Lake Superior: Shipwrecks, Storms, and Pictured Rocks

My sisters and I liked to sing “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” along with a mixed cassette tape during road trips in our parents’ station wagon.

This ballad by Gordon Lightfoot recounts the real-life sinking on Lake Superior of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald during a storm on November 10, 1975.

As it turns out, my future father-in-law, Dennis Woytek, worked for a radio station in Northern Michigan during this storm. The Associated Press sent him to cover this story as first responders searched Whitefish Bay for the crew.

So of course, I will blog about my visits to Lake Superior before I wrap up my series on Michigan.

My first trip to Lake Superior started with a trip to the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie and proceeded to Whitefish Point, on the tip of Whitefish Bay. (The Fitzgerald sank less than 20 miles from the bay.)

During our drive, we listened to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” on the radio. And then, I kid you not, the radio station broke into the song to issue a severe thunderstorm watch.

Whitefish Point includes the Whitefish Point Lighthouse, a museum, and also a memorial to the Fitzgerald crew.

Here’s the tip of Whitefish Point:

On my first trip to Whitefish Point, the storm clouds held off long enough for me to see all of these.  I dipped my feet in the bone-chilling water. (It was August.) The flies bit my ankles.

Point Iroquois Lighthouse

We drove southeast back to Sault Ste. Marie, and on the way we stopped at the Point Iroquois Lighthouse.

I climbed the lighthouse steps and watched a freighter pass.

Then the thunderstorm hit.

July 2016: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Now, if you hop about one hundred miles southwest of Whitefish Point, you will reach Munising, Michigan. Munising also sits on Lake Superior. Folks visit Munising in order to tour Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

See, sandstone cliffs line this portion of Lake Superior. Mineral deposits (such as iron, copper, and manganese) coat the cliffs. These cliffs reflect splendid colors when the sun hits them.

In late July 2016, Jonathan and I trekked with his parents Denny and Fran to Munising. We actually drove along the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan for part of our trip.

Now, hiking trails do exist along the shore of Pictured Rocks. However, our research suggested that we needed to be on the water or in the air for the best views.

Outfitters rent sea kayaks in Munising. In fact, we saw many sea kayaks during our Pictured Rocks trip. Our group of four didn’t feel confident to paddle on the deep water of Lake Superior. In fact, during the same week that we visited, the Coast Guard had to assist in the rescue of several kayakers along this lakeshore.

A tour company with clear-bottomed boats advertises cruises that show off the local shipwrecks. However, for roughly the same cost as four tickets for this two-hour trip, we rented a pontoon boat for five hours.

Jonathan piloted our rental boat.

We visited the famed shipwrecks that the clear-bottomed boats touted. We also passed these two landmarks:

1.) The rock formation known as Miner’s Castle:

2.) And the East Channel Lighthouse:

Note the following:

1.) I took all of my photos with a telephoto lens. Therefore, in my photos Miner’s Castle looks much closer than we physically were in relation to it. Since the water was choppy, we didn’t want to get too close to the shore.

2.) The boat concessionaire that we chose pleased us with their customer service. However, we turned around halfway through the trip that the concessionaire recommended for a five-hour rental. Why, you ask? Well, we found the lake very choppy.  (Otherwise, the weather was gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky. A comfortable breeze. We took our boat trip during a Midwestern heat wave. The bank sign in Munising listed the temperature as 90 degrees.)

Multiple boats from Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours passed us. We opted not to purchase tickets from their tour company since we preferred to rent our own boat. However, here is their website.  It provides information about the local shipwrecks.

Do you like to search for shipwrecks?

3 Tall Ships. And 1 Ghost Story.

Last month, I promised to blog about these tall ships:

1.) The U.S. Brig Niagara

The U.S. Brig Niagara “resides” in Pennsylvania: The Niagara’s home port is Erie, PA.

However, one morning in July 2016 I watched the Niagara cruise past the house that my family rented in St. Ignace, Michigan.  The ship docked in the bay, surrounded by St. Ignace.

My husband and I walked to the dock for “Niagara at Lake Huron” photos.

We already had in our possession “Niagara at Lake Erie” photos.

You see, in fall 2015 we sat at the North Pier at Presque Isle State Park (in Erie, PA) to watch boats. The Niagara sailed off of Lake Erie toward its home dock. It sailed past us.  Under FULL sail. See my below photo from Erie:

2.) The S/V Peacemaker

See here for Jonathan’s story about his experience on the Peacemaker.  My husband might have sailed away as a community’s ship crew that afternoon!

3.) Le Griffon, A Ghost Story

This history of New Kensington, Pennsylvania notes that the explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle boated down the Allegheny River.  He traveled past the future site of Parnassus. Presumably toward the river confluence that we now call “Pittsburgh.”

La Salle journeyed on several boats in his travels. In the 1679, La Salle took off from his ship Le Griffon on Lake Michigan’s Green Bay.

After La Salle left Le Griffon, his crew mutinied. The ship disappeared on Lake Michigan.

To my knowledge, the ship’s whereabouts remain a mystery.

Folklore claims that Le Griffon still sails as a ghost ship.

La Salle himself perished in a mutiny and ambush in Texas in 1687.

What is your favorite tall ship?

5 Reasons to Detour to DeTour

I promised to blog about remote beaches. So, I present the beaches of DeTour.

You must drive about 60 miles north of St. Ignace and the Mackinac Bridge or about 60 miles south of Sault Ste. Marie to reach DeTour Village. It sits on M-134.

As I mentioned in my last post, boats that travel between Lake Superior and Lake Huron (and the rest of the Great Lakes) traverse the St. Marys River.

The St. Marys River bends as it meets Lake Huron. This forms the DeTour Passage.

DeTour Village is its own peninsula because the St. Marys River, the DeTour Passage, and Lake Huron surround it on three sides. At the same time, it sits on the most eastern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Drummond Island sits directly across the DeTour Passage from DeTour Village.

Here are five reasons that you should detour to Detour:

1.) Boat Watching

We discovered the charms of Detour Village by accident during a freighter watching trip. See my last blog post.

2.) Butterflies

When I first blogged about the public marina on the outskirts of DeTour Village, I didn’t mention all of the butterflies that I saw at the marina.

3.) Shipwrecks

The DeTour Passage lures scuba divers because so many boats wrecked here.

If you don’t scuba dive, you can still see shipwreck remains from land. You just need to take a short walk on the trail at the Detour Botanical Gardens. (This is free.)

4.) DeTour Reef Light (A Lighthouse)

A shoal, DeTour Reef, sits in the water at the southern entrance of DeTour Passage. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the DeTour Reef Light on top of this reef.

You will need a boat in order to access this lighthouse.

I took the above photo of this lighthouse with a telephoto lens, from a beach that is no longer accessible to the public.

However, you will be able to see this lighthouse off in the distance when you ride down the highway towards DeTour Village.

5.) DeTour Peninsula Nature Preserve

Jonathan and I “hiked” down a dirt road, through this preserve. At the very end of this road, we reached the tip of the DeTour Peninsula. I stood on the beach and took the lighthouse photo that I posted above.

We returned a few years later to “hike” the preserve again. At this visit, we discovered that the property at the very tip of the peninsula – and the beach there – was closed to the public. We still enjoyed the gorgeous preserve.

This nature preserve is open to the public for no admission or membership fee.

3 Places to See Freighters Up Close Twixt Lake Superior and Lake Huron

Here are three places where we go for up-close freighter watching. I took all of these freighter photos at the three places that I list here:

1.) Sault Ste. Marie

The St. Marys River is the ONLY waterway that connects Lake Superior with the rest of the Great Lakes.

Shortly after boats leave Lake Superior, they will come upon the rapids on the St. Marys River. In order to bypass the rapids, they enter the Sault Ste. Marie Canal and then the “Soo” locks. They exit the locks and proceed down the St. Mary’s River to Lake Huron.

We watch freighters both at the “Soo” locks and also a few miles away at Rotary Island Park, both in Sault Ste. Marie.

Admission to both are free.

Both places have public restrooms. The restrooms at the Soo locks are in the visitor’s center.  The restrooms at Rotary Island Park are “primitive,” or, as we always said as kids, “outhouses.”

The United States Army Corps of Engineers operate the Soo locks. Be aware of the Corps of Engineers’ regulations . The viewing platforms and visitors center (and public restrooms) are open to the public during specific hours. You may also be subject to a bag / security check before you can enter the premises. I have linked the Corps of Engineer’s website above so that you can use it to plan your trip.

Volunteers host a few boatwatcher’s hotline phone numbers / websites that you can consult before your trip to watch freighters. This way, you can check on upcoming boat traffic. One website that we use is

In 2010, we took my parents and two of my sisters to the locks, and only one freighter came through the day of our visit. We actually missed seeing it go through the locks, but were able to watch it travel the St. Marys River, at Rotary Park.

Speaking of Rotary Park: This is another of our favorite boat-watching sites. We often stop for to-go hamburgers at Clyde’s Restaurant, next to the park. You can actually see the freighters, and also the Sugar Island ferry, from Clyde’s. Clyde’s accepts cash only.

2.) Public Marina Near DeTour Village

DeTour Village sits on the DeTour Passage of the St. Marys River. The marina includes public restrooms and a picnic area.

You can also take a short trip down the highway and walk through the DeTour Botanical Gardens. You can view some DeTour Passage shipwreck remains there.

There are no admission fees to view freighters at the marina or to tour the gardens.

3.) Mackinac Island / Straits of Mackinac Round Island Passage

This passage between Mackinac Island and Round Island sees heavy freighter traffic. You can stand next to the water at Mackinac Island and see freighters up close. In fact, I took the above photo of a freighter passing the Round Island Lighthouse as I stood on Windermere Point on Mackinac Island.

I took this photo on the island’s main (carless) highway, between the rock formation known as “Devil’s Kitchen” and the island’s public school.

I also saw a freighter close up from the side of the road, next to the lawn at Mission Point Resort.

Where do you like to boat watch?

5 Striking Gravesites of the UP

Here are  gravesites that I found and photographed in the Upper Peninsula / Northern Michigan:

1.) Ancient Anishinaabeg Burial Ground, Sault Ste. Marie

It’s fun to turn off of the streets that you know and look at a “familiar” city with fresh eyes.

We visit Sault Ste. Marie once each year so that we can watch the freighters in the “Soo Locks.” Boats travelling between Lake Superior and Lake Huron use the locks to bypass the rapids on the St. Marys River. Then, we pick up hamburgers from Clyde’s Drive-In and watch the neighboring ferry boat transport cars and heavy construction equipment across the St. Marys River to Sugar Island. Freighters, burgers, ferry boat viewing.

One year, we changed up our trip by looking for historic neighborhoods in Sault Ste. Marie.

We ended up on Water Street, along the St. Marys River. Signs identified four houses at the end of this street as the four oldest in the city. These now operate as a museum with re-enactors, including a man in colonial dress using his cell phone in front of one of the houses. We walked down the street to Brady Park, the former site of French, British, and United States forts, and read all of the monuments.

We then stood outside the gates of a fenced-in cemetery pictured above.  The actual signs in front of the gates read “Ancient Anishinaabeg Burial Ground.”

“Anishinaabeg” means “The People” – The Original People – in Ojibwe/Chippewa.

2.) Old Mission Indian Cemetery (AKA Father Marquette Cemetery), Hessel

Trees surround this cemetery, but the lot sits next to the premises for Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church in rustic Hessel. Hessel sits on the shore of Lake Huron, north of St. Ignace and south of Sault Ste. Marie.

I used to attend services at Our Lady of the Snows during our Michigan visits.  I (and some family members) referred to services at this church as “the donut Mass” because parishioners served donuts at a reception after Sunday Mass.

Historians believe that the Old Mission Indian Cemetery dates back to the 1700’s. Most of the graves belong to the Ojibwa (Chippewa) Native Americans from the tribe based in Sault Ste. Marie. The Native American Society for Historic Preservation maintains this cemetery.

Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church sits in the Diocese of Marquette. Father Marquette came to Northern Michigan to establish Jesuit missions among the indigenous peoples here. I wish that I knew more of the story about the Catholic parish’s connection to the Ojibwa buried in this cemetery.

I found much online about the spirit houses that are traditional among several Native American tribes.

Here is a Native American “spirit house” found in the back of this cemetery:

I also found this statue of the Blessed Virgin (Virgin Mary), which is traditional among Christians such as Roman Catholics:

3.) Lakeside Cemetery, St. Ignace

This cemetery sits at the end of a lightly traveled road, next to a walking trail entrance for Straits State Park. I rode my bike here from the house that we rented near downtown St. Ignace.

4.) Father Marquette’s Grave, St. Ignace

Father Jacques Marquette established a Jesuit mission at a Huron tribal village at the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula. He named this spot “St. Ignace” after St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Father Marquette died young and his followers buried him at least three times.

First, since he died in the wilderness, his companions had to bury him there.

French Catholic settlers returned to his first grave. They dug him up. They boiled him down to his bones. They transported his bones to St. Ignace. They laid his bones under the altar of the original Catholic chapel in St. Ignace.

Years later, the parish built a new church at a new location. Historians located and identified Father Marquette’s bones.

Father Marquette’s bones now rest next to the Museum of Ojibwa Culture in St. Ignace.

5.) A Shell Gas Station, St. Ignace

I learned on a guided history walk this year that St. Ignace’s original Catholic church building once stood where this Shell Gas Station now stands. The church’s graveyard adjoined it. The parish eventually built a newer church up the street from this. Since their graveyard ended up in an area of prime economic development, the town dug up and relocated the graves. Did they manage to successfully move ALL of the graves? This remains an open question.

Here’s my personal favorite of the bunch:

What burial sites do you like to visit?

3 Ways that Mackinac Island Reminds Me of Rustic Pennsylvania

Last post for now about Mackinac Island! Next week I promise to blog about five cemeteries on the Upper Peninsula.

As I mentioned, each summer we visit Mackinac Island. Just like thousands (millions?) of others, we leave our car on the mainland and ride a ferry on Lake Huron.  We all come to the island to see:

The Round Island Lighthouse at Mackinac Island’s Harbor. The Grand Hotel. Fort Mackinac. Tourists on bicycles. Tourists on horses. Tourists in horse-drawn carriages. Horse-drawn wagons carrying the luggage of hotel guests. Horses everywhere. No automobiles. (Except emergency vehicles and the garbage truck.) Fudge shops.

If you ever watched the movie “Somewhere in Time” with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, then you watched scenes from Mackinac Island.

These three things about the island remind me of the towns that I consider home in Pennsylvania:

1.) The Victorian “Cottages” and the Island’s Preservation Efforts

You will find these “cottages” all over the island. These summer homes are all larger than my own house, but they inspire me since they are from the same time period as my own house and neighborhood.

By the 1970’s, maritime travel no longer depended upon Round Island Lighthouse as a working lighthouse. Local influencers planned to tear down the lighthouse.

A grass-roots campaign saved the lighthouse.

This lighthouse is one of the most prominent landmarks for Mackinac Island tourists and it is featured in a scene of “Somewhere in Time.”

In my home neighborhood, we hear from people who want to tear down the buildings here that have a history, the very buildings that could define our community’s future.

2.)  The Resourceful and Self-Sustaining Residents.

The residents on Mackinac Island and the Upper Peninsula remind me of people that I know from growing up in rural Central and Western Pennsylvania.

Once Lake Huron starts to freeze, the ferry boats to Mackinac Island shut down. Later, after the Coast Guard measures the ice and finds it sufficiently thick, the residents can travel across the lake to the mainland by snowmobile. Once the ice starts to thaw, residents must wait for the ferry boats to run again. (Granted, Mackinac Island does have its own airport and people do fly on and off of the island year-round. However, this also depends highly on the weather. Mackinac Island air travel can be quite dangerous.)

The towns that I call home in Pennsylvania don’t see nearly the amount of lake effect weather that Northern Michigan does. (Lake Erie does impact us, but I know that this doesn’t really count.) However, I grew in the Appalachian Mountains near Pennsylvania’s highest point (Mt. Davis in Somerset County) so I empathize about the isolation of winter.

3.) The Volunteer Fire Department.

Now, the island and the nearby communities on the mainland all have volunteer fire departments. (Fire trucks are permitted to drive on the island. At least they don’t use horse-drawn fire trucks!) A few years ago, we read about a winter / spring structure fire in the island’s downtown business district. Ordinarily the mutual aid firefighters respond by boat. However, this time the firefighters from St. Ignace arrived by helicopter because the lake still had ice.

Volunteer fire departments are important to the culture of all of the places that I call home in Pennsylvania. I spent the first years of my life in a very small town in Central Pennsylvania (near Harrisburg) that had only one real road. The town’s one grocery store sat directly across this road from the fire station. The fire chief owned the grocery store. I used to watch him run out from behind the deli counter whenever the whistle blew at the fire station. (My dad – also a volunteer – drove the town ambulance.)

We later moved to another rural Pennsylvania town where the long-time fire department president also taught Vocational Agriculture at my high school.

I even attended a college with its own volunteer fire department. Some of my classmates staffed the department. (Some of my classmates ran out during class to answer a fire call.)

What special places remind you of your home?

The Grand Hotel Charges a $10 Entry Fee. I Paid the Fee.

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island charges non-guests $10 to enter its grounds. The Grand even put this on a sign in their driveway.

The fee keeps us – the unwashed looky-loos – from bothering the Grand’s paying guests. I watched a family with multiple noisy kids attempt to walk up the Grand’s driveway. A Grand employee advised said family of the $10 per-person fee. The family turned away. Mission accomplished.

One day I paid the $10 fee. Then I walked around and took photos. Here are some of the things that I saw:

1.) The Cupola Bar

Do you see the cupola in the first two Grand Hotel photos that I posted? This is a two-story bar. The Cupola Bar.

Here is what the Cupola Bar looks like from inside on the second floor:

But here’s what you REALLY wanted to see. Here’s the view from the second floor windows of the Cupola Bar:

2.) The Front Porch

I needed a rest after my trip to the top of the cupola. So, I enjoyed the (660 ft long) front porch.

I viewed the Mackinac Bridge and horse-drawn carriages from the starboard end of the porch:

Here’s the giant chess set that I saw on the port end of the porch:

Do you see the young lady pedaling the red Coca-Cola cart? She pedaled (AND peddled) that cart up and down the length of the porch, selling ice cold coke in glass bottles. I think that she also rang a little bell as she passed us.

3.) The Greenhouse

The Grand Hotel loves its red geraniums. I found the greenhouse.

The Parnassus Pen All content copyright by author, unless otherwise noted.