Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Apostle Islands to the Soo Locks

Menominee, MI is located on the Green Bay area of Lake Michigan and is a beautiful town. They are rightfully proud of their position on the lake and this park area, complete with old anchors, attests to this.

The marina is beautiful! There were many large cruising yachts, both power and sail, housed here with quite a few getting ready to cruise on this great day. The levee area Rick is standing on is about 10 feet above the water -- and last winter, ice from the lake actually came OVER this level! Yikes -- when we saw pictures of that in a local restaurant, we were glad we spent the winter in Florida.

Driving from the Menominee area north to the Sault Ste. Marie area we traveled along the lake for much of the trip. We had a great lunch at this roadside area that overlooked the lake which was wonderful.

The good weather held for us, but it was still cool when we visited the Soo Locks area in Sault Ste Marie, MI. These locks are located between Lake Superior and Lake Huron on the St. Mary's river. Because Superior is 21' higher than Lake Huron, the locks are required to allow ships to pass between the lakes. The locks are operated by the Corps of Engineers who have a beautiful viewing area available for the public.

We visited the locks many years ago and in the meantime, the Corps built this great viewing platform that gives a great view of ships transiting the locks. We are about 20' above the lock level here.

Sure enough, as we arrived at the platform, we saw this ship entering the lock from Lake Superior. The ship is using the Poe lock which is the largest lock available and is slightly over 1,000' long.

This is the Hon. James L. Oberstar a bit closer up as she moves into the lock. The Oberstar is about 806' long with a beam of 75' -- one large ship! This was remarkable to watch the captain ease this ship into the narrow lock. Quickly, the doors were closed on the lock and the water released to lower the ship 21'.

Wow -- here is the Oberstar as she is ready to enter Lake Huron. This gives a great visual of how far the ship is lowered by the lock. The entire process took about 20 minutes, which is remarkable. We saw quite a few more ships enter the lock during the few hours we were there and it is a fascinating process to watch.

This gives a view of the east or Lake Huron side of the lock. As you can see, even with these large locks, there is not a large amount of room for the ship. In fact, with the largest lake freighters, there is only 2.5' on each side between the ship and the lock wall! This makes for some very exact sailing!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The U.P. of Michigan - Duluth RR Museum and Bayfield Maritime Museum

We continued our exploration of northern Minnesota and Rick was looking forward to touring the Duluth Railroad Museum in the Duluth Depot. The museum has a nice collection of equipment that was used in the days of mining. Rick LOVED this M#, #227 which was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. This engine is huge and could actually haul 115 cars at one time.

The Museum has a number of different engines, including this tank engine that carries its water in a tank located on the boiler. All of the displays are located in the old station area of the depot, which is a great setting for these historic engines.

Rick is ready to be the engineer! This is the cab of the M3 seen above and is it huge! He was very impressed with all the valves and complexity that faced the engineer. Makes our motorhome look a bit easier to run -- plus, Orinda does not have to shovel coal while we drive!

Duluth is snow country for sure and here is a prime weapon in the snow wars -- the steam powered, rotary plow. This was a revolutionary tool in the later 1800's and must have been a very impressive sight clearing the rails.

The museum also featured common items found in the Duluth area in the golden age of rail; which included this old car which was found on the streets of the city and perhaps bringing folks to the train depot.

Our next stop was in Bayfield, WI which is a small town near the Apostle Islands, just east of Duluth. We had a nice lunch here and noticed this small museum focused on Bayfield maritime events. As you can see, the rain and fog made an indoor event a good idea!

This prop and old ship frame are the remains of an old fishing ship that was abandoned in the Bayfield area. If was interesting to examine how boats where built in the early 1900s.

Here are some commercial fishing boats in Bayfield that are not in use. Notice how enclosed these vessels area -- Lake Superior is a very COLD lake (average temperature is only 40 degrees or so) and the closed boats are required for protection. Commercial fishing is down quite a bit, although some folks are still engaged in the industry here.

We had a great time (although a bit wet) in the Duluth and northern Wisconsin area as we traveled east in the upper peninsula area.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Red Wing, MN -- Home of Red Wing Shoes

Red Wing, MN, located on the banks of the Mississippi River, was a very pleasant surprise. This is a beautiful small town with quite a bit to offer. We were interested to see the town from this beautiful vantage point where you can see the river in the background.

Red Wing was developed to take advantage of the great river traffic and the developing rail transportation that is indicated by the Red Wing depot above. Today, there are large grain elevators that can take rail cars full of grain and transfer them to large barges for the trip down the river.

The river was surprising large and powerful here, but there were many boats of all sizes moving about. Orinda is standing on the town dock where travelers can dock for a few hours to visit downtown and get supplies. Across the river is one of the many marinas in the area. It looked like houseboats were very popular here and we wondered how different living on board a boat would be compared to living in our motorhome -- other than being able to sink, of course.

One of the main draws to us was the RedWing Shoe company. Usually, there are factory tours available, but on the weekend, these are suspended. However, we were still able to visit the official store and headquarters in downtown Red Wing.

Orinda is showing an exhibit of their famous work boots -- that run all the way up to size 20! We thought that was a BIG shoe -- but, as they say, "Wait, there is more!"

How about the world's biggest boot? As the sign says, 2,300 pounds of amazing footwear.

And here it is -- in the real leather! This boot is made exactly like the regular boot, only much larger. The boot leads the way into a museum tracing the Red Wing Shoe company's history, which was very interesting.

We enjoyed learning how shoes were made and why the Red Wing brand is different and special. We were particularly interested to learn that Red Wings are still made right here in the USA!

If only this sewing machine could talk and describe almost 100 years of use. While it is no longer used, it is still in working condition and gave us a great insight to how shoes are made back in the day -- and today!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Visiting Duluth, MN - and a cool draw bridge!

We drove into the city of Duluth, MN to stay at the Duluth RV and Marina location close to the famed Aerial Lift Bridge built way back in 1905. As we drove through the Canal Park area (in the coach), the bridge lifted and stopped traffic. At first, we could see nothing coming, but then, saw why the bridge was lifted.

If you compare this shot with the top one, you can see what appears to be a red wall in front of the road -- that is actually a VERY large ship passing through the canal. This is the ore ship Joseph L. Block, which is 728 feet long, and carries over 37,000 tons of ore.

Now, you can see the bridge of the ship looking like a building as it passes through the bridge area through the canal. We were delighted to see this sequence as large ships like this only pass a few times a day.

Shortly after the ship passed, the bridge lowered into position and we were ready to go. Here, you can see the bridge deck as it is just about ready to connect to the roadway.

Our site is literally on the water. The boats right in front of the coach are docked in the marina which made for an interesting view out our front window.

We were not far from the lift bridge, or from downtown in this RV site. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with us to enable us to walk downtown. Indeed, we experience 50 mph winds and heavy rain.

Regardless of the weather, we still were able to see many of the sights in the area. This is a shot of the Duluth Shipping Canal (where the Joseph Block came through) and the lift bridge. You can see why the bridge deck needs to be lifted for the shipping.

Interestingly, as you can see from this historic photo ( when the bridge was first built in 1905, instead of a roadway that lifted, there was a trolley that carried people across the canal. This trolley could carry up to 125,000 pounds and took 60 seconds to cross the canal. This was replaced in 1929 with the current road deck.

Rick is standing in front of the Army Corps Maritime Museum which was great.

This early marine engine was one of many exhibits in the Maritime Museum. Naturally, Rick enjoyed learning about these, some of which were from the late 1800's (steam engines).

Monday, June 20, 2011

Exploring Two Harbors, MN on Lake Superior

We spent the night in Duluth, MN and decided to explore a bit of the famed North Shore of Minnesota, which runs along the northern shore of Lake Superior. Wow -- what a lake! While we had been here a few years ago, we had forgotten that Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world and actually contains 10% of the world's surface freshwater. Much of it is still very wild and very beautiful.

Orinda is standing next to a monument to the town of Buchanan (just north of Duluth), founded in 1856 as a tribute to President Buchanan. Unfortunately for the town, this monument is all that is left as it never took off.

Two Harbors is about 22 miles north of Duluth and was developed at a steel mining area in the late 1800's. Once the mines were established, the question was how to get the iron ore to the steel mill and the answer was by ship. As a result, this breakwater was built (and extended) to the remarkable structure shown here. Rick and Orinda walked all the way to the end of the breakwater (quite a way!) to the original lighthouse.

The steel ore loading docks are still very active and can be seen behind Rick. Barely visible behind the dock are two large freighters that were being loaded. These docks are well over 1,000 feet long and are massive structures.

This shot shows the two freighters being loaded from the dock. Both ships are very large - around 700' and can carry many, many thousands of tons of iron ore pellets.

Because or the number of ships using the Two Harbors area, a lighthouse was constructed in the later 1890's. The lighthouse is now open for viewing and provided a fascinating look at the last century.

The Tow Harbors Historical Society has developed 4 interesting attractions including the lighthouse, tugboat seen above, the railroad Depot museum, and the original 3M company headquarters, since 3M was actually started in this small town. Tickets for all 4 attractions are a very reasonable $10 per person.

The tug above, the Edna G. was the last operating steam driving tug on the Great Lakes. Built in 1896, it is now open for tours and is a great example of an operable tug.

The tour of the tug included the engine room and Rick was delighted to check out the engine telegraph system. He was ready to respond to orders from the bridge.

Here, Rick, as Captain, is ready to give the engine room the engine command of slow ahead. None of this direct connected throttle stuff for this tug -- this is true old school operation!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Grotto of the Redemption - a Great Visit

Located about 50 miles east of Forest City, IA, is West Bend , Iowa -- home of the Grotto of the Redemption which we heard was well worth a visit. This is also just a few miles east of Algona, home of the WWII POW Museum which we posted previously.

We did not know what to expect, but were amazed at what we found. The Grotto was designed and build due primarily to the work of a Catholic priest, Father Paul Dobberstein. He started the work in 1912 and for the next 40+ years, he worked on this shrine to Christ while also serving as the parish priest. As you can see, the scope of this work is huge.

Father Dobberstein was very interested in geology and collected a wide variety of minerals and precious stones to use in the grotto. The net effect is very moving and as you move through the grotto, you can reflect on the various areas, such as the 10 Commandments, birth of Christ, and the life of Christ.

Here, Orinda stands in a very small part of the Grotto that shows a few of the many unique stone structures.

This depiction of the tomb of Christ and his ascension, is typical of the rooms in the grotto. The rocks are carefully placed to draw attention to the main scene. and add great beauty to the view.

It is amazing to think that this entire area was Iowa farmland before Father Dobberstein began work. In a short video, the construction was described and we learned that no power tools were used until the 1950 era. Up until then, all the rock, concrete, and more were polished and mixed by hand.

We learned that all the rocks used in the grotto were collected by the Father from locations all over the world. During the cold winter, he would work at polishing them, sorting them and getting ready for the warmer summer when grotto construction took place. At the same time, he worked with the parish, started a Catholic school and helped build a new church. An amazing man!

One had to look carefully in each nook and room since there were surprises everywhere. For example, in the ceiling of this room, there were many angels looking down. The different colors seen in the room are the result of different minerals and rocks arranged in carefully designed patterns.

There were also several beautiful stained glass windows inset in the rooms. All in all, this was a very worthwhile stop and if you are ever in the northeast Iowa area, it is a must see.