Michigan, it's right in our own backyard. We grew up on the Great Lakes in Ontario, Canada, but rarely ever made it over to our neighbouring State. We'd pass through it driving to Florida, but we never stopped. After travelling the world for the past five years, we decided it was time to see what the State of Michigan had to offer. Our first stop was Alpena, located on Lake Huron. Visiting this town is actually a great way to spend the weekend and it starts at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
We were certified as divers on the Canadian side of Lake Huron way back in 2003. We dove a lot in Georgian Bay exploring the incredible ship wrecks of the area. Diving the Great Lakes was an amazing experience. The lakes were a giant shipping lanes in the 1800's and 1900's, but the waters were dangerous. A storm can spring up at any time and many ships paid the price. Shipwrecks clutter the bottom of the Great Lakes and because the water is fresh and cold, they remain in perfect condition. Now that the invasive zebra mussels removed all of the particles from the water, the lakes are also crystal clear. The mussels are causing a lot of problems to the ecosystem, but they sure make great conditions for divers in the Great Lakes. If you want to see shipwrecks, Lake Huron is the place to do it. Now I know what your thinking, “But Deb and Dave, I'm not a scuba diver!”
If you are not a scuba diver, there is a way to see the ships for yourself in Alpena, Michigan and your tour starts at Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. It's quite a fascinating place to visit. Our tour started with a power point slide show and talk. I normally have no interest in sitting in a theatre and listening to people speak, but our guides were fun, entertaining and informative. As marine archaeologists, they know what they're talking about. So much that they've been featured on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic on several occasions.
The waters off the coast of Alpena are some of the worst on the Great Lakes. Many ships went down in these waters and with 116 Shipwreck in the area, it was declared a National Marine Sanctuary in 2000. It's such an amazing underwater treasure that it's attracted the likes of Jean-Michel Cousteau and the discoverer of the Titanic, Robert Ballard. A lot of work goes into identifying and finding these ships and the sanctuary is making sure that they all stay in tact for our future enjoyment.
After our talk, we went in to the museum to explore the full scale replica Great Lakes Schooner in the centre of the exhibit. It's so lifelike that they even simulate a storm on the sea. We are told that one person has thrown up on this exhibit, so they did their job well. It's pretty fun walking through the ship and feeling what it might be like to be in the middle of a storm. Those men were brave (or crazy!)
Moving on, we crawled through a maze of tubes hanging over a ship wreck, this is the museum's way of giving regular folks the chance to see what it's like to actually dive over a shipwreck…note, this isn't at all what it's like to dive over a shipwreck but it's fun crawling through the tubes. It feels like you're in Happy Land at McDonalds.
The most exciting exhibit in the museum is definitely the science on a sphere. I could watch this thing all day. Computers generate global weather patterns, ocean currents, and even simulate natural disasters like the 1994 Tsunami and Japan Earthquake.
The Ship Wrecks in Lake Huron
We could have spent a lot more time in the museum, but we had a boat to catch. A glass bottom boat to be exact. Captain Dan greeted us and we took our seats in the lower deck. At first we were upset that the entire top deck was full but in the end it all worked out. If you are planning on going on a glass bottom boat tour, I recommend being on the bottom. Once you pass over the ships, you are at the best place to see it. We had prime seats around the railing to view the wrecks below.
Jeff was our spotter and he spent his time on the walkie talkie telling the captain where to maneuver over the wrecks. Each sunken ship has a story and divers, scientists and explorers have spent decades documenting and matching the pieces of wood below to ships from the past.
There's Shamrock that was a sailing ship turned into a steamer before it finally sank. There's the William P Rend that sank in 1902. It was salvaged and put back into commission in 1904, but it finally laid to rest at the bottom of Thunder Bay in 1917. Yes, all these ships have a story and it was fun to explore from the comfort of the boat. If you don't scuba dive and if you are not keen on snorkelling in 60 degree water, a glass bottom boat tour is the next best thing.
The Great Lakes National Marine Centre is Open year round with free admission, it's the perfect stop for marine lovers.
Alpena Shipwreck Tours offer tours from May through October and the cost of the trip is $30
Our trip to Michigan is brought to you by Pure Michigan.