Day 02: Three Large, One Deep

This morning we were up and out by 8:30am and found ourselves at the bakery in town run by, and I kid you not, The Tarts.  How could you miss?  The pastries were delicious and it was a satisfying breakfast.  However, we couldn’t spend all morning tasting Danish, we had somewhere else to be in Hayward.

And that somewhere was the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

Where's Jim?

Where’s Jim?

It wasn’t so much I wanted to go into the Hall of Fame ($8/person; truth be told, it seemed overpriced) to see people holding up trophies of poor, innocent fish that had been yanked out of their natural habitat and were gasping for air, but instead, this was home to arguably the most important World’s Largest:  the World’s Largest Fiberglass Sculpture.  And it happened to be a muskie (or do you say musky?  Or muskellunge?).  This fish is over 4 stories tall and as long as a Boeing 757.  It was quite a sight.

We arrived promptly as they opened at 9:30am and were the first (and only) ones there.  I spent a great deal of time photographing the Muskie from all angles outside while Jim went into the museum to look at the displays.  Eventually I joined him and was met with thousands of outboard motors, lures, reels, rods, mounts, portraits, boats, two yetis, and anything fishing related you can think of.  Jim commented on how it smelled a bit musky inside.

Big Manitou Falls

Big Manitou Falls

After committing a solid 20 minutes to the grounds we’d had our fill and were back on the road.  Our next stop was to Pattison State Park near Superior, WI.  Pattison is home to the 4th largest waterfall east of the Rockies, Big Manitou Falls.  It’s as tall as Niagara Falls, only much skinnier.  We hiked the entire 0.1 miles from the parking lot out to the falls (it felt like 0.2, though), admired the rushing water and forested environs and were back in the car headed into Minnesota.  The rain had been intermittent up until this point and we were just hoping it would hold off until, say, mid-October.

Shortly after we drove through Duluth, MN, the topography once again became forested and sparsely populated.  The rain was really starting to pick up and stayed with us the rest of the day, making our next couple of stops quick, but enchanting nonetheless.

Where's Jim

Where’s Jim?

The first of these was in Eveleth, MN, and one I’d managed to keep as a complete surprise to Jim.  And boy was he surprised when he feasted his eyes on the World’s Largest Freestanding Hockey Stick.  And Puck.  You may wonder why it’s not the largest hockey stick in general, but apparently there is a hockey stick statue affixed onto the side of a building in British Columbia that is technically larger, but this one was Freestanding.  And it stood freely, all 110 feet and 3 tons of it, with its 700 pound puck by its side, ready for action.  We stood freely next to it, too, for as long as it took to get a photo in driving rain and then dive back into the car.

During the course of finding the Freestanding Hockey Stick we saw a sign advertising a viewpoint of the Leonidas Overlook, which turned out to be a viewpoint overlooking the Eveleth area and a taconite mine.  Taco what?  I’m not sure, really, but think it has more to do with iron ore than Tuesday’s dinner menu.

World's Largest Bathing Beauty

World’s Largest Bathing Beauty

The next big stop was just down the road in Virginia, MN, home of the World’s Largest Floating Loon.  At 20 feet long he’s a beaut, proudly bobbing around in the lake.  I’ve never seen a loon in the wild and am hoping that changes in the next couple weeks.  After all, we are going to the land-of-loons and loonies.

Our last detour of the day was to the town of Soudan to take a tour of Soudan Underground Mine State Park ($12/each; book in advance).  Yes, while it is the Deepest Place You Can Go in America that wasn’t the only allure.  Ok, yes it was.  But mining is interesting business, and we learned a few things along the way.

Happily not mining underground

Happily not mining underground

Once we’d donned hardhats, the tour started by tightly squeezing 12-15 people into an elevator that took us ½ mile down into Earth.  The elevator traveled at a rate of 10.5 mph but it felt a lot faster than that since we could see the walls as we descended.  It took 2 minutes and was exhilarating.  Once underground, we boarded an electric train to travel another ¾ mile deep into the mine to view a large, hollowed out space that used to be filled with iron ore but has since been mined out – largely by hand – starting in the 1800s.  Since each cubic foot of iron ore weighs well over 300 pounds, you can imagine what back-breaking work this was.  On top of all that, way back when they didn’t have electricity/lights in the mine.  In fact, the ¾ mile we rode on the train to get to the worksite used to be traversed by the miners each day on foot and they didn’t waste candles to do it, they simply walked in the pitch black.  Our tour guide kind of airily said yeah, since they did the route everyday they knew where to step.  Well, let me tell you, at home I’ve taken the 20 foot route between our bed and bathroom dozens of hundreds of times but that doesn’t mean I don’t walk into things every time I make the trip at night.

Soudan Mine topside

Soudan Mine topside

Nowadays the mine is only open to tourists, teams of physicists who work deep down studying dark matter, and Minnesota’s largest known bat colony, which is 10-15,000 members strong.  Sadly, we didn’t see any bats or physicists.

As it had been a long day filled with all sorts of eye candy and brain food, we were looking forward to unwinding at our night’s accommodations, the Motel Ely in Ely, MN.  The room was small but cozy and exactly what you’d expect from a roadside motel advertising Color TV and Room Phones.  Once we’d unloaded our gear we went for a delicious meal at the Boathouse Brewpub before turning in for the night.  The rain never did let up, but tomorrow was a new day… with a 90% chance of rain in the forecast.  So, there’s still a 10% chance it will be sunny and beautiful?

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