I'll just go ahead and admit it now...we didn't allow enough time in the UP. There are a number of things we missed seeing, but we would have had to change RV parks to stay longer, and looking for RV space up here in the summer is quite a chore. However, that effort was eclipsed by another reason we had to start southward: I broke my eyeglasses beyond repair. It wasn't my fault; the glasses somehow jumped to the floor and, unnoticed by me, got in the way of my foot. I don't know why they didn't withstand my wispy 250 pounds on top of them, but they didn't, and they were a sorry sight afterward. Unfortunately, I did not have a spare set other than my prescription sunglasses, which aren't very helpful indoors or at night. My vision without glasses is not terrible, but definitely not sharp enough for safe driving. Watching television is like it was back when there were picture tubes, before HDTV came along.
This, more than anything else, required us to pull up stakes and head south to a larger city where I could get an exam and glasses ordered for the quickest delivery. Luckily, our travel day was bright and sunny and the sunglasses were perfect for driving, but I have vowed not to be without a spare set of regular eyeglasses in the future. So, we drove to Hopkins, Michigan, not far from Grand Rapids, and we are set up at Hidden Ridge RV Resort, a beautiful RV park where waiting for the new glasses will be a pleasure.
Yes, I remember the title of this post, and I'll get to the subjects of Sault St. Marie and Pictured Rocks eventually. But first, let me show you a few photos of Hidden Ridge. This place has long been listed on our "Best of the Best RV Parks" page, and it is more than worthy of this rating:
We were assigned site #1 which, to our surprise, was not level at all. This was hardly in keeping with the park's status as one of the 'best of the best,' but I'm giving it a pass because this was clearly not the norm after looking at the rest of the sites.
You can probably tell from the photo above that Phannie sets very high in the front and low in the back and with the right front wheel quite a bit higher than the left front. This was no problem for the new Bigfoot leveler system, however, for which this was its most significant test so far. After dumping the air from the suspension system and pressing the auto level button, Phannie leveled right up after a few tweaks by the big jacks. Such a leveling job would have been impossible with the old Atwood jacks. They would have just given up after a few clunks and clatters, and we would have been cockeyed for the whole visit. I am incredibly pleased with the new Bigfoot system; it is worth every dime. I wish we had upgraded sooner!
Okay, let's get back to a few days ago before the saga of the eyeglasses:
After our fun visit to Mackinac Island, we hopped into Mae the next day and set out to Sault St. Marie to take a look at what we learned was the oldest town in Michigan, founded in 1668. This was a bit coincidental to me, as my home town is Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas, founded in 1779. Both towns have a rich history, having first been Indian settlements dating back thousands of years. The name Sault St. Marie, in French, refers to the rapids of St. Mary's--that being the river flowing from Lake Superior to Lake Huron, which is 21 feet lower than Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes. The drop in elevation, of course, caused the rapids formed by the river.
Shipping in the early 19th century was almost impossible from Lake Superior to Lake Huron due to the rapids. Anything contemplated for such a journey would have to be floated to the shore of Lake Superior, dismantled, carried around the rapids and reassembled at Lake Huron's shoreline. Finally, the first locks bypassing the rapids were built in 1855, and four others were built between 1896 and 1943, the latter being able to handle oceangoing vessels. There is also a new "super lock" under construction. The four current main locks are operated by the U. S. Corps of Engineers, and there is one small lock operated by the Canadian government that is too small to be used by other than pleasure craft. (The center of the St. Mary's River separates the U. S. and Canada at this point so, if you go through the Canadian locks, you are, technically, in Canada, as you are on the Canadian side of the river.)
Since we had had never seen the Soo locks before (or any locks, for that matter), we decided to go on a tour boat that would itself traverse the locks, giving us a hands-on experience, so to speak:
We had a little time to kill before our tour, so we decided to have lunch at a local restaurant, where we ordered a seafood platter that was so-so and whitefish chowder, which was pretty good; it was, however, a long way from really good clam chowder:
This might be a good time to comment on our seafood findings in the UP. Frankly, we haven't been impressed. Whitefish and perch seem to be the most popular varieties of fish available and, frankly, they just don't compare with good ol' southern catfish, plus the shrimp and salt water varieties of fish we get from the Gulf of Mexico back home.
We've found a few places up here that do certain dishes well enough (pasties, for example), but at the time of our visit to Sault St. Marie, we had found only one that made our favorites list here on the blog, and that was in Traverse City. There will end up being more, as you will soon see.
We've found a killer little Chinese joint here in Grand Rapids that will make the list, for sure--Chopstick House--a tiny, inexpensive hole-in-the wall with six tables and huge servings so good and fresh that it will almost make you cry. We will definitely return there.
Yes, yes, I know--I'm digressing again; let's get back to the tour of the locks. The boat ride was very informative and worth the price of admission. The weather wasn't too great, however; it was rainy and cold, and we spent a good deal of time on the enclosed lower deck. I do have some photos, however. Here's the boat entering one of the American locks on the Lake Huron side. Once inside the lock the boat will have to be raised 21 feet to get to the elevation of Lake Superior:
Here is a photo after we entered the lock, showing its gates closing behind us. The lock will now be filled with several million gallons of water from Lake Superior. Note the depth of the boat in relation to the concrete walls. The deck we're on will eventually rise completely over this wall as the water also rises:
Here's a photo of the boat having been raised to Lake Superior level; the gates will soon open, allowing us to proceed. Note how much higher the boat is now in relation to the concrete walls still visible on the left and right:
Coming back from the Lake Superior side to the Lake Huron side, we went through the small Canadian lock. This time, the water had to be drained from the lock to lower it to the Lake Huron level. Here are three photos showing the progression against the side of the lock. Here's the first, with the lock full (see the Canadian flag?):
Here, the lock has half emptied. The vertical cables you see behind the yellow protective material is for the boats to tie onto, allowing their shore lines to move upward or downward as the water level changes:
Below, the lock has emptied and the gates to lake Huron have opened:
Okay, that is probably enough about the locks; you get the idea. It's not rocket science, but one has to be impressed with the engineering and work that went into building these very busy locks, some of them having been constructed more than a hundred years ago. Amazingly, 10,000 merchant ships transit these locks each year, and you have to remember that the locks are open for only six months out of the year due to the long frigid winter when everything is frozen over. During the months they are closed, maintenance is performed on the locks to keep the ancient machinery operable.
We weren't really motivated to take photos of the town because it is relatively nondescript and weathered looking (for obvious reasons), and the cold rain that day wasn't really conducive to our getting out and looking for memorable things to photograph. We did enjoy our very informative tour of the locks and this area of the country we had always heard about but had never seen before.
The next day was to be the last at our RV park in St. Ignace, so we headed for Munising, a couple of hours away, to take another boat tour--this time of Pictured Rocks. I had heard of these for decades, and we were glad finally to be seeing them in person. We arrived just before our sailing time, so we went right on board with about two dozen other passengers:
Sitting on the top deck, we were quite cold in the windy ride out to the rocks. Sandy was glad she had a hooded coat (sorry, fellow Texans; we see the temps down there):
I hate to admit it, but we were a little underwhelmed by Pictured Rocks, which is merely the exposed rocky shoreline of a part of Lake Superior near Munising. The boat captain performed a lively narration of the rock formations, pointing out images that could, in some places, be recognized in the sandstone shoreline. I think the problem was that my amateur photography couldn't possibly capture the beauty of the area that I had seen in magazines where the images were photographed by professionals. But it was interesting, and we learned a lot from the glib narrative--especially about lake Superior and how immense it is. (For example, the water within it could fill three of the smaller Great Lakes.)
Here are a few photos I took that really don't do justice to the place. I wish I could have captured fully the beauty of the clear bluegreen water juxtaposed against the sandstone cliffs that were eroded in strange ways by the water and crumbling in some areas:
Near the end of the tour, we saw a lighthouse built during the civil war and decommissioned in 1906 when other lights were installed at the harbor. I liked the look of it, and I'm glad it's being restored. Notice that some of the leaves are already turning fall colors here, even though it was still August when I took the photo:
After the boat tour, we were hungry, so I tried to find a good local restaurant on Yelp. Up popped a Mexican joint named Taco Primo with some really good reviews. We were instantly skeptical, for we have had very poor luck finding decent Tex-Mex food outside Texas. And in Sault St. Marie? Really? What were the chances? (And don't even think about mentioning Taco Bell as a possibility; no self-respecting Texan would show his face in one of those.)
However, sometimes Yelp can produce a hit; that's how we found the Chopstick House in Grand Rapids. So, we held our breath and asked Siri to take us there, praying all the way. We were desperate for Mexican food, yet had been afraid of trying such places for the last thousand miles because of the likelihood of disappointment (or worse). We braced ourselves for a another letdown, but we ordered some carne asada tacos. I handed back the menu and thought about our FMCA insurance benefit of being able to call for a life flight jet if we needed to be flown somewhere for treatment.
The friendly waitress promptly served us chips and salsa while we waited. The tostadas were okay, but the salsa--oh my, was it wimpy! I had to pour a stream of hot sauce into it to get it up to an edible level of heat. Soon, the tacos came, and we gingerly took a bite. Dang! They were good--really good! They were so good, in fact, that we wished we had ordered more. And, just at that moment, the waitress brought two more servings that we hadn't ordered. Sandy and I looked at each other, and I pondered for a moment whether I should say something about the extra little treat or just consume the windfall before they discovered the error.
Then, afraid that God was testing my honesty, I called the waitress over and pointed out the error. She said, "That's okay, it was the chef's mistake; he read the ticket wrong. They're on the house." I was giddy, just giddy, and we ate every bite of both orders. I thought that, since I passed the test for honesty, God just might give me a pass for my obvious gluttony.
I just have to include a photo of the place. I am still incredulous that we would find decent Mexican food in this little lakeside town within a stone's throw of Canada, of all places. After a little indecision, I've decided to include Taco Primo in my favorite restaurants list, in spite of the wimpy salsa. And for those of you who would think the worst of me (and you know who you are), I was not at all influenced by the extra serving I got for free. At least, I don't think I was. It's because the food was good, and I credit it for helping me survive until the next satisfactory Mexican food fix.
And so, we bid farewell to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a place we had been a little lukewarm about visiting, but so glad we did. We have even decided to return someday to see some of the things we missed.
I'll leave you with this sunset photo (my favorite thing to shoot) that I took as we were leaving Munising and the Pictured Rocks area.
Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life;
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.
We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing.
---George Bernard Shaw
"I get up every morning, and I just don't let the old man in." ---Clint Eastwood