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Finding Minnesota: The 'Grand Canyon Of The North'

HIBBING, Minn. (WCCO) – This year, thousands will take a side trip to a giant hole in the ground in northern Minnesota that locals like to call "the Grand Canyon of the North."

It's not a natural wonder. It's a panoramic collection of cliffs, ridges and valleys that have all been carved up by humans.

The Hull Rust Mahoning Mine on the edge of Hibbing is the second largest open pit iron ore mine in the world.

Beauty was not the main objective when miners first arrived there in the 1890s, but after 120 years of blasting, digging and hauling, beauty is what many visitors see.

Anne Varda, whose family includes three generations of miners, is now president of the adjacent tourist center.

"I love this view," she said. "This is reassuring to me. This is life going on. And the view is nothing short of spectacular."

(credit: CBS)

For eight miles in one direction, three-and-a half miles in the other, you see what miners have left behind in their search for taconite.

It's a natural resource in such abundance that mining companies went to extremes to get it.

From 1919-21, Hibbing became known as the town that moved, as hundreds of buildings were either demolished or relocated so crews could open up the land beneath them.

Bob Robinson, 83, saw his family's home get hauled away decades later as the mine expanded.

"Everything had to be moved," he said. "The plant came, and we lived right here, and they were going to mine right where we were."

The Hull Rust mine still operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Rosie Stanek, a volunteer at the tourist center, said visitors come from several different countries and most American states each summer.

"When people come up, they're actually seeing people working in the mine," she said. "It's a visibly working mine yet."

Mine trucks
(credit: CBS)

Some retired mining machinery at the center is free to explore at the tourist center, but Varda said most visitors just come to stand and stare at the colorful layers of earth that have been opened up.

"The red rock, the grey taconite -- they blend together," she said. "The sky, if it's blue, it's a certain color. If it's grey and cloudy like today, it reflects a certain color."

Someday, green will be the dominant color again, when the mining companies move out and nature reclaims what's left.

The growth of that mine also led to the invention of the bus, as a way of getting groups of workers to the mine from nearby towns.

The Greyhound Bus Museum is just down the street from the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine.

Send us your Finding Minnesota ideas here.


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