Monday, September 10, 2012

Upper Peninsula

The weather kept us in Mackinac City longer than we had planned, so we decided to do some touring from there. Since we were at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge that connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan it was the perfect kick-off point for visiting the Upper Peninsula. 

The most interesting tourist spot, for a boater at least, is the Sault St. Marie locks. This is the connector between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. There are actually four U.S. locks and a Canadian lock all co-located in the cities of Sault St. Marie (Michigan and Ontario). The cities are connected by the International Bridge. The day we went there was no problem traveling from the U.S. to Canada, but the traffic to go the other way (into the U.S.) was backed up half way across the bridge. We contented ourselves with visiting the U.S. side of the locks.

We got lucky and arrived as a freighter was going through. There were only six freighters scheduled to lock through all day (they post the schedule at the visitors center) and the one we caught was the last one for six hours. You can't really get a feel for how large these ore carriers and the locks are from the first picture. It was taken as the boat was ready to exit the lock. This boat is heading down from Superior to Huron, a drop of about 20 feet, so what you are seeing is the top of the ship. The second picture gives you a better sense of how big the ship was. These things ease into the locks with very little room to spare on either side.
Freighter in the lock
Freighter leaving the lock
From Sault St. Marie we drove west to the town of Paradise, Michigan. Jim and I both read a mystery series written by Steve Hamilton set in Paradise, so a quick visit seemed in order. The area around Paradise is the moose sightings capital of Michigan, but we didn't see any moose.

We did see some bears. I'd like to leave the impression that we were in the wild with the bears, but we were actually at a bear refuge near Newberry, Michigan where captured bears are sent when they can't continue to live in their natural habitat (too used to garbage dumpster diving, for example). They keep the males and females separated most of the time, but they do have young cubs at the refuge, so the males and females must get together at some point.
Male bear
Female bear near her den
One of the unexpected (by me) features of the Upper Peninsula was the number of lovely white sand beaches on the shores of both Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. It was hot the weekend we traveled through the Upper Peninsula and there were folks frolicking in the surf all along the shore. I actually looked a lot like Seal Beach in Southern California although the waves were smaller and you don't have the pungent odor of seawater because, of course, the lakes are fresh water.

Before we left Mackinac City I finally got around to cleaning off all the decals and stickers we had acquired for this trip. The big 2012 number we posted was our Canadian clearance number given to us when we checked in to Canada in June. The customs people warned us that we could be challenged by police to prove we had legally checked in to the country and the best defense was to just post the number, although we weren't technically required to do so. Sure enough, one morning we were asked by the local cops if we were in the country legally. All I had to do was point to the number and they went away. The purple stickers are the Erie Canal passes which have to be posted on both sides of the boat. The white and orange are the Parks Canada passes for the Trent Severn Waterway, one that gives us the right to transit the locks and the other that means we can overnight at the locks. The little blue and white one is a U.S. Customs sticker and the big blue one is our Florida registration. In addition to all of these, the dinghy had it's own set of stickers.
Stickers galore
More stickers
From Mackinac City we also drove down into the Lower Peninsula to the towns of Harbor Springs and Petoskey, both of which are in Little Traverse Bay. We weren't planning to take the boat to Little Traverse Bay, so this gave us a chance to see those places. Harbor Springs is a quaint little touristy town with lots of coffee bars and boutiques. Petoskey is a slightly larger tourist spot with great restaurants and its own local stone. The Petoskey Stone is a coral that lived 350 million years ago when the northern part of Michigan was covered with a sea of warm water. As Lake Michigan freezes and thaws it breaks up these stones and pushes them ashore. When they are smoothed and polished you can easily see the polyps in the coral.

Petoskey stone
To get from Mackinac City to Harbor Springs you drive through the Tunnel of Trees, a twelve mile road along the shoreline of Lake Michigan covered in forest with tasteful, expensive homes tucked away on the hillsides. There are a lot of wealthy people vacationing in upstate Michigan. It has been a vacation destination since the stockyards of Chicago and the steel mills of Cleveland were founded in the nineteenth century. I'd never been here before and I was surprised at how pretty it is. But then that is what this whole trip is about, learning about new places.