Monday, November 30, 2015

31 July 2015 After the Mine

We had two plans for the day. The first was the visit to Soudan Mine. After the mine, Ali planned for the oldest active cache in Minnesota (November 2000) and any other interesting caches we spotted on the way. The oldest cache was a walk in the woods behind someone's hunting camp. We enjoyed the view along the walk and were happy to one again spot orchids in Minnesota.

Purple fringed Orchid

I'm used to seeing tree stands and elaborate tree houses for hunting. This simple elevated platform near the cache site was a different view of deer hunting.

Our turn-around point for the day was a bog beyond Minnesota's oldest. We both enjoy bog visits. The different ecosystems always present an opportunity for new or unusual plants. This one didn't give any great surprises, but offered nice diversity on our walk.

We made a stop in the hunting area by Gheen Tower. I was hoping as we approached to see the tower open for climbing, but it was fenced and not accessible. We did enjoy spotting orchid leaves near the cache in the area.

We made a last stop in Tower mostly to visit the rolling stock at the train museum. The museum was closed, but the grounds off nice views of some old rolling stock including a nicely kept wood side caboose.

Engine 1218 is in better shape than most publicly displayed steam engines. A few of the gages are broken, but most of the fittings seem to be in place. This 2-8-0 celebrated its 100th birthday in 2010. Photos are a challenge with the cover.

Inside the cab

Sunday, November 29, 2015

31 July 2015 Half-Mile Down

Besides visiting as many Minnesota State Parks as possible on our journey, we had plans to take the Soudan Mine Tour. The iron ore mine was open from 1882 through 1962. For over 50 years, it has been operated by the state as a park offering daily tours of the mine. The video below shows the ride to the 27th level of the mine with a dozen people packed in a mine car. I think the operating mine carried eighteen minors at a time. It's not for those with claustrophobia.

Once you reach the 27th level, it's time for a ride 3/4 mile into the level to the last operating area of the mine.

I've worn a hard hat or two in my day.

The lighting is strong when you enter the tram cars.

The bright lights of the loading area quickly fade.

As you travel 3/4 mile into Level 27 where the last mining was done.

The tour before us heads back into darkness.

Our tour guide had been doing this for years. He was the right mix of entertaining knowledge. He clearly loved being in the mine.

Before the mine was electrified, a typical crew working in an area shared three candles for light.

It's impossible to imagine working in a world a half-mile below the surface, a few candles or generator power away from total darkness, and floor holes to fall in.

Like the sub-surface, the surface operations are in a 50-year time warp. The old mine-related support equipment still functions and serves to take visitors on mine tours and take scientists to a sub-surface lab. The equipment needs to function perfectly to keep the mine safe. The remaining extraction equipment remains as it was for an amazing historical look at past technology. The engineering geek and safety professional side of me was just as entertained by the look to the past at the surface level.

One of the many shaft towers supporting elevator traffic in the mine.

Drill bits dulled very quickly when making blasting holes in the bedrock. This ancient machine shop was the key to keeping the mine functioning.

The control room managing the shafts and elevators is the same as it was in 1962. Keeping this system functioning as components become obsolete must take an engineering feat. The fact it is still functioning today is a tribute to the team that designed the equipment over 50 years ago.

This is a simple way to tell the floor levels of the elevator cars for the east and west shafts.

We took a walk of the mine grounds to see some of the outside mine remnants while finding a couple geocaches. ;)

Track remnants from a narrow gage rail line that was used to carry ore.

The earliest mining at the site was open faced. The ore vein moved subsurface and descended at an angle. The lower levels developed once the surface ore was extracted.

1920's gravity-fed, glass-bowl gas pump

Tower supporting the second mine shaft operation

There's some great examples of the banded iron visible at surface level. The second image below shows core samples taken at some point in the past.

This was our second mine tour. I can't name a favorite between Soudan and Queen Mine in Bisbee. Soudan was interesting for a trip a half mile below the earth's surface, but the Bisbee mine tour was unique because it was led by a former miner who could speak first-hand to the mining conditions. The youngest a miner could be from the Soudan Mine would be 71. Since the mine had been losing employment to automation for years, it's likely there are few of the old miners still living.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

30 July 2015 The Journey to Ely

Our last major stopping point was going to be in Ely near the Boundary Waters. We planned to cache our way there with the first stop at the very scenic Temperance River State Park.

Most parks we visit these days are over-the-top with limited access to increase safety. At Temperance, it was easy to view the gorge-cutting power of the water.

We stopped for a rare earthcache find at this peaceful harbor before turning away from Lake Superior. Scenes like this make me wish a bit for having sailed.

This week included many, many raspberries enjoyed along the trail along with some beautiful wildflowers.

As were approaching Ely, we stopped for a series of caches which really annoyed me. The Duluth Complex is a large stand of non-ferrous metals which are under very heavy pressure for approved open pit mining. The activity would forever scar this region. As a geocacher, I like the guideline which prohibits caches with agendas. I couldn't believe the caches in this series got a pass from the reviewer. To me, besides supporting the mining agenda, they are clearly commercial based in that they are pro mining.

Waters near the proposed mining lands.

Once in town we stopped for a few easier finds including one with this pileated woodpecker nearby.

The trip had been opposite extremes of the food spectrum so far. We found a nice Italian Restaurant in Superior which served tasty flat bread pizzas. We went to the other end of the spectrum with the worst meal I have ever had at a pub like restaurant in Grand Marais. We followed that with nice dinner options at the restaurant at Cascade Lodge. This evening we stopped at Insula in Ely. The restaurant had just opened in June and was listed as a fusion restaurant. We were really happy with the choice. The staff was friendly. The food was very good. We were also treated to a visit in the restaurant by a bat while dining. The staff seemed unbothered by the presence of the bat. They nabbed it with a net and quickly released it outdoors. Apparently bats in restaurants in Ely are not unusual.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

29 July 2015 Visiting Minnesota's High Point

Our first stop of the day was the very attractive Cascade Falls State Park. I want to spend more time here and visit closer to the water, but there were other places to be.

We're geeks. We liked the structures of the rocks here.

By the time we arrived at Whale Lake on our journey to Eagle Mountain (Minnesota's High Point) the blue sky of the day had been replaced by heavy clouds. We were hoping to complete our journey without rain.

Eagle Mountain is only 2,300 feet as Minnesota's high point, but the views are very nice and the climb to the summit is spirited.

After admiring the long views, we made our way to the high point bench mark and plaque.

Yes, that is rain in the distance.

Luck was with us as we completed our journey back from Eagle Mountain with very little rain.

Our next stop was at a place called The Grade at a small pond within the area. I really liked the location. It was a place where your feet were going to get wet. Apparently the area is popular with moose, but we weren't lucky with a spotting this afternoon.

The cache we found here was among the most damaged we have ever found. It was hidden below a tree. The area around the tree had some sort of slide. The cache was crushed below the tree and a lot of mud. This is what we found.

After much work and reshaping, we were able to leave this. Our cache bags contributed plastic bags and new swag. Hopefully, it will allow other cachers to enjoy this area.