Sault Sainte Marie, MI - Events of Monday, August 8, 2011
Whitefish Point, which is a sharp peninsula near the eastern end of Lake Superior, is about an hour and a half drive from Sault Sainte Marie. There are several things of interest in that general area, so we decided to take a day trip to check it out.
As we found out on our hike at Au Sable Point when we saw the remnants of shipwrecks on the beach, the area from Au Sable Point to Whitefish Point is known as "shipwreck coast." There were at least 550 major shipwrecks on Lake Superior, and 200 of them were in the vicinity of Whitefish Point. This area is treacherous because of the amount of boat traffic (the lake funnels down at Whitefish Point into Whitefish Bay, then narrows further to the St. Marys River), and because of weather (Lake Superior is the largest, deepest, and northernmost of the Great Lakes, so it gets more than its share of rough water).
With all the shipwrecks in the area of Whitefish Point, it is a fitting location for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The latest shipwreck on Lake Superior was the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. The Fitzgerald went down, and all 29 hands were lost in a storm about 17 miles north-northwest of Whitefish Point.
The Shipwreck Museum was built in 1987 on the site of the Whitefish Point Light Station and Coast Guard Lifeboat Station, which are also inbcluded in the admission to the museum.
It was a long drive all the way out to the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, so we were surprised to see so many cars there.
When we arrived, the 15-minute video about the Edmund Fitzgerald was just about to start, so we went to see that first. We'll have more information on the Fitzgerald a little later in this post. After the video, we took the boardwalk over the dunes to the beach at Whitefish Point. The boardwalk protects the dunes from foot traffic.
The quiet, blue water the day we were there belied the potentially violent nature of Lake Michigan.
The U. S. Coast Guard operated a lifeboat rescue station on Whitefish point from 1923 until 1951. There is a replica of an 8-man surf boat on display. The brave rescuers would often row out into heavy storms to rescue sailors whose boat was in trouble.
If the boat was closer to shore, they could use a small cannon to fire a special projectile out to a boat that was in trouble. A light line would be attached to the projectile. The sailors on the ship could then use the light line to pull a heavier rescue line from the reels on the cart shown in the next photo. The sailors had to fasten the rescue line to a high point on the ship so they could slide down the rope in a sling.
The first light house at Whitefish Point was first lit in 1849. It was one of the first lighthouses on Lake Superior. The current light station was built in 1861 from iron and steel.
The light keeper's house is furnished the way it would have been back in the 1920s when Robert Carlson was light keeper. Carlson served from 1903 to 1931 and was Whitefish Point's longest-serving keeper.
From the light keeper's house, we headed to the Shipwreck Museum itself. On the way, we paused for a photo by the huge rudder from a wooden steamship, the M. M Drake. The Drake sank in a storm 6 miles west of Whitefish Point in 1901.
In addition to showing old footage of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald and telling the story of how she sank, the movie we saw when we first arrived at the museum showed how the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society participated in a dive to bring up the bell of the ship in 1995. The wreck is in Canadian waters 530 feet below the surface. The pressurized dive suit used in the recovery is called a "Newt Suit," and it is on display in the museum.
The expedition brought up the ship's bell, which is also on display.
A replica of the original bell engraved with the names of the 29 crew members who were lost was placed at the site of the wreck as a memorial. The original bell was used in a memorial service before being placed in the museum.
The museum also has artifacts and information on dozens of lesser-known shipwrecks from Lake Superior.
One of the most noticible exhibits in the museum is the second order Fresnel (pronounced frey-NEL) lens from White Shoals about 20 miles west of Mackinac Island in Lake Michigan.
The Shipwreck Museum was very interesting and very well done. We spent much more time there than we anticipated. From the museum, we headed south about 10 miles to the little town of Paradise, MI, then about 10 miles west on M123 to Tahquamenon (pronounced tah-KWAH-men-on) Falls State Park. Tahquanenon Falls State Park is a 50,000-acre park around a series of waterfalls on the Tahquemenon River.
Although the state highway runs right through the park, there are two day-use areas in the vicinity of the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls that charge an admission of $8 per vehicle. The pass is good all day for both areas. We came first to the Lower Falls area, so we made that our initial stop. Like Amnicon Falls State Park we visited about a month ago in Wisconsin, this river also divides and forms an island. The Lower Falls area has falls on both sides of the island.
The trail to the falls to the left of the island (below) is only accessible by renting a boat and rowing to the island. Unlike Amnicon Falls, there is no bridge here. We passed on the rowboat, so we can only show you a telephoto shot of the falls on the left side of the island.
However, we took the boardwalk approximately ½ mile to the falls to the right of the island so we were able to get a closer look. Like Amnicon Falls, the water is stained brown by tannin that comes from the swamps at the headwaters of the river.
The largest falls on the Tahquamenom River is the Upper Falls. The parking area for the Upper Falls is 4 or 5 miles farther down the road, then it is about a ¼-mile walk on a wide, paved path. The river does not divide here so all the water goes over the Upper Falls.
On the way back to the car, we stopped by the DNR display for a photo.
We didn't spend a lot of time hiking at Tahquemenon Falls State Park because we were already tired from tromping all over the grounds of the Shipwreck Museum. It was also late, and we were hungry. We knew we would be gone all day, and we deliberately didn't pack a lunch because we planned a stop for the 2011 Zeller Foodie Tour at a restaurant in Paradise, MI called Brown's Fisheries and Fish House. We had heard from fellow RVers that Brown's has excellent Great Lakes whitefish.
The fish at Brown's is about as fresh as you can get. The waitress, whose grandfather started the business in the 1920s, said her father and brother were in the back cleaning fish caught that morning. Once the fish caught that day is gone, the restaurant closes. They sell several varieties of smoked fish by the pound as well as eat-in and take-out restaurant meals.
We both had two-piece, fried whitefish baskets that included fries or baked potato (we had fries) and slaw for $10. We had heard the smoked fish dip and the fish chowder were excellent, but they were out of both. We hear that frequently happens by mid-afternoon.
The fish was outstanding. It was firm and mild-flavored. The batter coating was light and crispy, and not at all oily.
After our early dinner, we headed back to the motor home. We had a couple of very busy days in Sault Sainte Marie, so we just enjoyed the rest of our time hanging around the motor home watching the big ships go by the campground.