If you work crossword puzzles you may have been challenged to identify “HOMES.” HOMES is a mnemonic device that teachers use to help students recall the names of the Great Lakes – Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. HOMES also means a huge wave of ways to enjoy the fresh water Great Lakes during a Pure Michigan vacation, and learn about the history of these mighty waters.
Michigan’s very name is rooted in the Ojibwa (Chippewa) Indian word for “large lake,” and its handprint on the earth, the mitten-like Lower Peninsula and jagged-edged Upper Peninsula, is shaped by four of the five Great Lakes: Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior. Sailors called them the “Sweetwater Seas.” Carved by glaciers more than 12,000 years ago, the planet’s largest bodies of fresh water are visible from the moon and instantly recognizable on any globe or atlas.
The Great Lakes are so large they can significantly affect Michigan’s weather, and are credited with creating favorable environments for growing a wealth of agricultural products. The state is a leader in several crops including blueberries, cherries, asparagus, and grapes for juice and wine; orchards and vineyards are especially successful along the Lake Michigan coast.
Their waters lap against 3,200 miles of Michigan coastline onto sandy beaches and rocky shores, dotted with more than 100 public beaches, and two National Lakeshores that recognize the stunning multi-colored sandstone cliffs of Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula, and the highest freshwater sand dunes in the world at Sleeping Bear on Lake Michigan in the “Little Finger” of the Lower Peninsula’s “mitten.”
Nearly 120 lighthouses stand watch over the temperamental inland seas that are alternately an aquamarine picture of calm and a raucous series of surf-worthy whitecaps. The Great Lakes are bountiful waters for sport fishermen, a recreational sailor’s dream, a sea kayaker’s challenge, and the final resting place of nearly 5,000 shipwrecks that scuba divers explore at a dozen underwater preserves. Lake Huron is home to the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary near Alpena, the only such site in the Great Lakes, in the northeast corner near the “Tip of the Mitt.” Thunder Bay has nearly 200 historic shipwrecks in and around the bay, which makes for a popular snorkeling and dive site. There is also a 20,000-square foot exhibit area that includes a life-sized recreation of a Great Lake schooner and a shipwreck site. Admission is free and open year round.
Spectacular dunes dot the Lake Michigan shore along the west coast of the Lower Peninsula, from Sleeping Bear south to the Nordhouse Dunes at Ludington, and Warren Dunes State Park not far from the Indiana state line. Grand Sable Dunes rim Lake Superior near Grand Marais. The Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon features exhibits and nature programs that explore and explain the importance of the natural resource that inspired poet Carl Sandburg to declare, "The Dunes are to the Midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and the Yosemite is to California. They constitute a signature of time and eternity.”
You can navigate the Great Lakes on your own personal boat, canoe or kayak, or take a dinner or stargazer cruise on Appledore Tall Ships that sail from Bay City on Lake Huron’s Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay. The Tall Ship Celebration returns to Bay City in summer 2013. On Lake Michigan book your passage on the Tall Ship Manitou in Traverse City, or the Friends Good Will in South Haven. The replica of the Great Lakes tall ship that played a major role in the War of 1812 is at home at the Michigan Maritime Museum, open year round, where you can learn more about the role of the Great Lakes in America’s history.
Considered the largest Great Lakes maritime museum, the Museum Ship Valley Camp in Sault Ste. Marie is a 1917 steam-powered historic freighter with more than 100 exhibits in her 20,000-square foot cargo area. The museum includes lifeboats from the legendary Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in 1975, and other shipwreck artifacts, models, plus four, 1,200-gallon aquariums stocked with species of fish from the Great Lakes.
Don’t miss the collection of historic maritime structures at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point on Lake Superior. The main museum’s collection includes the bell recovered from the lost freighter Edmund Fitzgerald. You can also tour the lightkeepers quarters and Coast Guard buildings.
Climb aboard the US Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw to tour the “Queen of the Great Lakes.” The Mackinaw Maritime Museum in Mackinaw City is open for public tours from May 20 to October 9, 2011. This mighty vessel was built as part of the World War II effort to transport iron ore, limestone and coal for the nation's steel mills during winter months.
Learn more about Lake Superior while visiting the Marquette Maritime Museum that is included on the National Historic Places register. The museum is filled with exhibits that include antique and restored boats, a Fresnel lighthouse lens collection, US Coast Guard vessels, shipwreck charts and more. The museum is open from mid May through mid October.
Explore the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum in Rogers City to learn about the men and women who participated in commerce on the Great Lakes. There is plenty of gear and tools on display plus ship miniatures, photographs and drawings. The museum includes a Great Lakes Maritime Hall of Fame that honors individuals who played significant roles on keeping the Great Lakes safe and secure. The museum is open May through December, and Mondays only during winter months.
Detroit’s Belle Isle is home of the Dossin Great Lakes Museum that celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2011. The museum is dedicated to southeastern Michigan’s maritime history. See models of sailing ships, commercial vessels, the pilothouse of the S.S. William Clay Ford freighter, the Miss Pepsi championship hydroplane and largest known collection of scale mode ships in the world. Dossin is open on Saturdays and Sundays only from 11am to 4pm. Admission is free.