Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Tale of Soo Cities

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It's no secret that Steven enjoys staying places longer than I do. He likes to get to know a place, photograph its different moods, find its quirkiness, learn the route home on the backroads, have a few leisurely days at home and then maybe he's ready to mosey on down the road. So, you can see why he absolutely loved our month-long stay at Wild Cherry Resort in Lake Leelanau, MI. He found his groove there.

Typically, a week is as long as I like to stay and in some places that's really pushing it. I enjoyed our time at Wild Cherry because I needed to slow down a bit but that’s an anomaly. Most of the time I'm rarin' to go. Departure Day is always my favorite.

When it came time to move on from Lake Leelanau, Steven was a bit melancholic. He was excited about our next stop but he was also very comfortable right where we were. Me? I couldn't wait to hit the road! I’ve been looking forward to our next destination for years, ever since Laurie and Odel visited in 2010 and raved about the views. Of course, back then I had no idea we would own their rig by the time we made our way to Sault Ste. Marie on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but life is funny that way, eh?

Sault Ste. Marie is situated on the St. Marys River, which drains Lake Superior starting at the end of Whitefish Bay and flows 75 miles southeast into Lake Huron. St. Marys River is also an international border with Michigan to the south and Ontario, Canada to the north. But it’s the height difference between the two great lakes that gives Sault Ste. Marie its most famous feature, the Soo Locks.

What a great view we had of the river from the Elks Lodge!

There is an observation platform in town that allows you to see the ships going through the locks.

All sorts of boats go through the locks. Click above for a timelapse video of the water dropping 23 feet!

Hailing from the Seattle area, we've got our own Ballard Locks which transports more boat traffic than any other locks in the U.S. But we don't have 1,000 ft. freighters and that's what makes the Soo Locks so awesome. It's kind of jaw dropping to see a freighter longer than three football fields squeeze into the canal and float out the other side. Even better, the Elks Lodge where we were staying is located right on the river, so we had a front row seat to see all the freighters coming and going from the locks.

Ships of all shapes and sizes passed our window.


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Morning and evening as seen from our front window. Sunsets were dramatic!

We even had some fog to add to the drama. We shared our campground with a few friends.

And since we were literally looking out the front window at Canada across the river, we had a fantastic view of the Canada Day fireworks show. Those guys really know how to blow things up! We also had a front row seat for the Fourth of July fireworks, which paled slightly compared to our northern neighbor's display.

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Fireworks from Canada Day. They were more consistent and colorful than their US counterparts.

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Fourth of July on the locks.

The Canadian town across the river in Ontario is also called Sault Ste. Marie. It's pronounced "Soo Saint Marie", but we jokingly referred to it as "Salt Sweet Marie", because that's how our GPS said it. Informally, both the American and Canadian towns are called "Soo" and they are connected by the International Bridge. Not long after we arrived, we learned of an upcoming event, the Annual International Bridge Walk, and we decided to join in. We met with a couple of thousand other folks at the local school and together we marched across the bridge from the American side to the Canadian side. It is just a couple of miles but from the bridge we got the best view of the locks. The downside to the event was the long wait to get through customs on the other side. We had our passports with us but it was still a tedious process. We also had to wait a long while for the bus ride home, but still, we had fun and it was a unique experience!

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What a fantastic event to be part of. Seeing two countries coming together like this is inspiring.

If you're a fan of Gordon Lightfoot, you can probably hum a few bars of his hit, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". The U.P. fully embraces the tragic history of the "Big Fitz" and by the time we left, we knew all the words to the song and could probably sing it backwards. Seriously, it played in every restaurant, museum and restroom we entered. On a day trip, we visited the Shipwreck Museum on Whitefish Point, the final resting place for the ship's bell.

Whitefish Point Lighthouse.

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The Bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald and two of the realist looking mannequins we’ve ever seen!

A scale model of the doomed Edmund Fitzgerald.

More creepy models in the Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters. Creepy, but still kinda cool.

On that same trip we visited Point Iroquois lighthouse and ate lunch at the famous Brown's Fish House. Steven loved his meal but I can't say I was all that impressed with mine. My fish was mealy.

Point Iroquois lighthouse.

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Lunch at Brown’s Fish House.

After the museum we pressed on to visit Tahquamenon Falls. Wow, what a gorgeous place that is! The name rhymes with “phenomenon”, which is an automatic trigger for Steven and me to break into (earworm alert!) The Muppets catchy song, “Mahna Mahna”. On the trip home, I got stopped by a cop for doing 69 in a 55mph zone. LOL. As he reached for my driver's license, he noticed the heap of brochures on the dash and the stamp on my hand indicating paid entrance into the Shipwreck Museum. He asked if we were enjoying our day as we visited places and we said yes. When he returned to the car, he handed over our documents and said, "Have a nice day, but slow down."  I was kind of giddy about that because it's been years since I've had a ticket on my record and that one would have been a doozy!

Spectacular Tahquamenon Falls. The color  of the water comes from tannins leached from cedar swamps upstream.

Our friends Hank and Shirleen, whom we'd met last year in Alaska, arrived in Soo and planned a 3-day stay at the Elks Lodge. Although much is made of the "sister" Soos, it's still kind of a pain in the butt to cross the border to visit. We thought it would be a fun thing to have lunch on the Canada side and check out the town, so we piled into Hank and Shirleen's car and made the crossing. Every place we tried to go eat was closed and we decided Canadians don’t eat out on Sunday. We finally settled on a hotel brunch buffet. Even though it was a bit more formal than we were expecting, we all enjoyed it.

We drove on through the town out the other side and turned around. The only place that intrigued us enough to stop was Canadian Tire. Tires are only a small part of this huge hardware/household/electronics behemoth. I'd never been in one before and so we decided to check it out. We all left empty handed, because, even though we found some deals, getting it back across the US border would have possibly added to the cost.

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Brunch in Canada with Hank and Shirleen. This bear snuck up on Hank and filmed him. :)

We made a return trip to the Iroquois Lighthouse, but it was raining, and it was closed. Double whammy! We settled on a pizza place instead. Delish! The Elks Lodge was having a big chicken dinner later that evening, but still stuffed with pizza, Steven stayed home. I brought him leftovers.

Hank and Shirleen have done a ton of travel and Shirleen likes to document the places they go in short movies she puts together. We enjoyed learning about their trip to the Canadian Maritimes, as we're still trying to decide if that's something we want to take on sometime in the future.

It was great to meet up with Hank and Shirleen and we hope to meet up with them again somewhere down the road.

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The lighthouse was closed so we had an early pizza lunch at this great little place in Brimley.

With our time in Sault Ste. Marie coming to an end, we made a trip south to visit the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City. Both are pronounced “mack-in-aw” but are actually spelled differently. Our friend Jim Belisle of ExploRVistas has a connection to this as his great-grandfather built it and he was involved in getting it restored. As well as sight-seeing, we were also on the hunt for a good pasty, a Michigan delicacy that Steven had fallen in love with. Think hand-held potpie without all the gravy, they serve that on the side.

Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City.

Steven’s first pasty!! After this one, we were on the lookout for more!

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Scoopy and the Elks Lodge as seen from the Soo Locks boat tour we enjoyed towards the end of our stay.

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The boat tour let us get up close and personal to the big ships as well as going through the locks.

In our travels, there are some places we want to not only visit but also to spend time really getting to know all they have to offer. Michigan was high on that list and it did not disappoint. We both agreed there was plenty more for us to see and we could have easily stayed a few more weeks. This is one of those places that goes on our "Return" list.

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I can't close this post without sharing a video with you. Steven asked me if most people would even know the song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald", and I said they would, unless they were hiding under a rock in the mid-70s. The song was number 2 on the Billboard 100, bested only by Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night".  Its deep, reverberating chords are as memorable and recognizable as any classic song and the lyrics are pure poetry. Give it a listen!


Next up: Port Huron and we meet the Bayfield Bunch!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Pure Michigan–Lake Leelanau, Part II


Two weeks into our month-long stay at Wild Cherry Resort, we had settled into a comfortable daily routine. Most days, the highlight of Steven's morning was reading the local paper while enjoying his coffee and an almond croissant from 9 Bean Row Bakery, a fabulous little place located less than a mile from our site. I had a few myself and they were pretty yummy.

By this time our late spring stormy weather had improved, making for a few lovely afternoon outings. The thing we really loved about Leelanau County is that it is packed full of things to do and sights to see and all were relatively close by.

We explored Traverse City, including the downtown area and the former state hospital, which is a massive complex of old buildings, some restored to their former glory and filled with trendy shops and restaurants. How's that for repurposing? (More on this place in a bit.) We visited the little towns of Leland and Northport and hung out on the patio at the "Knot Just A Bar" restaurant with a gorgeous view of Lake Michigan.

Lots of shopping at the former mental asylum that is now Grand Traverse Commons.

The view of Lake Michigan from Knot Just A Bar. Very relaxing.

Throughout the area we visited a ton of shops that celebrated all things cherry. Did you know that the area around Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of the World? When you visit the area you come away with a real appreciation of the little tart cherry. I'm not particularly fond of cherries, but I found myself being assimilated. I made coleslaw with dried cherries and a cherry-lime dressing, and I added dried cherries to my granola mix. I also enjoyed numerous Michigan Mules, the cherry-lime version of the popular Moscow Mule and even more of my very favorite - the cherry-lime Rickey. I think I’m a fan!

Various flavors of olive oils and balsamic vinegar, including cherry, bought in Traverse City.


Elaborate landscaping at the Cherry Republic store in Glen Arbor (there’s one in Traverse City too).

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It was a foggy day when we went to visit Grand Traverse Lighthouse.


We bought some yummy local products from this store in nearby Suttons Bay.

We also put our car in for service while we were sitting still. The Chevy dealership in Traverse City gave us a nice Silverado as a loaner while Toadie was being tuned up. They ended up making a bit of a boo-boo that required them to keep Toadie for three days!! So we made a repeat visit to Petoskey in said Silverado to see an exhibit of photos by Ansel Adams. What a sweet ride!

While Toadie was away, the Silverado did play :)

What a treat to see the Ansel Adams exhibit!

One of the lovely views from the little town of Petoskey.

There are also a ton of wineries in the area but we didn't visit a single one. We meant to, but we just couldn't muster the enthusiasm. I think part of the reason is because we buy the majority of our wines through Naked Wines, an online wine retailer. We help fund independent winemakers from around the world and in return we buy the wines at wholesale prices. We've been doing this for years and have yet to find a single bottle of wine we didn't like. We usually buy a case or two at a time and had just received a shipment soon after we arrived at Wild Cherry. So we weren't in the market for wines and just didn't find ourselves in the mood to try any new ones. We talked about this and decided we enjoy wineries as a group activity rather than just the two of us.

You may recall in a previous post I mentioned that we met a couple, Bill & Cindy, from this area while on the ferry crossing from Cedar Island, NC to the Outer Banks. We had met them for breakfast on the OBX and enjoyed each other's company enough that we made plans to get together while we were in Lake Leelanau. Bill and Cindy first came over to our place for dinner and we found, the more time we spent with them, the more we really enjoyed their company. So we made more plans.

Lounging by the lake with friends Bill and Cindy.

We spent a beautiful afternoon kayaking on Glen Lake. I have only been kayaking once, last year in Alaska, and I really struggled because sea kayaking can be rough. But out on Glen Lake, it was fabulous! Afterward, we drove to Bill & Cindy's home, a beautiful property that they have nurtured and loved since they were a young married couple. Cindy has a bountiful garden and four chickens that, shockingly, don't have names. How is even that possible??

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Kayaking with Bill and Cindy on Glen Lake. What fabulous weather we had!

Bill and Cindy’s vegetable garden. We forgot to get photos of the nameless chickens. :(

We spent a lovely evening enjoying a grilled salmon dinner and best of all, their company. With just a few days left of our time at Wild Cherry, we decided one more get-together was in order. As it turns out, Bill & Cindy's wedding anniversary was just days away and they agreed to let us horn in on the celebration. We met for dinner at the 9 Bean Row Restaurant, sister to the bakery we enjoyed almost daily, which is actually in the town of Suttons Bay. While we again enjoyed the lively conversation of our little foursome, the food left a lot to be desired. We really enjoyed our time together and hope we see them again someday.

Good company made up for the mediocre food. Having said that, their breakfast offerings are fabulous.

So, back to the state hospital I mentioned above that has been repurposed. I know lots of RVers like to visit sites listed in the Roadside America book, well, this is one of those quirky places. It's a pretty big place and not all the buildings have been restored. Today it's called The Village at Traverse Commons, which is utterly quaint considering its history. It was open from the mid-1880s until 1989 and has dozens of buildings scattered across 63 acres. There are general tours available but the one that stood out for Steven was the in-depth, two-hour photographer's tour. You know if it's creepy, he's gonna go for it. Enjoy the photos. :)

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The outside of Grand Traverse Commons and former grounds of Traverse City State Hospital.

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Steven was in his element on the photography tour through the old asylum.

Next Up: The Great Lakes Freighters