Scoping Out The Soo

Above: The Tahquamenon Falls
Scoping out the Soo

The upper deck of a partially glassed-in viewing area at Sault St. Marie’s prime tourist attraction is buzzing with lock lookers. A few hardcore aficionados sport binoculars and have their necks craned toward an approaching freighter in the distance. When the bow of the Algolake, a 730-foot long bulk carrier powered by 4,500 horsepower diesel engines, drifts into view, tourists turn paparazzi for a couple minutes before realizing they have plenty of time to frame their shots. She moseys toward the entrance of the upbound lock, intent on crossing from Lake Huron to Lake Superior. The hulking vessel seems to never end, hogging the horizon like an Imperial Star Destroyer in Star Wars.

11000 passages are made through the Soo Locks each year and every time a ship makes the twenty-one foot rise or drop in the lock chambers during daylight hours, tourists flood the lookout areas to drink in the slow moving yet spellbinding nautical spectacle.  In the locks visitor center, names of incoming ships are scrawled on a whiteboard to build anticipation and excitement among true blue boat nerds.

A marvel of engineering, the Soo Locks have facilitated inter Great Lake transit for over 160 years, and the pastime of watching the ships in these parts go by dates back to the locks inception. To get an even deeper understanding of lake-to-lake “locking,” take a dinner boat cruise along the St. Mary’s river where you’ll enter multiple lock chambers and get to feel the sensation of being lifted and lowered firsthand, while also gaining an appreciation fort the area’s metallurgical bounty.

Whatever Floats Your Boat

If it’s famous ships or yore you’re looking for, delve deep at the Great Lakes Shipwreck museum (18335 N. Whitefish Point Road) is a repository of area seafaring history. Six thousand ships have been lost on the Great lakes but the one immortalized in a Gordon Lighfoot song, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald whose crew of 29 tragically perished on November 10th 1975, wrecked and still lies 500 feet under the murky blue just seventeen miles from this maritime museum on Whitefish Point. After paying homage, lift your spirits at Tahquamenon Falls the showpiece of the state of the same name. Known to locals as “Root Beer Falls,” the 200-foot across rager drops nearly 50 feet. Its A&W hue comes from tannins leaching into the water from cedar, spruce and hemlock trees along the shoreline.

Above (clockwise): The fully accessible Soo Locks observation deck, The Great Lakes self-unloading bulk carrier Algolake, a Soo Locks freighter, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Birdies of both the feathered and putted variety are bountiful in these parts. Bay Mills Resort & Casinos’ Wild Bluff on the banks of Waiska Bay, is a 7022 yard stunner of a casino course with dice for tee box markers and a double teed driving range decked out in targets in the shape of playing card suits.  On the back nine of the golf course, be sure to add “selfie” to your pre-shot routine, a pair of the closing holes feature dramatic 100-foot drops offering spectacular vistas. If you want to keep the nautical theme going while you golf, Sault Country club is just under 4.5 km from the locks and you can scope out freighters and are in earshot of their foghorns on a couple holes. The grilled whitefish at Grill Room 1901, the clubhouse restaurant, is the best in town.

If spying hawks, falcons and song birds is more your style, check out the WhiteFish Point Bird Observatory (16914 N Whitefish Point Rd) or make a day trip to Drummond Island where you can target everything from warblers and woodcock to sharp tailed grouse.

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