Over the summer, Mike and I went to Northern Michigan, specifically the Upper Peninsula. He drove with a group from Heartland Scuba to go wreck diving in the Straits of Mackinac. I decided that I wanted to go along since the trip was over my birthday, even though I wasn’t planning on diving. I flew to Michigan and met up with the group, as I didn’t want to ride in a van for two days each way. Also, we had Delta Skymiles to burn, so my flights were essentially free. So, win-win! In Part 1 on my trip to Michigan, I talked about Pellston, Mackinaw City, the Mackinac Bridge, St. Ignace, Mackinac Island, and the wreck diving in the Straits of Mackinac. In Part 2, I’ll talk about Castle Rock, Sault St. Marie, Soo Locks, Whitefish Point, and Tahquamenon Falls.
Mike and I also hiked to the top of Castle Rock, which is just north of St. Ignace. It’s a limestone stack rising nearly 200 feet over the surrounding land, that was revealed by the erosion of the surrounding land. It costs $1 if you want to hike to the top, and doesn’t cost anything if you just want to pull into the parking lot to snap a few photos or go into the gift shop. We opted to climb to the top for a bit of exercise. To get to the top, you climb a ton of stairs, so be prepared to be in decent shape. The view from the top is worth the climb, as you can see for quite aways.
And at the base of Castle Rock is a statue of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox named Babe. A true roadside attraction at its best!
Soo Locks/Sault St. Marie
Sault St. Marie (pronounced Soo St. Marie) is just across the St. Mary’s River from Canada. I was bummed, because I didn’t take my passport and therefore couldn’t drive over the bridge into Canada. 🙁 Maybe next time. I did take the opportunity to go on a boat tour through the Soo Locks that passed into Canadian waters. It was so neat to ride through the locks and learn about how they work. Even better, there was a freighter ‘down-locking’ while we were ‘up-locking.’ So our water level was rising while the freighter’s water level was lowering.
We also went into Canadian waters, so I’m counting that as a trip to Canada. 😉 And we sailed past a freighter called the Saginaw that was in the process of offloading its cargo. The thing was enormous! And it put into better perspective the wrecks that Mike was diving. Interestingly enough, it was also roughly similar in size to the Edmund Fitzgerald, which I was reading about on the trip, and which I learned more about from my trip to Whitefish Point later in the day.
After my trip to Sault St. Marie, I drove over to Whitefish Point. Visiting the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum was highlight of the visit. The museum absolutely did not disappoint. It was tasteful and educational. I had no idea how many shipwrecks there are in the Great Lakes, and was astonished at the number. And reading the accounts of how some of them occurred made me sad for the folks involved, and in some cases incredibly angry. There was one particular boat that caused at least two wrecks, simply because they were unwilling to yield to other boats or to slow during inclement weather. It gave me greater perspective on the wrecks that Mike and the others were diving, and the great care that divers in particular need to take to be respectful of those who lost their lives in those wrecks.
The museum also had the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald. This particular wreck is so well known because of how recently it occurred (1975), and because of the Gordon Lightfoot song (this youtube video shows footage of the ship’s launch, the ship sailing, and of the wreck itself). Adding to the mystique, the cause of the wreck is still not ascertained beyond doubt. I recommend reading Stonehouse’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, as it gives accounts of the various theories and examines them in greater detail.
The Edmund Fitzgerald lies in about 530 feet of water about 17 miles from Whitefish Bay. It is illegal to dive (and in fact would require an incredible amount of training and skill to dive it even if one wanted to do so). Submersible vehicles were used to study the wreck in the efforts to determine the cause of the shipwreck, due to the depth and the amount of decompression that would be required to dive it. A “Newtsuit” or atmospheric diving suit was used to retrieve the bell, and to replace the bell with a replica with the names of the crew members inscribed on it. Newtsuits differ from standard diving gear, in that the individual inside the suit is maintained at surface pressure, rather than subject to the increased pressure (or atmospheres) at depth. This means that the individual wearing the Newtsuit doesn’t have the requirement to do decompression stops, like a scuba diver would. The Newtsuit used is also on display in the museum.
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
After my history lessons at Whitefish Point, I drove over to Tahquamenon Falls State Park. It’s a bit of a drive, but definitely workable to visit both in the same day. Tahquamenon Falls State Park consists of two sets of falls that are viewable from the trails. The lower falls and upper falls are really two separate sections (I drove from the lower falls to the upper falls). I believe there to be a hiking trail between both portions, but I was short on time and didn’t do much hiking. The lower falls section was incredibly busy the day I visited. The upper falls section was less busy, and a much more peaceful walk.
I had a fantastic time in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. I am hoping to go back next summer when Heartland Scuba takes a group to dive the Straits of Mackinac. It is gorgeous, and I can’t wait to soak up some more beauty and history.