Ely apparently attracts a lot of Birkenstock-wearing nature lovers, and we’d found it comparatively civilized. Vegetarian food had been easy to find, espresso was everywhere, and the local store had even stocked Red Bull. This changed rapidly as we headed west southwest towards the Iron Range and the Minnesotan accents became thicker.
We stopped off at the Soudan mine. Once an active location for deep mining of high grade iron ore, it’s now a museum and scientific laboratory. The museum part consists of a tour of the mine.
I’ve been down a deep mine before—a coal mine in England. (We used to have them before Thatcher.) Soudan was different, though. Because of the stability of the rock, they had simply hollowed out vast caverns which needed no support structure whatsoever. It was almost like being in a big adventure game.
Naturally, the tour included that compulsory part of every mine tour—turning off all the lights and allowing people to experience total darkness, probably for the first time in their lives. We also got to ride a converted ore wagon.
Being so deep underground, the mine stays a consistent (cold) temperature, and is very moist—so it attracts bats. So I also had a couple of close bat experiences. I flinched the first time I saw something flying towards me, but once I worked out it was just a bat, I was fine. As we emerged blinking into the sunlight, we saw where they nest just inside the lip of the pit.
Our next major stop was at Itasca State Park. Lake Itasca (pronounced eye-tass-cuh) is the origin of the Mississippi river. Legend has it that if you cross the river there, you get good luck. It’s harder than it looks; there’s a path of partially-submerged rocks, but the water flows quite quickly, and the rocks are often slippery with algae.
The trees were very tall; it reminded me almost of the Pacific Northwest, although it was sunnier and less damp…
We stayed in Bemidji (rhymes with “squidgy”), home of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. Unfortunately, the good luck we’d had on the rest of the journey meant that there was a lot of accumulated bad luck that needed to be discharged. The process started with heavy rain in Bemidji. I’d been hoping to pet a raccoon at the Paul Bunyan animal world (no, really), but we decided to head back to Minneapolis instead and relax a bit before having dinner with Sara’s family.
The bad luck continued with the flight home, which was delayed two hours. And finally, the taxi back home from the airport broke down in the middle of the highway. Electrical systems died, and the engine wouldn’t start. Another passing taxi stopped, and we moved our stuff to that one for the rest of the journey. I took pity on the driver of the first taxi, and paid him what I remembered the meter having read the last time I’d looked at it. He seemed to be having a hard time believing I wanted to give him money, but I felt he had enough problems to be dealing with without getting stiffed on the fare too.