Monthly Archives: September 2015
Youpers bring their own dialect to Michigan’s popular Upper Peninsula; You betcha!
Tahquamenon Falls is located near Paradise, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or the land above the bridge, referring to Mackinac Bridge that connects the peninsula, is where Michiganders go on vacation.
That helps explain why license plates from throughout the country are visible in most Upper Peninsula parking lots. The rest of us have found it, too.
We left behind the memory of passing through U. S. Customs at Sault St. Marie, MI., and headed west on Highway 28 and north on MI 123 en route to Paradise, MI., and immediately noticed the well-maintained roads, the lack of traffic and miles and miles of lush green forest. It’s late September and leaves are already starting to color.
There is not much serious farming here because of the harsh winter weather, although we did notice plenty of backyard vegetable gardens along the highway. Cranberries and blueberries are grown successfully.
Most of the tourists have gone home. RV’s, travel trailers and fifth wheels comprise most of the vehicles on the road. Campgrounds are less than half full, except on weekends.
They come here for the weather—cool nights and mild daytime temperatures– the pristine waters of big Lake Superior, the lush forested landscape, beautiful waterfalls and for some, the lack of people.
The Upper Peninsula or U. P., contains about a third of the land area of Michigan but only three percent of its population.
The towns are small. The largest is Marquette with less than 22,000 residents. Most of the U. P. is remindful of the United States in the 50’s when mom and pop restaurants and motels were plentiful along major roadways. Most highways here are two lane with frequent passing lanes.
And then there’s the roadside rest stops. Unlike most other states, Michigan’s roadside rest stops on the U. P. are not after thoughts but clearly selected for their scenic value whether it’s along the shores of Lake Superior or stops overlooking rivers, creeks or waterfalls.
Add to the dozens of state and national parks that dot the U.P. , the Michigan State Forest system protects over 3.8 million acres.
It is a wilderness place where about 90 percent of the state’s 15,000 to 18,000 bears reside in the U. P. We did not see one on this trip.
Lunch at one of tiny Paradise’s two small restaurants found us looking through a rack of tee shirts sporting the Yooper logo which refers to the people who live on the U. P. Their dialect is a mixture between the Finnish, French Canadian, Scandinavian, German, Italian and Irish who settled this area in the late 1800’s to work the copper and iron ore mines. “You betcha” finds its way in most conversations, including the waitress after she took our lunch order.
The mines in this state once produced more wealth than the California gold rush. Most have closed long after the heydays of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
In addition to the two small restaurants, Paradise has a gas station liquor store and-general store combination, a grocery store, post office, quilt shop and a couple other hard to identify merchants. It is the only commercial place for tourists who are here primarily to see the waterfalls in Tahquamenon State Park and Whitefish Point. Along with Newberry to the south, Paradise is the Gateway to the Upper Peninsula.
Michigan was originally home to many different Native American tribes which are honored in the names of many of its towns. Paradise, for example, is located in Chippewa County.
NEXT: Waterfalls and the ill-fated Edmund Fitzgerald .
A bell pepper sends us to the Group W bench at the border
The train to Agawa Canyon entertained passengers with a live camera showing the landscape where the train had passed. We took this trip a day before crossing the border at Sault St. Marie, Canada into the United States.
The train to Agawa Canyon entertained passengers with a live camera showing the landscape where the train had passed. We took this trip a day before crossing the border at Sault St. Marie, Canada into the United States.
Today we lost our bell peppers and paid an unexpected visit to the security area of the U. S. Border Patrol at Sault St. Marie, Michigan.
It started out like any other border crossing: removed my sunglasses and cap before getting to the booth, had my list of purchases, amount of alcohol (one partial bottle of cheap wine and a couple cans of beer in the refrigerator), had my “down to business” face-on, answered the questions without hesitation and forthright, read off the list of fresh vegetables and that’s when everything started downhill.
Followers of this blog might recall several years ago when a border patrol agricultural specialist came into the RV and removed half a lime. We remained on board and the female agent was friendly and asked about our trip. She brought her own zip lock bag and left with the half lime.
Heidi, our 80-pound overly friendly golden retriever, has her front paws in my lap and is trying to get her head out the window in hopes of a friendly pat on the head from this uniformed man in the booth. She is drooling on my shirt. I keep pushing her away and she keeps coming back. She thinks the border patrol agent stopped the RV to say hello to her.
I did not forget this time and had tossed two perfectly plump limes in the trash the night before arriving at the border.
Confident we were compliant the border patrol agent in the booth asked which fresh vegetables we had in the refrigerator.
Potatoes, squash, lettuce, mushrooms, apples, onions, carrots, cherry tomatoes and a bell pepper, I said proud that I had remembered.
Pull your RV over to the right, he said. There were no smiles on his face as he talked on a radio to another agent announcing he was pulling us over.
Okay. Oh my. It’s happening to us.
Immediately, four Border Patrol agents walked front, back and alongside the RV as we slowly pulled aside and out of the traffic.
I’ve seen this happen to other RV’s and wonder what kind of contraband those people were carrying. Glad it wasn’t us.
Get out of the RV and follow me, said the agent standing just outside the driver’s side window. Do not leave any money in the RV. Put the dog on a leash.
It was happening to us.
Martha grabbed a zip-lock bag full of washing machine quarters and we hooked a leash on Heidi and the three of us followed the lead agent upstairs to the second floor of the Border Patrol secured office building. The stairs were grated steel, the kind you might find in a prison stairwell. Heidi’s claws were hanging up on the steel. She would take a step or two, hang a toe-nail then stop and reluctantly continue after a tug on the leash.
Electric doors clicked open and I suspect but did not see the cameras that surely were recording our arrival. A half dozen border patrol office heads turned as we walked inside and were escorted to a row of chairs along the wall. No one said a word.
It reminded me of Arlo Guthrie’s song “Alice’s Restaurant” where he is caught littering, arrested and told to sit on the Group W Bench with the other criminals.
I asked Martha if this might be the Group W bench but she had no idea what I was talking about.
The agent in charge was polite but all business.
He handed us a sheet of paper printed front and back with current regulations regarding fresh vegetables that were allowed and those prohibited from entering the United States.
Read these directions Mr. Hughes and maybe you won’t have to come visit us the next time you cross the border, he said.
About 30 minutes later he returned and said they had removed a green bell pepper and a small container of cherry tomatoes from the refrigerator and escorted us back downstairs to the RV. He had to stop traffic for us to cross the road to the RV which was still surrounded by agents.
Passengers in passing vehicles were looking at us. I know what they were thinking.
I thought we were in compliance, I told the agent.
Read that paper I gave you.
About a mile down the road, I broke the silence and asked Martha if everything looked in order. She didn’t have time to look as we boarded and left immediately.
Obviously, they did not inspect the entire RV, just the refrigerator. They are within their rights to turn everything upside down.
It was a strange feeling.
Agawa Canyon train trip through Canadian wilderness
Agawa Canyon train trip goes through 114 miles of Canadian wilderness.
From Sault St. Marie, Michigan, the ride across the river puts us in Sault St. Marie, Canada. After passing through customs, we drive through the Canadian version which is much larger than its American cousin.
We spent the night at a campground on the edge of the city, only to awake the next morning to find a huge black bear had scampered up a tree about 50 yards from our RV. Maybe 15 minutes earlier, we had passed that same tree with our golden retriever Heidi en route to the dog walk. It was still dark and although she was somewhat excited on her morning walk, it was an unremarkable outing.
It was a 40 minute round trip walk to Bridal Veil Falls but it was more than worth the effort.
The bear exited the park and did not return.
We drove back into downtown Sault St. Marie the following morning and boarded the Agawa Central Railroad’s passenger train for an all day 114- mile trip to Agawa Canyon. The train travels through wilderness lake country of southern Canada parts of which are in the Lake Superior Provincial Park.
Temperatures were in the low 40s when we left the train station but approached the 70’s when we arrived around lunchtime at the Canyon.
On the way, we passed several large lakes with hunting and fishing lodges along the shores that are only accessible by float planes or old abandoned logging roads. One can imagine staying at one of the lodges and fishing the lakes for walleye, trout, pike and smallmouth bass.
The scenery passing the train windows kept us busy There were several high trestles, a huge power plant and once got a glimpse of Lake Superior about four miles away.
Black Beaver Falls are 175 feet high, somewhat smaller than Bridal Veil which is 225 feet.
We had breakfast on the train and bought box lunches when we reached Agawa Canyon.
After sitting on the train for more than three hours, we welcomed the opportunity to stretch our legs and took a 40 minute hike to a couple of impressive waterfalls, Bridal Veil and Black Beaver. The trails were gravel and well-groomed. We picnicked along the Agawa River before boarding the train for the return trip to Sault St. Marie.
NEXT: Back into Michigan to Paradise.
Getting up close to Great Lakes freighters at Soo Locks
Waiting for the locks to fill before entering Lake Michigan.
The Valley Camp Great Lakes ship, built in 1917 and retired in 1966, is anchored at the Soo Locks Tours for visitors to experience an up-close view of the freighters that travel the lakes.
It’s somewhat overwhelming to pull alongside a giant 1,000-foot moving tanker so close one can almost reach out and touch it.
That happened to us as we waited our turn to go through the locks at Sault St. Marie, Michigan–the gateway that connects the shipping lanes between great lakes Michigan and Huron. Known as the Soo Locks, they have provided a valuable connection between the lakes for more than 160 years.
Getting a close up view of the Great Lakes freighter Federal Hudson as it approaches the Soo Locks at Sault St. Marie, Michigan.
We are among the one million people who visit here annually to get a close-up look of the big freighters as they pass through the locks moving from one lake to the other.
Before the locks were built, ships were portaged overland, a process that sometimes would take months depending on the size of the ships. Over 5,000 ships now traverse the locks annually.
Passing through the locks on the Canadian side.
While we watched the ships from a Soo Locks Tour boat, visitors can watch the process from an observation platform within Soo Locks park. There is no admission charge to watch the passages.
In addition to passing through the U. S. locks, our tour boat also passed through the Canadian Locks and provided a close up view of three hydro electric plants, steel mill, paper mill and the waterfront separating the U. S. and Canada. No passports are needed because the tour boat does not stop and dock on the Canadian side.
The Soo Locks are consider the largest waterway traffic system on earth.
We are camping at Sault St. Marie, Canada, and passed through customs to get to Sault St. Marie, Michigan, where the Soo Locks Tour originates.
Horses have the roads on Michigan’s Mackinac Island
The Victorian Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island boasts the world’s longest front porch at 660 feet.
It’s early September in northern Michigan and the weather is undecided whether it wants to continue warm or turn cold. It changes daily. One day we’re running the air conditioner, the next day the heater.
One thing for certain is the rain. It rained to beat the band for two days at Frankenmuth, MI., which is located in the central part of the state, then cleared for a few days and started again when we arrived in Traverse City.
Rainfall here doesn’t come in spurts like Florida or in spits and sputters like Alaska. When it starts raining here, it doesn’t take a breather for two or three days.
Martha, the weather watcher, is convinced it’s a change of season and the weather just can’t make up its mind. We have had 47 degree mornings and 80 degree days. Maybe she’s correct.
Three belgium draft horses take a deserving drink after hauling a trailer load of tourist around Mackinac Island.
With rubber boots and full rain gear from head to toe, I unhooked all the RV necessities of camping life from today’s campground in Traverse City, MI., and headed the RV north to Mackinac Island in a pouring rain storm. Hopeful it would let up we determinedly carry on but fully expecting another two or three day drenching ahead.
It’s about a 100-mile-drive today and unfortunately, most of it was 35 to 40 miles per hour because visibility on I-75 was terrible. The rain was coming down in buckets chased by cats and dogs. Not a happy camper.
From the top of Fort Macinac, cannons protected the island and the waterway on Lake Huron.
Approaching the massive Mackinaw Bridge, the rain changed to a drizzle but low hanging dark clouds, obviously storing moisture for tomorrow, were covering the tops of the bridge towers which are over 550 feet high.
At five miles long, the bridge is the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world. It is the dividing line for Lakes Michigan and Huron. The roadway is almost 200 feet above the water, allowing plenty of room for the heavy tanker traffic that travels through the Great Lakes. Speed limit is 45 miles per hour except for loaded semi-tractor trailers which are relegated to the right lane and limited to 20 miles per hour.
The drive across the big bridge was tense but uneventful.
Taking the ferry to Mackinac Island
Along with a big crowd of tourists we boarded the 9:30 ferry from St. Ignace the following morning for the 30 minute ride to Mackinac Island. Surprisingly, it is sunny, windy and dry. The captain took a brief side trip to the Mackinaw Bridge, giving visitors a close up look at the big bridge. It looks friendly in the sunlight
Mackinac Island is only eight miles in circumference and home to only 492 year-round residents but as many as 15,000-20,000 tourists visit per day during the summer.
It has been a summer vacation and tourist attraction since the late 19th century. Because of an intensive preservation effort, the entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark. It’s most noted feature, however, is the absence of motor vehicles. Locals agreed in 1898 to ban motorized vehicles. Travel on the island is by foot, bicycle or horse drawn carriages. There are full-time pooper scoopers cleaning streets behind the horses.
tourist walk the perimeter inside Fort Mackinac.
The ferry between the Michigan mainland and Mackinac Island, takes visitors on a close up look underneath Mackinaw Bridge,.
Guests at the Victorian Grand Hotel are picked up at the ferry dock by horse drawn carriage.
While many visitors walk the trails and paths, others rent bicycles and venture the eight mile road around the island perimeter. We chose to take a horse drawn wagon ride to see the island. During the two hour trip we toured downtown streets and parts of the State Park which covers 80 per cent of the island.
The state park also includes Fort Mackinac which was built by the British during the American Revolution and was later turned over to the United States. Much of the original fort has been preserved.
The absence of cars brings approximately 500 horses to the island every summer to pull carriages and wagons for tourists along with hauling freight and other supplies to local businesses. Many island residents also own or rent horse drawn buggies for transportation around the island. All but a few horses are removed to the mainland during winter months.
While there are several small hotels and bed and breakfasts’ on the island, it’s the Victorian Grand Hotel that brings back the gilded era of the late 1880’s. It opened as the most fashionable summer resort in the Great Lakes. It’s front porch is the longest in the world at over 660 feet. Despite some criticism, visitors pay a $10 fee to walk into the hotel’s grand lobby and check out the surroundings. Men are required to wear coats and tie to dinner.
Hotel guests and their luggage are picked up by special carriage and well-dressed drivers and driven through town to the hotel.
The town also boasts more than a dozen fudge shops, one of which dates back to the early 1920’s.
Climbing to the top of Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan
The rain has stopped and we are anxious to get out of the RV and head downtown to Traverse City and later the nearby Sleeping Bear National Seashore.
Getting our first glimpse of downtown takes us along about a mile or so of public beachfront on Lake Michigan. Since it is Labor Day weekend, hundreds if not thousands are on the beach, walking the paved sidewalks or swimming in the lake. Not many cities we have visited during out travels have managed to save waterfronts for public use.
Joining hundreds of other visitors, we made it to the top of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Known as the Cherry Capital of America, Traverse City drew over a half million people last year to munch on various food stuffs made from cherries. An estimated 360 million pounds of cherries are harvested here annually. We made a note to return here in the spring to see the three million blooming fruit trees in full bloom.
Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Seashore covers a 35-mile-long stretch along the Lake Michigan shoreline about a half hour west of Traverse City.
From 450 feet above the waters of Lake Michigan, visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes get an unspoiled view of the water and the dunes.
Showcasing its popularity, Sleeping Bear recently won a viewer award contest sponsored by ABC’s Good Morning America, naming it the “Most Beautiful Place in America.”
The very high dune formation is unbelievable.
When we arrived late morning there were already hundreds of people of all ages climbing the steep 130 feet high dune. The walk is challenging and many were expecting to see Lake Michigan when reaching the top, however, the big lake is still another mile or so away with five more big dunes to climb. Once on top of the dunes, climbers had an excellent view of Glen Lake in the distance. A few ventured on to see Lake Michigan but most descended to the parking lot. The trip from the parking lot to the lake and back is 3.5 mile long and takes three to four hours, says the Park Service.
Youngsters line up to take their turn jumping off the dunes into soft sand at least eight inches deep.
Someone theorized the “height of the dune would not be difficult to climb if solid ground, but the soft sand gives way under each step. As you step up 12 inches, you lift your body weight to this spot but the sand gives way under your feet and it slides down eight inches. You have done enough work to go up 12 inches, but have only moved up four. In reality, you will climb the 130 feet three times to get to the top of the first sand dune.”
The soft sand rightfully earns the uphill walk a strenuous rating.
After the dunes hike, we drove a few miles to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive which terminates at Lake Michigan where the Park Service has erected a large viewing platform which extends off the sand dunes with an unobstructed view of the lake. The dunes here are an amazing 450 feet high with a very steep decline to lakeshore. Despite National Park Service Signs warning visitors of the dangers of the high dunes, many visitors descended to the lakeshore and back.
A couple sandhill cranes on a farm near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
How Sleeping Bear got its name:
“The park is named after a Chippewa legend of the sleeping bear. According to the legend, an enormous forest fire on the western shore of Lake Michigan drove a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake for shelter, determined to reach the opposite shore. After many miles of swimming, the two cubs lagged behind. When the mother bear reached the shore, she waited on the top of a high bluff. The exhausted cubs drowned in the lake, but the mother bear stayed and waited in hopes that her cubs would finally appear. Impressed by the mother bear’s determination and faith, the Great Spirit created two islands (North and South Manitou islands) to commemorate the cubs, and the winds buried the sleeping bear under the sands of the dunes where she waits to this day. The “bear” was a small tree-covered knoll at the top edge of the bluff that, from the water, had the appearance of a sleeping bear. Wind and erosion have caused the “bear” to be greatly reduced in size over the years.”.
Tin Lizzie responsible for America’s first billionaire
“I will build a car for the great multitude…It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired…But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one…” Henry Ford
Growing up in Oklahoma and visiting the grandparents farm home for Sunday dinner and playing in a dilapidated rusted-out hull of an old black car in the backyard, was always one of the grandchildren’s finest moments. Little did we know that the old black car was grandpa’s Ford Model T. Likely, it was his first car. This was in the late 40’s.
That old car was one of Henry Ford’s Model T’s, better known as the Tin Lizzie.
Like millions of other American’s, Grandpa helped Ford become America’s first billionaire.
From our campground about an hour away at Algonac State Park on the St. Clair River, we drove into the Detroit suburbs of Dearborn to see the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village and later, an assembly plant where workers and robots were building new Ford trucks. What a treat.
The Wrights Brothers bicycle shop building was among those purchased by Ford and moved to Greenfield Village.
Before Henry moved on, he left behind the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, to show the rest of the world the affect of the Industrial Revolution, including the evolution of the automobile. He also left the foundation controlling the museum and village enough Ford stock that was sold in the 70’s. The foundation was valued at $10 billion five years ago.
“I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used…” Henry Ford.
Henry Ford Museum is a large Smithsonian type museum that features Ford’s massive historical collection in addition to focusing on the Industrial Revolution and its affect on the 20th century. Alongside the museum is Ford’s Greenfield Village, which is an outdoor extension of the museum that contains almost 100 historical buildings that are arranged in a village type setting. Ford’s Greenfield shows how Americans lived and worked from the 17th century to the present and assembled many historically important structures. He started collecting in the early 1900’s.
This Bugatti Royale was one of six cars made and is on display at the Henry Ford Museum.
Among the collection of early era automobiles at the Henry Ford Museum.
The museum opened in 1929 to much fanfare and looks as modern and polished today as it no doubt looked at its grand opening.
Plan on spending a half day at the museum and expect to miss at least half the exhibits. There is a huge collection of early automobiles that of course includes Fords from most every era, but also other makes and models, including Ford competitors. There is a reproduction of the airplane the Wright Brothers flew into history at Kitty Hawk. Race cars that made history, several rows of old trains, presidential limos, including President Kennedy’s; a 1939 Bugatti, one of only six built and considered among the most rare cars in the world.
Without more detail, just consider it a Smithsonian quality museum.
The assembly of a Ford Model T
The adjacent Greenfield Village is a walk through history. There’s Noah Webster’s Connecticut home, the Wright brothers bicycle shop and home, Henry Ford’s birthplace home, Harvey Firestone family farm and much, much more. Some structures were disassembled and reassembled for display. Plan on another half day to walk through the village.
Also at the Village, visitors can spend $5 and take a ride in a Ford Model T.
After touring the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, we returned the second day to Dearborn, and boarded a bus for a ten minute ride to the Rouge Factory Plant to watch workers assemble the Ford F-150 pickup truck.
I should say workers and robotic engineering combine to assemble the truck. The self-guided tour takes visitors on an observation deck 80-feet above the factory floor to watch the final assembly process. Here robotic equipment installed the windows while workers added seat belts, door latches, window and door controls, moon roof and other parts in addition to physically checking door closure, headlights, windshield washers.
Although we only watched the final assembly stage, we had never seen an assembly plant. It is well worth a third ticket purchase to watch how the moving assembly line of integrated robotics and humans in the final stages of building a truck.
A tin smith explains his craft to visitors at Greenfield Village.
“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Henry Ford
Contrary to popular belief, Ford did not develop the first assembly line–it was Ransom E. Olds who was assembling an auto seven years before the Model T. It was Ford who made the assembly line efficient.
Old Liz was the name of a chopped down Model T that won a car race at Pikes Peak, Colorado. in 1922. Unpainted and lacking a hood, they compared it to a tin car. Hence, the nickname Tin Lizzie, which, incidentally won the race.
The motorhome Charles Kuralt used to travel the country for his popular television news report.
Long distance hikers and wind turbine controversy in Ontario; freighter watching in Michigan
The 180-mile-trip from Tobermory south to the U. S.–Canadian border at Port Huron hugs the east shoreline of big Lake Huron and passes through quaint small towns and acres and acres of lush farmland. Canada Highway 21 offers many opportunities to view the lake.
Rain and wind finally moved on which makes driving the Winnebago Aspect much easier, particularly since Highway 21 is a two lane road.
About an hour into the trip, we passed through the small town of Wiarton, Ontario and stopped at a small coffee shop for a couple mocha lattes and a homemade muffin. Sitting outside at a sidewalk table was a young couple who were in the process of hiking the Bruce Trail, a 600-mile-trip from Toronto to Tobermory. The hike follows the shores of Georgian Bay which connects with Lake Huron.
Two large tankers, both in the 1,000 feet range, head north on the St. Clair River heading into big Lake Huron
The couple from Toronto had been on the trail for three weeks and were looking forward to finishing in about five days. Six hundred miles of walking in 30 days is really making tracks. They were hampered by heavy rain the last few days that so severe they sought cover one night in an abandoned railroad tunnel until water started flooding the tunnel. They welcomed the opportunity to leave the trail for a couple days and dry-out at Wiarton and camped at a downtown rv park a couple blocks away.
The oldest lighthouse in Michigan was built in 1825 in Port Huron. Fort Gratiot Lighthouse is located near the Blue Water Bridge that connects Michigan with Ontario, Canada at the mouth of the St. Clair River.
The biggest problem along the final part of the trail was finding fresh drinking water. They would have to carry enough water for five days.
On the drive south along the eastern shores of Lake Huron, we passed through Port Elgin and Goderich two small towns that were embroiled in a controversy over expansion of wind turbines. There are more than 200 turbines in the area with more planned, said a local resident. The gigantic wind turbines stand almost 25 stories tall and provide enough electricity to power 600 homes. Most are located among farm crop fields. Some local residents who are not happy with the wind farms have erected signs in their yards complaining about the expansion.
Although Queen Elizabeth II never visited Goderich, she proclaimed Goderich is “the prettiest town in Canada.”
From the top of Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in Port Huron.
And, the title is certainly well deserved. Goderich businesses and residential areas along the highway were in full bloom, a visual statement of their pride in their community. They have won Canadian awards in the annual Communities in Bloom competition. The only town we have seen with more blooming flowers was Niagara on the Lake.
At Sarnia, Ontario, we crossed the Blue Water Bridge over the St. Clair River, breezed through U. S. Customs and entered the United States. Our cell phones immediately started downloading two weeks of emails and messages.
Front row seats to watch huge freighters passing make Algonac State Park a popular camping destination near Marine City, Michigan. The park has a half mile of viewing along the St. Clair River.
We lined-up to check into the KOA Port Huron and were surprised to learn this is one of the largest KOA campgrounds in the country. End of the summer and a weekend filled the campground with rv’s, trailers and tents. Traffic was maintained below five miles per hour and children on every conceivable wheeled vehicle had the road right-of-way.
Among other features, this campground had a well-equipped health club for adults, basketball, soccer and street hockey courts, several fenced dog walks, swimming pools, a train, inflated jumping pillow, outdoor movies, all-you-can eat breakfast two mornings a week, ice cream parlor, fresh handmade pizza, a dog bathing area, hay rides and more.
Our camping neighbors were from Toronto, Ontario, Canada and had been bringing their family to this campground for years. They make reservations a year in advance to assure a camping site.
The KOA was classified as a resort.
The following morning we visited the Maritime Center in downtown Port Huron and watched a half dozen big Great Lake Freighters pass by on the St. Clair River. The giant ships are moving cargo through Lakes Huron and Erie.
The Maritime Center monitors river passage and posts vessel schedules online.
NEXT: Henry Ford’s Empire
Waterfalls, lighthouses popular places to visit on Bruce Peninsula, Canada
Passing across the border into Canada went smoothly.
We left the U. S. and crossed the busy Rainbow Bridge into Canada and downtown Niagara Falls before heading west and skirting Toronto. Our destination tonight is 163 miles away in a rural campground in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada.
A truck-auto accident snarled traffic on the four- lane highway to Owen Sound for more than an hour. Stay on the road long enough and this stuff happens.
The Northern Bruce Peninsula is surrounded on the east by Georgian Bay which is part of Lake Huron, and Lake Huron on the west. At Owen Sound, the peninsula is about 40 miles wide. In some areas further north it narrows to about 10-12 miles. The water is crystal clear and a bright blue color. This is blue water at its best and the third of five great lakes we have visited on this trip. Our goal is to circle all five Great Lakes. To accomplish this trip, we will be coming and going across the border with Canada.
Weaver Falls is located within Harrison Park in Owen Sound. The falls are impressive along with the short walk through the woods to reach the falls.
Among the sights here are ten waterfalls in Grey County. We visited at least half of them during our visit. Three are large and impressive falls visible from parking lots. Some are only accessible by hiking a mile or more.
Owen Sound’s 40th annual Summerfolk Festival has gathered musical groups from throughout Canada and some from the U. S. including popular bluegrass entertainer Claire Lynch and her band and Trout Fishing in America, two groups we have seen before in St. Augustine. We purchased three day passes and enjoyed the music and food while sitting in an amphitheater under huge willow trees on the shoreline of Georgian Bay. There was continuous music from eight different stages. We particularly enjoyed the Sunday morning gospel programs. The weather was cool enough at night to warrant a jacket.
Despite big box stores on the outskirts, the small town of Owen Sound has managed to save its’ core downtown. Streets were decorated with large hanging floral baskets and most stores were occupied with prosperous looking business.
The fully restored Cabot Head Lighthouse allows visitors to climb to the top of the lighthouse, offering an excellent view of the Bruce Peninsula and Georgia Bay.
Keeping in touch with home was difficult. We purchased an international calling card but minutes were limited which we saved for making future campground reservations and emergencies. The campground in Owen Sound did not have wifi. We did find a couple fast food places with wifi which gave us an opportunity to contact families back home.
Perched 80 feet above Georgian Bay, on the Bruce Peninsula, the Cabot Head Lighthouse has guided ships for over 100 years. It is named in honor of explorer John Cabot,
After five days in Owen Sound we drove north about two hours to the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula to Tobermory, home of the Fathom Five National Marine Park in Georgian Bay, which is part of Lake Huron. The park has dozens of shipwrecks which can be seen from glass bottom boat tours through the crystal clear blue waters of Lake Huron. The bay also includes the notable Flowerpot Island which has several rock structures similar to flower pots a short distance into the bay from the island.
Fathom Five is the only National Marine Park in Canada.
Unfortunately it rained for three consecutive days while we were in Tobermory and combined with strong west winds, we decided against taking the boat trip. We awoke the following morning to 53 degrees. Daytime temps did not exceed 75 degrees.
We did drive along the bay to Cape Cabot Head Lighthouse. Lighthouses here differ from those on the east coast along the Atlantic. Great Lakes lighthouse are mostly shorter wooden structures , without spiral stairs. In some cases, the lighthouse keepers house is attached to the lighthouse.
NEXT: Crossing the border again near Detroit and visiting Henry Ford’s empire.
Old Fort Niagara is among nation’s oldest forts
From our campground on Grand Island, NY., we drove about 30 miles to the northwest tip of New York State to visit Old Fort Niagara, an important fortification that the French built and later became a commanding presence on the great lakes during the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812.
To reach the fort, we drove through Fort Niagara State Park, a 248 acre park with 5 pavilions, 500 picnic tables; swimming pool, slide pool, wading pool, 20 soccer fields, boating from two launches and a two mile hiking trail. It is also open for winter activities. Nearby is the Four Mile State Park with 275 campsites.
A canon firing demonstration by volunteer soldiers.
The Castle in the background at one of the openings to Old Fort Niagara. The fort is located in Youngstown, NY.
A local group saved the fort from aging deterioration in the early 1920’s and now operates the fort under a non-profit. The nearest city is Youngstown, NY.
The fort sits strategically on 250 acres on the eastern shore of the Niagara River at its mouth on Lake Ontario. It has a very large courtyard, two redoubts and the French Castle, which is the oldest building in the Great Lakes region. Built in 1678 by the French posted 100 soldiers at the fort but extremely cold weather and disease took the lives of all but 12 men.
On a clear day, Toronto, Ontario, Canada is visible in the distance. Directly across the river in Canada is Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort George, a British fortification. Fog blanketed much of Lake Ontario’s view.
The fort was abandoned until the early 1700’s when the French Castle was built and called the House of Peace to appease the Iroquois. Our tour guide said the House of Peace was really a significant part of the fort and was designed militarily to fight the Indians if necessary. Whether the Native American’s were fooled is questionable, he said.
The courtyard inside Old Fort Niagara.ungstow
Following the French and Indian War, the fort fell into British hands after a 19-day-siege.
During the Revolutionary War, New Yorkers loyal to Britain moved into the fort and fought alongside British troops against the Americans. Thirteen years after the war ended, the fort was finally turned over to the Americans.
The fort has had a military presence since the Civil War. It was used to train troops for the Spanish-American War and World War 1. During World War II it was used as a POW camp for 1200 captured German soldiers. The fort was a headquarters for an anti-aircraft battery during the Korean War and later Nike missiles. The US. Army deactivated Fort Niagara in 1963. The U. S. Coast Guard, however, operates a facility outside the fort.
On the day of our visit, a group of volunteers gave canon firing demonstrations, another loaded and shot a musket and others dressed in period costumes walked through the fort commons area answering questions from visitors.
On the trip back to the campground, we followed a scenic route along the Niagara River.