Great Lake Trip – Day 10 – Michigan
Mackinaw City, Michigan
The next morning we got up, had a good breakfast at our hotel, and headed to our northernmost point on this trip – Sault Ste. Marie. The Soo, as Sault Ste. Marie is called, means Rapids of Saint Marie.
The “Mighty Mac” is right by our hotel. It is as magnificent up close as it is in the distance. The suspension portion of this bridge is 1.6 miles long. The entire bridge is 5 miles long. It opened in 1957. There is a $4 fee to cross it in both directions, so bring some cash.
There is a great museum displaying all kinds of memorabilia of those who worked on the bridge. We were wondering if we had the right place because it is on the 2nd floor of a pizza restaurant called Mama Mia’s Pizza. We walked through the restaurant and up the stairs. And this is what we saw.
There was no one in the entire museum, so we had the place to ourselves. I found it very interesting. I learned about the brave men who worked on this bridge. We saw their clothes, tools, photos. It took 3 long years to build this bridge, in some of the most inclement weather in the region. Sadly 5 men lost their lives during the construction. I’ve heard that, during the warm months, there is a painting crew maintaining this structure – every year.
We paid our toll and head over the Mackinac Bridge.
You can see the thousands of rivets on the tall towers. They are over 500 feet tall.
My friend Mike, who grew up in this state, says that the bridge swings quite a bit in high winds. You can feel it in your car, so he says. The engineers were well aware of the dangers of winds and a roadway that is too heavy. They were probably also aware of the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington state in 1940. That bridge started swaying in the wind, and due to aeroelastic flutter caused by a 42 mph wind, it broke apart only 4 months after opening. On this bridge, the engineers designed the inner two lanes with 375 open steel grates to reduce the overall weight of the roadway.
We made it across the frigid waters of the straits and headed about 50 miles to the north to the town of Sault Ste. Marie.
It is in this historic town that ships sailing from Lake Superior to Lake Huron, and vice versa, are lowered and raised in the locks of The Soo. Lake Superior is 21 feet higher than Lake Huron, hence the locks. The city has erected a viewing station for tourist to watch the lock operation. It has three different levels. We got there just in time to see the 728 feet long Canadian bulk carrier, Kaministiqua, lowered to Lake Huron.
The ship is pulled into the locks very carefully using cables and winches on the ship.
When finally in place the water is lowered.
Now it is all the way down, ready for the forward lock to open.
The ship leaves the lock under its own power. Note how narrow the lock is.
On the way back to Mackinaw City we went through the small town of St. Ignace. The ferries at Mackinaw City also dock here. We passed Castle Rock, an observation tower on a huge rock. From here you can see the Straits, the bridge, and Mackinac Island. There wasn’t much else to see here, so we returned over the Mighty Mac.
There’s not a lot to do at Mackinaw City, especially this time of year. They do have a very nice walkway in the Alexander Henry Park. Alexander Henry had a very interesting life which you can read about here. He escaped death many times from the Ojibwe Indians, saved multiple times by a minor Ojibwe Chief named Wawatum who adopted him as a brother. The sidewalk goes along the lake till it reaches the old downtown area of Mackinaw City. This park is the best spot in the city to take pictures of the bridge.
Adjacent to the Alexander Henry Park is the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. It is beautifully restored now and offers tours starting May 10.
At the edge of the downtown area is the Dixie Saloon, formerly the Dixie Tavern. The building has been totally rebuilt, but its history still remains. The Dixie Highway ran along the Eastern coast all the way from Florida to Mackinaw City. The Dixie Tavern was a resting place where travelers met after their long journey from the South. I found it interesting that the original plan for this highway was started by Carl G. Fisher of the Lincoln Highway Association, which was organized in December 1914 in Chattanooga. Learn more here.
Here’s a 1950 map of the Dixie Highway I saw at the Henry Ford Museum.
We had a late lunch at Darrow’s Family Restaurant, right across the street from our hotel. They close during the 6 months of winter and had just reopened the week before. The place was pretty packed. It is open and airy – a truly family restaurant. They are well known for their fish dishes. On the walls of the restaurant you can see stuffed fish of the region.
In front of the restaurant is a replica of a Mackinaw Boat. This design was a favorite for sailing on the lake for hundreds of years.
That brings us to the end of our Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island adventure. If you love history and like to travel, this is a worthy destination.
Tomorrow we continue our journey to the south, heading along the coastline of Lake Huron. On our way, we’ll visit an awesome maritime museum at Alpena, Michigan, and stay the night in Bay City, before heading to Ann Arbor for 3 nights. See you on the road.