Soo Locks – Sault St. Marie

Jul/31/2011 5 Malia Lane

The main local attraction I wanted to see while staying at Brimley State Park was the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan’s oldest city.  I had heard about this and thought it sounded interesting, but especially after seeing so many of these huge ships go by at various places I’ve been, I wanted to see the process of their getting from Lake Huron to Lake Superior via these locks.

This observation deck is a brand new feature at the Soo Locks Visitors Center.  Here you are just a few yards away from the ships passing through the southernmost of the four locks and closest to the shore, the MacArthur.  You can look down on the decks of the almost unbelievably massive ships passing through.  It’s hard to see from this level, but  the Kate E. Barker was heading out to Lake Superior when I first arrived.

By the time I got up to the top and could see all of her, I was a little disappointed that I had not been there for her arrival, so I went to check out the Visitor’s Center.  They  have a large whiteboard that tells you approximate expected times of arrival of ships, how large they are and whether they’re upbound toward Lake Superior or downbound toward Lake Huron.  At that time another arrival wasn’t scheduled for more than 2 hours.  But that gave me time to check out the displays, diagrams and models and I watched a few short videos on the operation and history of the locks.

The MacArthur Lock looking upbound toward Lake Superior.

Here you can also see the International Highway Bridge between Michigan and Canada.

The most frequently asked question:  Why are the locks located here?  I learned the answer from “The Soo Locks Guide” I got at the Soo Locks Boat Tours gift shop:

“The answer is found in the large ridge of red sandstone stretching across the northern portion of the Upper Peninsula which emerges at this point.  The water tumbling over this stretch of rocky ridges creates rapids, commonly called the St. Mary’s Rapids. This ridge placed Lake Superior and the upper St. Mary’s River on a 21 foot hill.  The actual phenomenon in this area is change of land elevation.  The river falls 21 feet over the rapids at a rate of 77,000 cubic feet per second or about 24 miles per hour at its peak.”

Before the dam was constructed above the rapids, the native Chippewa Indians used to carry thrill seeking passengers over the rapids in large canoes for $1.00.

Looking downbound toward Lake Huron.

When I got back to the observation deck to await the new arrival, I watched the the 1,004′ Mesabi Miner approaching the next lock over, the Poe Lock.

No pumps are required; when the gates and valves are opened or closed, gravity does all the work and the water is merely allowed to seek its own level.  Notice here as she’s being lifted, you can barely read the name.

Before heading out to Lake Superior, she’s lifted enough so you can read her entire name now.

By the time she was headed out, I felt especially lucky to see two ships passing through the Locks at the same time in different directions.  The 728′ long Algoma Spirit was arriving downbound when the Mesabi Miner was leaving upbound.

Algoma Spirit fully in the lock.

Lowered and headed out to Lake Huron.
There’s only about 2′ of clearance on either side, so not much room for error here!

But before the Algoma Spirit was totally passed, yet another ship pulled in on the other side – the 730′ American Mariner!  I was told I was especially lucky to have seen 4 ships during a relatively short period of time, so I felt really blessed to have witnessed this show!

I was actually a little surprised by how much I thoroughly enjoyed my time here…so much so that I’m taking the Soo Locks Boat Tour tomorrow which will actually put me on a boat going through the locks!

Once I saw this one while I was on the observation deck, I decided I definitely wanted to see this process from on board!