock viewing deck watching this freighter pass though the locks. It was rather odd looking as it had an awkwardly tall tower on the back. When J & M caught up with us, they said they had briefly chatted with a gentleman and his wife who were watching this ship, the Pathfinder, with particular interest. We decided to ask him if he knew anything about this odd configuration.

It turns out, he did. He was the Captain of this very ship (or barge, in this case) for the last 13 years of his 40 year career of sailing the Great Lakes. He retired this March and this was the first time "his" 606 foot long barge had come through the locks since then. The crew was hooting and hollering, smiling and saluting from deck as they passed their Captain who stood on the other side of the security fence. Photo from his book. See below.

We asked about the tall tower on the back of his barge. He said it was actually the Dorothy Ann, a separate tug boat that was specially made to attach and work with the Pathfinder. To read more about these two interesting vessels, go to:

We chatted a long while, trading his stories with Mike's stories about his dad sailing the Great Lakes and seeing his dad travel through the locks when he was a tyke. "Mrs. Captain" said she was a little worried about having him home all the time. I gave her a hug and said "No worries, it will all work out." 

It was a very special and sentimental day for Captain Gary W. Schmidt and his wife, Mary. We were glad we could share a tiny bit of it with them and congratulated them both on this new chapter in their lives.

Here's a plug. Turns out the Captain has written a book about his Great Lakes experiences titled Real, Honest Sailing with a Great Lakes Captain. It received a Silver Award in the Nonfiction Book Awards of the national nonfiction Authors Association, so it must be good. 

I sounds like a great read. I'm sure you can find it several places, but here it is on the Book Nerd website:

23 July 2014

June 2014 MICHIGAN Upper Peninsula 2 - Lock It To Me

Guess you have to be a little older to get the pun in the title.

Friday was full of Engineers Day festivities. This day celebrates the engineers who built and maintain the locks. Much of this was a rehash of last year for us, but we still enjoyed every moment. 

After breakfast we jumped into the activities. Right off the bat we ran into a friend of Jan's who lives in Charlevoix, MI. She hadn't seen him in years. It was a quick catch-up and then on our separate ways.

The military display this year was much smaller than last. We discovered in 2013 there had been an official military "exercise" going on during Engineers Day. This year was just a regular ol' day at the Soo for the US Army Corps of Engineers. So their presence was not so obvious.

We still learned some interesting facts. One was how quickly they can construct an emergency "bridge" over the St. Mary's River to Canada, if something happened to the real International Bridge. It was amazingly less than a day.

The Corps' main duty is to keep the locks safe, secure, and in good maintenance. The up to 1,000 foot long ships that pass through the 21' drop between Lake Huron and Lake Superior are important to the economy of both the US and Canada.
What a thrill to walk across the locks and see a big freighter headed right toward us! We also toured the old and elegant Davis administration building which is still in use. Displayed there are photos of all the old Lockmasters (we saw our Aunt Carol's dad's plaque who was the Lockmaster during 1950-1959), and historical and current data about the locks, cargo, and ships that pass through. The rooms and furnishings remain much the same as they were originally. And it was fun to see the viewing stand (as close as you can normally get) from across the lock. Definitely a different perspective.

Read about Engineers Day and the Soo Locks here.

Our next stop was the Cloverland Electric Hydroelectric Power Plant, a few miles down the road. (We passed by Mike's childhood home en route.) The plant is 112 years old and operates with pretty much the same equipment used from day one of its existence.

The building itself is of Romanesque design, a quarter mile long, and 80 feet wide. For you techies, the hydro plant consists of 74 three-phase generators. Each 60-cycle generator operates at 4400 volts, 180 RPM and 600 to 850 KVA (600 KVA is enough power to supply two big box retail stores).

Read more at about Cloverland Electric Hydroelectric Power Plant here.

We made a quick wet-your-whistle stop at Moloney's (is this becoming our hang out?) before boarding the 2pm Soo Locks Boat Tour. On this 2-hour tour we actually traveled through the locks on both the US and Canadian sides; saw a steel smelting mill, viewed riverside marine businesses, the city skylines and other significant points of interest; and cruised under the International Bridge between the US and Canada. We shared a spot in the Canadian lock with a beautifully refurbished tug boat, the Regan.

After we got our land legs we were in search of the American Legion (Post 3) in da Soo. One reason Mike joined the Legion (Post 221) in Frankfort was to get a discount on our reunion rental earlier this summer. So we decided to take advantage of the membership here. A fellow going into the hall, said if we didn't have a card we could be his guests. We had our own card, so we were all set.

It was FUN. Number one was  the view from the bar. It was wall-to-wall of very clean glass windows looking over the St. Mary's River and all the ship traffic. Number two was the hospitality of the members. After a few rounds we were being invited to people's homes, shown painted mailbox craft projects, toasting to this person or that, and having some all around interesting and hilarious conversations.

At this point, we needed to pile a little food on top of the alcohol we had been tippling all day. We ended up at Karl's Cuisine. Mike and I discovered this place several years ago when it was featured on the Under The Radar TV show, which features interesting places to visit in Michigan. It is probably the best food in town unless you want pasties, venison, ribs, or other hearty meaty fare. We all enjoyed the feast.

After some more wandering to walk off some of those delicious calories, we went to our separate corners for a wind down to a very full day.

PS - I have to add that we met Jan when we hired her to do our window coverings in our new loft when we moved from San Francisco to Michigan. We had her do a second decorating job when we moved to the condo building just next door. We always knew she was talented, but she really showed her stuff this weekend.

The room they were assigned was on the third floor of the hotel. It did not have normal windows but angled dormer windows that were uncovered. As soon as the sun came up this morning, it was too bright for them to sleep.

Now I'm not sure why Jan was carrying craft paper on her vacation, but she was. She decided to creatively solve the morning light problem by "decorating" the dormer windows with the craft paper. On Saturday morning we were told it did the trick. They were able to sleep in...almost to the point of missing the bridge walk!!!

22 July 2014

June 2014 MICHIGAN Upper Peninsula 1 - So Soo Me

The last Friday in June (the 27th this year) is always Engineers Day in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan (nicknamed "da Soo," like da Bears!). We attended the many activities last year with family that live in the Soo and shared the fun stories with family and friends in Kalamazoo (da Zoo!).

A number of folks said, "Let's do this next year," but only two actually followed through. They are our crazy friends Jan and Mike C. This trip was much the same as was reported on our blog last year (check June 28, 2013), with a few fun change-ups.

We took separate cars up due to schedule variations, but both arrived on Thursday, June 26. WE left at 9:25am. Temp was at 72 degrees at departure in Kalamazoo.

It is always hard to tell what to pack when traveling Up North. We opted for lighter attire with optional layers. We are talking above the 46th parallel, with Canada just across the St. Mary's River. On June 13th there were still small ice flows floating around Lake Superior per the newspaper, so we were not sure what to expect weather wise.

We had great driving weather as it was overcast with only a scant scattering of showers. No windshield glare. Stopped for lunch in Higgins Lake, MI at the Silver Dollar Saloon. Clean, diverse menu, up northy log cabin. We'd recommend it. I had a veggie quesadilla gooey with cheese and Mike had a perfectly cooked burger. And they pour a mean Meyer's Cuba libre. We were both satisfied when we left. On the big screen we watched some of the World Soccer match with USA vs Germany. We learned later the score that day was 0-1 Germany.

One goal on this trip was to find the elk herd observation areas advertised along the way. We had seen the markers a number of times on other trips and often wondered about their habitat in Michigan. We followed the signs into Gaylord and again into Indian River. The signs led us off the freeway, but once we got into the towns we hit a dead end. No signs to follow. It was disappointing, but we will get better directions next time we head that way.

We got into the Soo about 3:50pm. The temp was 81 degrees. Yay! Elevation 602. (Kalamazoo is 784 at its highest). We wandered the park along the locks, the ship viewing area, the locks museum, the tourist and fudge shops. Through the park side of the security fence, we see the Herbert Jackson passing through the locks.

We caught up with J & M at Moloney's Alley Irish Pub across the street from the Ramada Ojibway (an historic hotel), where we were all bunking. We had a few adult beverages there, strolled a bit more long the locks, and ended up at the Saloon Palace for a great Mexican meal. The drink special of the evening was red-white-blue margaritas. They looked cool and creative and tasted wonderful.



We took a last lap around the area to walk off some of that heavy (but great) Mexi food. Then because it had been a long driving day for us all, we turned in at 10:30pm.