Circling Lake Superior, Part 6: A disorienting switch to industrial shores and locks

Generators spin in the hydroelectric plant in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
MinnPost photo by Catherine Conlan
Generators spin in the hydroelectric plant in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

CALUMET, Mich. — It’s good to be aware of one’s shortcomings, and I am comfortable with the fact that I have a jealous streak. It comes out in odd ways, though. It struck in Sault Ste. Marie.

We left our campsite at Agawa Bay with much reluctance. We had slept with the flaps open and watched the crescent moon set over Lake Superior, and the next day, after seeing the pictographs, headed toward the Soo. The road from Agawa to Sault Ste. Marie doesn’t have as many cliffs or cuts as it did the first few days coming out of Minnesota. And by this time I was realizing how little you see of the lake in some places.  It’s almost always gorgeous, though, whether you can see the lake or not.

We drove out to the Salzburger Hof on the recommendation from some of you, but unfortunately we got there too late for lunch and too early for supper. So already we have something planned for Next Time (that, and another night at Agawa Bay!). We checked into our hotel on the Canadian side, and the next morning we went down to Engineers Day at the Soo Locks.

Watching the ships at close range
Engineers Day draws quite a crowd — anyone who likes to watch ships go under the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth knows what a pleasure boat watching can be. On Engineers Day, the Army Corps of Engineers allows the public to walk on the locks and watch the ships go in and out at close range, and the quarter-mile-long hydroelectric plant is open for tours.

It was a little disorienting to go from quiet forested lake to bustling industrial lake. We crossed the border back into the United States and had a great view of the old Agoma Steel plant, now owned by Essar Steel (which is building a steel plant on the Iron Range).  With the industry and the locks, Lake Superior looks the way it does around Duluth. The smell of campfire smoke in my clothes seemed a little out of place among the Homeland Security officers and lock workers.

The Algosoo moves through on of the Soo Locks on Engineers Day; this photo is shot from the top of one of the lock gates.
MinnPost photo by Catherine Conlan
The Algosoo moves through on of the Soo Locks on Engineers Day; this photo is shot from the top of one of the lock gates.

Several ships moved through while we were there, and I was surprised at the jealousy I felt when other people greeted the Edwin H. Gott and the Paul M. Tregurtha, two of MY favorite ships.  Seeing the ships in ports other than Duluth made me feel a little like someone who’s caught her boyfriend at a bar with someone else. It’s a little embarrassing to admit it, but even seeing other people liking my ships and my lake reminded me of how big Lake Superior is — how other people watch for ships to mark the end of winter, how they too count loads of ore going through to chart the economy. When an ore train loads a laker in Two Harbors, that laker has places to go besides just over the horizon — and now I have seen some of those places.

Later in the day we drove down to cross over and back the Mackinac Bridge, and then looked ahead to the Keewenaw Peninsula, our destination for the next day. I was longing for a clear view of the lake again, something to remind me of the North Shore.

The bell recovered from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
MinnPost photo by Catherine Conlan
The bell recovered from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

A shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point
The next day we got it — at Whitefish Point. After the bustle and pomp of Engineers Day, the Lake Superior Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point was a quiet, wide-open space for a slow walk and reflection. My son, John, loves to read about shipwrecks and is interested in the story of Edmund Fitzgerald , and the museum was one of the points we wanted to hit. Here the lake has a soft, grassy sand beach, and on this sunny day it looked deceptively calm. I learned at the museum that many of the shipwrecks in the area were caused by collisions of ships coming through the narrow bay, not the weather, but of course the most famous of Lake Superior shipwrecks fell to a storm.

We came up behind a storm as we drove up the Keewenaw.  A bright pink sunset stretched almost to the horizon as rain moved off toward the places we had left that morning. The lake looked calm and safe. It was a good day to think about those who had made it, and remember those who hadn’t.

Someone commented several days ago that this drive would remind me of the North Shore before it got developed. I hadn’t seen it before 1996, so it’s hard for me to say — but I can say there were noticeably fewer new houses and no large resorts.  It looked good to me!

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