Friday, July 08, 2005

Bear Head Lake State Park, MN Campsite #20

Seeking shelter from the storm...not far from Hibbing, MN. I was headed into a storm and needed a place to hide, when this rest area appeared. It was barricaded with a "closed" sign, but that doesn't deter Tim Traveler!

9:00 p.m.

Just enjoyed a nice shower, washed all my clothes in the sink (violating campground ethics, I’m sure) and have taken a seat at a picnic table to download some notes.

The morning seems long ago. I think I have a new low for campsites: last night’s at the Twin Harbors-Burlington Bay Municipal Campground. Heavy equipment started working on the road just outside the gate - it must have been 6:00 a.m. “Isn’t there a law???” But camping was free, so "kwitcherbellyaken” as the sign in “Betty’s Pies” said this morning. (Which is where I had breakfast.) Anyway all the racket got me out of the campground by 7:30. It was too early for pie, but I had the Belgian Waffle Platter (with sausage and eggs). Pretty good!

Learned that the town of Twin Harbors is having an “All Years Reunion” this weekend. Between 5 and 8,000 graduates from classes dating back to the 30’s are expected. This probably explains the filled motels, cabins and campgrounds. People are SO clean-cut here! I noticed one goatee at “Grandma’s” last night. No other beards. Short hair predominant on men. Lots of “butch” or “crew” cuts. People saying “grace” at table in the restaurant. “Wholesome” is the word that comes to mind. But so do “rigid” and “repressive.” A little different world than The Bay Area.

Found my way from Two Harbors to Hibbing via a maze of back roads, but en route encountered some early-morning thunderstorms, something quite unusual to me. Just as I was about to enter one downpour, a “Wayside” (rest stop) appeared, but it was barricaded. “Closed.” The nice thing about riding bikes is “you’re special.” You can ignore some signs, like this one. Took refuge in a covered picnic area, and waited for the storm to pass. It was rather pleasant finding solitude in a normally-busy place.

In Hibbing, I stopped in at the Visitor’s Center on Howard, downtown’s main street. Two “older” women knew exactly what to furnish when I asked if the town recognizes in any way that this was Bob Dylan’s home. You betcha!

They gave me a map and showed me where his house is, on "Bob Dylan Drive.” There’s a Bob Dylan Collection on display at the library, there’s a restaurant and bar called “Zimmy’s” on Howard that is full of Dylan photos, posters, albums, etc. Hibbing also celebrates Bob Dylan’s birthday each May. Drove by the house, stopping at the busy intersection to snap a photo, then went to see the collection at the library. It was located “downstairs” in two rooms: a conference room, which appeared to be used for many things, and a (locked) auditorium. The collection is very interesting, particularly, I found, the auditorium display, which combines excerpts from his recent Chronicles with photos, posters, letters, lyrics and such.

In Hibbing, MN, the one-time residence of Robert Zimmerman, alias Bob Dylan. He lived here until he went off to college in Minneapolis. The Zimmerman entry door, Bob's bedroom window, and some tiles from their bathroom(!) are part of an exhibit at the Hibbing Public Library.

He speaks affectionately of growing up in the “(Mesabi) Iron Range” of Northern Minnesota and the lessons learned here, the character and self-reliance this environment instills in its people.

Learned of a few other famous Hibbing native sons: Roger Maris, Gary Puckett (of "Gary Puckett and the Union Gap" fame), Vincent Bugliosi (Charles Manson prosecutor), Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics).

It took a few hours to get through the exhibits. Checked e-mail, and news of the London terrorist bombings. I have been out of touch much of the time.

The ladies at the Visitor’s Center said be sure and see the Hull-Rust Mahoning Mine, at one time, the World’s largest open pit mine. Not sure that it still is. But it’s only a mile or so from downtown and the open pit stretches about three and a half miles wide, "a man-made Grand Canyon.”

The Hull-Rust Mahoning Mine at Hibbing, MN is 3.5 miles wide. Claimed to be the World's largest open-pit iron ore mine.

Robert McNair, a docent, is an elderly gentleman with a keen memory. He was born and raised “out there,” he said, pointing to the far west rim. “It was forest then.” Now he lives in Santa Cruz, California, but volunteers as a docent back home here for a few months each year (at least the last four.)

“But never a winter here again…”

For those curious about iron, I took notes as he rattled off the details:

- Hibbing Taconite Co. (Cliffs, Inc.) operates the mine.
- This region is called the Mesabi Iron Range.
- Hematite – under 20% iron
- To prep an area for blasting, they drill 175 to 180 holes (16” diameter by 55’ deep) and then fill each with 242,000# of ammonium nitrate explosive.) They usually blast once a week.
- The mine processes 49,000 tons of iron ore per day.
- The "taconite" process:
- Crush the ore to 10” diameter
- Crush again to ¼” diameter
- Mill to a powder
- Separate out the ore (using electromagnets)
- Thicken (take water out)
- Filter
- Pelletize (adding 18# bentonite per ton to create taconite pellets)
- Heat harden the pellets at 2,450 degrees F
- Load the pellets into rail cars, 104 tons per car
- 150 train cars leave in the a.m., 150 more in the p.m.
- Ship to Gary, Indiana

The Hull-Rust Mahoning Mine, Hibbing, MN. the drill rig is finishing off a series of 50-foot holes that will be filled with ammonium nitrate. The whole grid will then be detonated, breaking up the bedrock, iron ore.

While 76% is highest grade they ever pulled out of the mine, the average content has been 60%.

Since 1895, over 1.2 billion tons of ore have been mined here. This is equivalent to a 24-foot diameter tunnel through the Earth.

1942 was the largest production. At that time, a train car left every 20 seconds. In the early 1980’s they exhausted the supply of high-grade and hematite-rich “natural ores”, leaving lower-grade ores (30-35%). These primary ores have to be concentrated to over 66% in 3/8” pellets. 170-ton truck hauls 105-125 yards.

These trucks, actually 170-ton (or larger) dumps, are dwarfed by the mine, likened to a "man-made Grand Canyon."

Robert said I really should visit the Soudan Mine, north of here, and take the tour. It's one of his favorite experiences.

Just north of the mine, is the "Hill of Three Waters," a "triple divide": a drop of water falling here may flow to the Atlantic, Hudson Bay or the Gulf of Mexico.

Back in town, I couldn't leave without trying “Zimmy’s”. They are attempting to capitalize on the success of “Hard Rock.” Dylan is not involved, which is odd. It feels illegitimate. The restaurant does not have “success” written on it.

Their “Atrium” is one of the more bizarrely-decorated dining rooms, with a strange mix of live and artificial plants, far too many strings of miniature white lamps, darkish fabric draped in billows from above, and an artificial flower and "stick" arrangement across the back bar that looks as if it were tossed there in a heap.

The coconut chicken dish I tried was equally strange.

Back outside, a boy came up to check out the bike and we chatted a while. Mischievous little devil, he wanted to touch everything, and intermittently flung pieces of road patch caulk at vehicles.

Very warm and muggy, hazy skies. A heaviness in the air. Driving north, fought drowsiness. A beer at lunch was not a good idea.

The expression "God Bless America" which I have seen in so many places out here, offends by its small-mindedness. What does this mean? Should God not bless any other nation or people? Should God strike down all whom we declare "enemies"? We are a mindless flock who fail to challenge even the most obvious dogma.

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