We had an extra day in Duluth since the new shocks for the trailer had to be overnighted. What to do with an unexpected 24 hours? How about visit an old iron ore mine 2500+ ft underground? Soudan Mine was a great destination to eat some time in the most enjoyable educational way.
Soudan Mine is located about an hour and a half from Duluth on the western edge of the Vermillion range. It became known as the “Cadillac of Iron Ore Mines“. With its first shipment of ore in 1884, it kicked off the beginning of the state’s mining industry.
The iron ore is unusually hard and high-quality. The work conditions also evolved into some of the best in the industry. Miners were able to excavate with minimal bracing and little fear of mine collapse and fresh air naturally circulates through the mine, refreshing every 20 minutes or so. According to the first hand accounts, in it’s heyday it was a great place to earn an honest living.
The mine was turned into a state park when the lands were donated (as I understand it, to get out of paying taxes on a mine that was no longer profitable). But it’s not just a look/see park. It’s an experience/feel park and that makes all the difference.
The adventure started with an elevator ride that hasn’t changed since the miners used it. We first watched giant machines lower the human compartment using a series of wheels and pulleys to lower a cable that was as thick as my thigh. When it was our turn to get in, it was equal parts fun, claustrophobic and terrifyingly fast. It felt like we were heading into the center of the earth at warp speed. In reality, we were doing about 11 mph and traveled a grand total of 0.5 miles. But straight down is still straight down.
Once inside the mine, we got into a cart and rode the rails another mile-ish to see the cavern that was being worked when the mine closed. We learned about the oxygen content of iron ore and why that used to be important but isn’t any longer. We learned about logistics and transportation. That led to a discussion about the Great Lakes and ancient geology.
I believe in immersion learning. This was that, in spades. It was an ‘all senses on deck’ kinda learning. The kids LOVED it, Scott loved it, I loved it.
The CERN Connection
In a surprise twist that is impossible to plan, the national labs were also using the mine to conduct experiments on neutrinos until recently.
Who would have guessed I could tie our trip to CERN in Switzerland into a trip to an iron mine in northern Minnesota. NO ONE saw that coming!
The exceptionally tiny particles, neutrinos, were created in Illinois and the detectors were placed in the mine to block noisy cosmic rays. We just learned all about the subatomic particles in Switzerland. I just don’t believe in coincidence alone.