Our destination is Sault Ste. Marie. This city is already adjacent to Lake Superior. In fact, we saw four out of the five Great Lakes.
This area was formerly inhabited by Native Americans (Ojibwa / Chippewa Indians). The French colonists called the region Saulteaux (waterfall).
Around 1670, a French Jesuit priest traveled by canoe searching for a passage to China. Although he found no passage, after 5 months, he mapped 2000 miles of shoreline. He then founded a Jesuit mission where the Canadian border is today. This later became Sault Ste. Marie, one of the oldest cities in the USA and home of the Soo Locks. There's also a swinging railroad bridge and Lake Superior State University.
We came here mainly for the locks; they are so unique we were dying to see them.
All cargo ships coming from New York, Chicago, or Detroit must go through here.
Cargo used to have swum down rapids, but in 1853 Michigan ordered locks to be built to allow ships to cross from one lake to another. This is necessary because the water level of Lake Superior is 21 ft (6.4 m) higher than the water level of Lake Huron.
It takes 12 minutes to lower a huge ship.
More than 7,000 crossings occur annually, making it the busiest lock in the world. Although there are so many of them, they are closed in winter (from January to March) when ice shuts down shipping on the Great Lakes. This winter period is the time of inspection and maintenance.
The first locks opened in 1855 and were declared a historic landmark in 1966.
When we arrived, we were able to park just opposite the lock. We had some issues with the parking meter here because you could only pay with a quarter or an app. We didn't have a quarter, and Csibi couldn't log into the application; for some reason, he had to register again.
This only matters because we missed one such cargo ship being let through the lock…
How lucky (would have been) to have such a big ship in there at that point.
Well, no matter. We ran there real quick after we managed to pay the parking fee. A security guard at the entrance wanted to look in my bag and asked if we had guns and/or alcohol…
Of course, there was none! So we quickly ran to the viewing platform to at least catch the moving cargo ship.
There were also three smaller excursion boats.
We went for a walk in the park, which is wonderfully green with a small fountain in the middle.
Then when we went back, Csibi noticed that the lock was also working because of the three tour boats, so - albeit not with a big cargo ship - we could still see the lock in action!
It was fascinating.
The locks are closed on both sides. Depending on the ship's direction, the water level begins to drop, equalizing the level.
The lock doors were opened when it reached the correct height, and the three ships could continue on Lake Huron.
A fantastic invention.
After seeing that, we went to the visitor center, which is like a small museum with lots of exhibits and giant posters with information about the locks. There's even a simulator where you can pretend to manage the locks! Of course, Csibi let a colossal cargo ship through the locks! 😄
This was very interesting (even for me)!
Then we looked for a place where we could devour something. That's why we didn't choose a regular restaurant but went to a pancake house to eat relatively quickly.
We ate, and while we would have loved to see more of this little town and Lake Superior itself, we had to go back!