We detoured on our way to Voyageurs National Park to see the Soudan Underground Mine. The campground at the adjacent Vermillion Lake State Park wasn’t open yet so we camped at the nearby Bear Head Lake State Park. We learned that it isn’t always a great idea to go without hookups – the sites are not necessarily designed to get a 25′ trailer backed in. No damage but it was a tight squeeze.
This is a very deep iron mine that was considered the Cadillac of mines when it was operating. The area was mined as early as 1884 in an open pit. The operation was totally underground by 1892. It closed in 1962 and was donated to the state by US Steel.
I will admit that the ride down the shaft was a little freaky. You are going down at a slight angle for a half-mile, traveling at around 10 mph (which seemed very fast in a rickety car.) They are still using the original machinery to winch you up and down.
Once at the bottom, we rode close to a mile to get to the last area that was actively mined. We’ve toured a lot of mines but I think this was the first one where they break the iron loose from overhead (called the back) and then push it though a hole in the floor before shoveling it up and hauling it back to the same shaft we used.
The ore gets hauled to the Crusher House and then dumped into rail cars that takes it to the loading docks (like the ones we have seen in Duluth and Two Harbors) on Lake Superior and into a freight hauler like the William A. Irvin.
There had been a physics lab operated by the University of Minnesota constructed at the bottom of the mine for research but it is no longer in use. There aren’t any stairs in an iron mine but we did find these in the Crusher House.
Next stop: Voyageurs National Park