Last week Tom, Val, Johnny, and I went on a three day adventure across the northern part of Minnesota. Our first destination was the Grand Canyon of Minnesota.
The Grand Canyon of Minnesota is an unusual Grand Canyon: the Hull Rust-Mahoning Iron Mine. Some grand canyons are grand CANYONS. Some grand canyons look like the Grand Canyon. The Hull Rust-Mahoning Iron Mine looks the most like the Grand Canyon of any place in Minnesota. It is listed on the US Register of Historic Places and is a US National Historic Landmark.
The mine is located in Hibbing, Minnesota and is one of the largest open pit iron mines in the world. At the peak of production, from 1915 through 1945, the Hull Rust-Mahoning Iron Mine produced one fourth of the iron ore mined in the United States. The Mesabi iron ore is close to the surface, but the continued expansion of the mine meant that the town of Hibbing had to be moved two miles south in 1919. The company paid all the costs to have the buildings moved: 185 houses and 20 businesses.
The mine is still operated today by the Cliffs Company and produces 8.2 million tons of taconite pellets annually. A small museum and observation area is operated by volunteers from the local Senior Center. It is free to get in but they welcome donations and have books and other items for sale.
The Hull Rust-Mahoning Iron Mine is currently 3.5 miles wide by 1.5 miles long and 500 feet deep. It is an impressive operation. We stood at the observation post and watched the huge shovels dump 65 tons of dirt per scoop into big production trucks (240 tons of dirt each) that carried the dirt to a waste dump site. The dump site had grown into a small mountain by itself and was only one of many within view. We watched a video in the museum that explained how the low-grade iron ore is mined and made into pellets that provide the iron needs of factories all over the world. It was impressive to watch.
One Hibbing resident told me that he had recently visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona and he wasn’t impressed. After all, he had a grand canyon in his back yard. I admit that the Hull Rust-Mahoning Iron Mine looks a lot like the Grand Canyon but one is a work of humans and one is a work of God. Still, the Hull Rust-Mahoning Iron Mine is worth a visit if you are in northern Minnesota. Just drive to Hibbing and follow the signs – the big hole in the ground is hard to miss.
The Hull Rust-Mahoning Iron Mine is called the Grand Canyon of Minnesota (mostly by the iron mine people, I think). But if you prefer your canyons a little more natural, I suggest you visit the Temperance River Gorge in addition to the mine.