The lighthouse at Holland, Michigan near the shores of Lake Michigan.
The lighthouse at Holland, Michigan near the shores of Lake Michigan.

Eight out of the 50 states share something in common that adds an element of grandeur, intrigue and beauty to their borders. Each have shorelines that encompass one of the Great Lakes. We may just take it for granted that these great bodies of water are near enough for easy travel, but many states do not have this advantage. They may have many, many bodies of water, but none can compare to the Great Lakes that are near our borders.

Of interest this year was the fact that it was almost the middle of June before the Great Lakes were free of ice from our harsh winter. News stories carried pictures of chunks of ice building along shore lines, even threatening structures near the shore. I’m sure everyone breathed a sigh of relief when that ice finally melted away.

So far in our travels we have visited every Great Lake, except Ontario. Each one has such unique characteristics and each has its own beauty. Since they are relatively close, we have visited Lake Erie and Lake Michigan many times and enjoy them every time we see them.

Most of us are most familiar with Lake Erie as it borders on the northern side of our state. It’s the shallowest of the Great Lakes and wind can stir it up quickly. Once on a visit to Maumee State Park on the Lake Erie shore the wind was strong coming off the lake and its color was a muddy brown from stirring the bottom. The waves were pretty awesome. Storms can stir it up pretty quickly since it is only 62 feet deep on average. It’s 241 miles wide, and 57 miles from north to south, with 871 miles of shoreline.

It is the most productive biologically but also one most effected by agriculture and urbanization. It freezes over more quickly and also warms up faster due to it being shallow and the lower volume of water than the other lakes. Lake Erie walleye fishing is considered some of the best in the world. One of the most interesting aspects of Lake Erie is the huge salt mine located 1800 feet below its waters near Cleveland. Last winter kept their crews busy, with three shifts to keep up the demand. Its salt supplies 12 states and portions of Canada.

Lake Michigan is long and forms the borders of Michigan on its east and Wisconsin on its west, with some shoreline in northern Indiana and Illinois. It is the only Great Lake totally within the United States border and is the second largest by volume. It is 118 miles wide and 307 miles long, with 1,600 miles of shoreline. It average 279 feet in depth, but is 925 feet deep at the deepest point. Lake Michigan has borders with two metropolitan areas, Milwaukee and Chicago.

Actually Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are one great lake separated by the Straits of Mackinaw. The “Mighty Mac,” or the Mackinac Bridge, is a five-mile bridge that spans the straits that connect Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. It is an engineering wonder, being the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world and the longest in the western world. It was begun in 1954 and opened in 1957. The roadway is 54 feet in width and stands 200 feet above the water. In a severe wind the deck of the center span can move 35 feet. If you are like me you cringe when you travel over bridges of such great length. Lake Huron is the third largest of the lakes with over 3,800 miles of shoreline. I have never been on the beaches of Lake Huron, but passed it by through bridges to the Upper Peninsula and Canada. It is 206 miles wide and about 183 miles long from north to south. Depth is about 195 feet.

Lake Ontario is much the same size as Lake Erie but is much deeper at about 283 feet on average, making it one of the deeper Great Lakes second only to Lake Superior. It is probably well known because of being at the base of Niagara Falls. The Niagara River drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario being 325 feet lower, forming the falls. Niagara Falls is a name given to both the Horseshoe Falls in Ontario and the American Falls near Buffalo, New York. It was a favorite place for honeymooners and is still a popular tourist attraction.

Lake Superior is the largest of the lakes, the deepest and averaging close to 500 feet and the deepest point at 1,332 feet. It is 350 miles from west to east and 160 miles wide north to south. Its shoreline is 2,800 miles long. Its volume, roughly 3-quadrillion gallons, is so large that it could contain all the other Great Lakes plus. It contains 10 percent of the world’s fresh water not frozen in ice. One of the more interesting things is that hyperthermia can happen year round at Lake Superior as the water temperature averages about 39 degrees, except for areas near the surface.

One thing of note with our Great Lakes is the thousands of ships that have been lost over hundreds of years. One of the latest and most notable was the Edmund Fitzgerald, an American freighter lost in a storm off Whitefish Bay, Michigan in Lake Superior. She was one of the largest ships on the Great Lakes and was traveling from mines near Duluth, Minnesota to iron works in Detroit. They were caught in an early storm on November 9, 1975 with hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 feet high. All 19 crew members were lost . After that loss many regulations and safety practices were put in place. Gordon Lighfoot sang the popular song about the ship in 1976 “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

One can’t forget all the wonderful lighthouses that ring the shores on the Great Lakes, all wonderful places to visit and photograph. We all need to take advantage of these natural wonders so close to our borders.


Jeannine Roediger has lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer’s daughter and now as a farmer’s wife. She writes weekly for the Times Bulletin and enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and writing.