CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #7: SPLENDID SAULT STE. MARIE, MICHIGAN

The view of Sault Ste. Marie port from our cabin window
This massive red brick building houses a hydroelectric plant that supplies 20% of the city’s power. I shot this photo from the top deck of the Ocean Navigator before heading out.

Following our visit to Thunder Bay, Ontario, we returned to the American side of the Great Lakes, requiring a mandatory bus ride to the border for processing.  Police officers had a close watch over everybody exiting the ship to ensure we boarded the bus, because we had foreign crew working on our ship. 

I had anticipated long border-crossing lines and a wasted morning; however, when we arrived at the station, our bus load of cruise passengers were the only tourists to be processed.  There were several staffed windows with smiling faces to greet us, so we showed our passports and zipped right on through.  Based on my experience (and what I witnessed at other windows), they were the nicest and friendliest bunch of border patrol officers I had ever seen!

A border station poster. Love that mask!

Before we knew it, we were back at the ship and ready to embark on our included narrated hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Sault Ste. Marie, a small city of 13,000 people.  The name is French, so “Sault” is pronounced like “Sue.”  Just across the bridge over the St. Marys River is another city named Sault Ste. Marie, so it can get a little confusing.  The difference?  The other one is in Ontario, Canada, and it has a population of about 72,000 residents.

The bridge in the background connects the two Sault Ste Marie’s

The American Sault Ste. Marie is the oldest city in Michigan, and among the oldest cities in the United States.  It was first settled by Native Americans for the abundance of fish and fur found in and along the river that linked the Great Lakes of Huron and Superior.  Later, French fur traders settled in the area.

It is very easy to find this city if you are heading there on a road trip from where I live in Georgia.  No GPS is needed!  Just hop on I-75 (our closest freeway), and head north.  If you stay on I-75 until it ends, you will eventually arrive in Sault Ste. Marie. 

Just don’t plan on spending the winter there unless you love snow, because they get an average of 180 inches a year!  Stay healthy, too, because their small hospital is the only one within 200 miles, and they may not have the resources you need.

Besides the hospital, Sault Ste. Marie has another extremely important asset: The Soo Locks.  The locks enable shipping traffic in the Great Lakes to bypass the St. Marys River.  The locals claim it to be the busiest canal in the world in terms of tonnage passing through it. We checked out the viewing platform and stopped in at the Soo Locks Visitor Center  to see the excellent exhibits explaining how the locks work.

According to our tour guide, experts predicted that if the Soo Locks ever broke down, the U.S. would plunge into a recession within five days, due to the importance of the cargo (such as iron and grain) that is transported through the locks.  Those experts make a strong case for the role the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers play in keeping our economy humming!

The small downtown was just across the street from the locks, so we had a look around:

Colorful crosswalks

Following our tour and walk around town, we returned to tour the Valley Camp, which in its previous life was a “Laker,” a cargo ship that worked the Great Lakes.  It now serves as a fabulous museum with exhibits located throughout the huge ship.

This view of the Valley Camp is from the deck railing of the Ocean Navigator. We were that close!

While touring the museum, we learned about the James R. Barker, a 1,000 foot-long Laker with a carrying capacity of 61,650 tons.  Back in 1976, it was the longest vessel on the Great Lakes.  You can see in the picture below how it compares in size to the Valley Camp, which I thought was massive!

Bruce and I concluded our self-guided tour by going up on deck to see the bridge, officer cabins, galley, and dining room, in addition to the cargo area.  Just as we arrived, we saw the James Barker cruise on by!

The James R. Barker
The view from the bridge of the Valley Camp

Our day ended beautifully with this colorful sunset.

Next up: Green Bay, Wisconsin—Go Pack Go!