MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Iron Range

Rolling through the Iron Range

In northern Minnesota, Mesabi Trail draws bicyclists with scenery and machinery.

The Iron Range never has been for anyone who didn’t want to sweat.

Ever since iron ore was discovered on the shores of Lake Vermilion, this strip of Minnesota has drawn people who wanted to work.

One of the world’s richest deposits of iron ore lay under the forest, and waves of Finns, Slovenes, Italians, Swedes, Croatians, Poles, Germans and Serbs came to shovel it out.

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On the Iron Trail

In northern Minnesota, a rich deposit of ore brought the world running.

They would have preferred gold. But the iron made them rich, too.

In 1865, reports of gold brought a rush of prospectors to the shores of Lake Vermilion. What they found, instead, was red earth.

Those who didn't go home disappointed stayed to develop one of the world's richest deposits of iron ore into an industry that would give rise to dozens of towns, help the nation win two world wars and create a distinctive piece of Minnesota's cultural fabric.

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Lumberjacks and legends

Grand Rapids may not be the Emerald City, but its trees are green, and its lakes glitter.

In northern Minnesota, the logging town of Grand Rapids has produced many legends: prize lumberjacks, such as Gunnysack Pete and Tamarack Joe, but also an adorable little girl who became famous for her ruby slippers.

Loggers came first, and that era is re-created on the edge of town, on the wooded grounds of Forest History Center. On a summer day there, it may feel 80 degrees and sunny, but really it's a freezing day in December 1900.

Miss Minnie the "cookee,'' or cook's assistant, is showing us around the logging camp under the baleful glare of her boss, Miss Rebecca. We walk by a giant rut cutter, used to make grooves in the ice roads for the logging sleighs.

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Finding Embarrass

Minnesota's cold spot is the stronghold of the Finns.

It took plenty of sisu to settle Embarrass.

It's the consistently coldest spot in the Lower 48; arctic blasts blow up against the Laurentian Divide and pool over the township, which set a record of 64 below in 1996.

The soil is poor, allowing farmers to do little more than grow potatoes and raise a few cows.

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Downhill on the Iron Range

In northern Minnesota, Giants Ridge resort offers first-class skiing.

During three days at Giants Ridge one January, I kept wondering: Where are all the people?

The sun was shining, the snow was ideal, and most schoolchildren still were on winter break. The handsome Lodge at Giants Ridge was giving discounts on its already low midweek rates, and kids could ski free.

All that, and no lift lines.

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A Giant advantage

For novice nordic skiers, this Iron Range resort rolls out the red carpet.

For cross-country skiers, Giants Ridge has it all: Plentiful snow. Scenery. Sixty kilometers of groomed trails.

Best of all, it has chairlifts.

Alpine skiers aren’t the only ones who think downhills are more fun than uphills. Nordic skiers also like to put gravity on their side, especially those who are trying to learn how to skate.

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