This time of year brings out the crafter in me. Maybe it’s from years of making homemade Christmas gifts and holiday decorations as a kid that puts me in the mood to create. Whatever it is, I’m not a year-long project person. I’m not even a weeklong project person. One day. A weekend tops. I’d rather be outside. Which is why I dig these two, kid-friendly, super quick-and-easy craft projects, and one multi-step project that fits nicely with my twin loves of cooking and eating. Take a look!
This next one also involves an epic search for just the right piece (actually, we had a truck box full). Fun to find as part of a hike or just an afternoon outdoors. We cleaned our lake driftwood with a brush and dried in a closet with a dehumidifier. There are other prep methods, too, that are more time-consuming, but we aren’t making these to sell, just to enjoy for as long as we like looking at them.
I love the look of driftwood, but I’ve seen nice birch pieces, too. Avoid pine! Too much sap.
If the driftwood needs stabilizing, sand the uneven part, or add furniture pads underneath. You can trim to fit or use the super small felt pad.
So this last is one not complicated, but it does have many short steps along the way. We saved all the throw-away northern for a couple months, filleting and freezing them along the way (I must confess, I didn’t do much of the work in this step). Then it was just a matter of unthawing and getting to it.
Cut 60-70 bit sized pieces and soak for 48 hours in one cup of non-iodized salt.
You can download the recipe here, but in the final phase, you discard the straight-up vinegar, and boil together 1-1/2 cup sugar, 3 cups white vinegar, 4 bay leaves, 1 tsp whole allspice, 3 tsp mustard seed, 1-1/2 tsp whole black pepper, a couple peppers or 6-7 whole chili peppers, then cool to room temp (apparently, this is crucial. warm brine will overcook the fish and make it mushy). Add 2 cups white port wine, 2 large onions, sliced, and fish.
Put in canning jars, close tightly, and let stand in fridge for 8-10 days before eating with crackers. Yumaroo!
Thank you Aaron “Wally” Lingwall for this great recipe.
The leaves may be falling and winter fast approaching, but this in-between time of post-autumn-pre-winter is a great time to be in the woods. Need some reasons to bundle up and get out there? Here’s the top three, with some suggested trails to check out on the Mesabi:
1. You can see clearly now. Hunters know that falling leaves means improved visibility in the woods. But you don’t have to be carrying a firearm to get out an enjoy the trails, and any birds you might see along the way! Watch for grouse, whose beating wings and low-flying ways make them easy to distinguish. They’re covey-ing up for winter, feeding on the late season greens, like clover, as much as possible. If you’re walking with a dog, you’re almost certain to kick up a few of these. Other birds to look for: downy and pileated woodpeckers, chickadees, owls of all sorts, and flickers. Fewer leaves also mean more visible shorelines, so watch for otters, muskrat and waterfowl!
2. No bugs. Walk freely through the trails without fear of mosquitoes! It’s awesome. As always, check for ticks when you’re done.
3. A new perspective. Fallen trees, rocks, game trails and land formations are much more visible this time of year. The dying undergrowth and falling tree canopy make exploring off trail easier. You never know what you might find! Don’t stray far from the trail, however. Bring a colorful bandanna and tie it to a tree along the trail; then make sure to keep it in sight while you explore.
Another hiking tip this time of year: wear orange garments. Find an orange hat, scarf or bandanna – for you and your pets. Use red if you can’t find orange. With bird hunters on some trails this time of year, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Most US Forest Service trail systems, such as Big Aspen north of Virginia, and the trails of the Laurentian Divide allow hunting. Others, like Carey Lake in Hibbing and the ski mountain trails at Giants Ridge, are off limits to hunters. Bird season is open well into winter; Minnesota deer archery season is mid-September to December 31; deer firearms season in our neck of the woods is November 5-20.
View and download hiking trail maps here. Find info about Minnesota’s hunting regulations here.
Finally, bring plenty of water, a camera, and binoculars if you have them. Enjoy your time on our trails! Visit ironrange.org for lodging and dining info, plus other attractions and events.
When my husband, Jeff, retired from the Army at age 54, I knew the road ahead would be challenging. What I didn’t know was that literal roads would end up making our relationship stronger than ever.
When Jeff left his Army career, he was determined to keep busy in the garage and workshop of our Minneapolis, Minnesota home. Working on classic cars, building furniture, tinkering. This didn’t last.
He took up fishing. He gave up fishing.
He golfed, but that only works six months of the year.
Meanwhile, I was still working full time as a nurse, and he was driving me crazy.
Then one evening he came home from the Maple Grove VFW and said he had bought a bike.
I thought, “That’s odd, but good for him. It will be good exercise.”
I protested “Whoa, whoa. It’s fine if you want to bike around the state, but I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my weekends to pedal across Minnesota!”
Turned out my loving husband had just purchased a Harley Davidson Road King.
Our lives were about to change.
Becoming a Biker Mama
Jeff immediately started motorcycle safety classes. He bought leathers. He bought bike accessories. He spent a small fortune, but he was smiling and excited for the first time in a long time.
He started taking small road trips, and even though I worried about him on the busy freeways, I knew he was happy with his new hobby.
Then he invited me to go along.
And while I can’t say I loved it, I didn’t hate it. I was neutral, until he came up with a plan to ride for the weekend.
Magical Mesabi Makes Me Love Motorcycling
When my husband came to me with his idea to visit the Mesabi Iron Range for a long weekend on the motorcycle, I was skeptical. But when I found out how much planning he had done, requesting maps from the Iron Range Tourism Bureau and checking out lodging specials in that beautiful area of northern Minnesota, I was hooked on the idea.
It didn’t hurt that the weather was turning cooler, and I knew we’d be in for some spectacular fall colors along the way.
The Road Trip: Day 1
We left on a Friday morning and took our time getting there, taking I-35 to Hwy 53 on the Mesabi Iron Range. It was only a 3.5-hour ride, and with a couple stops along the way, I was comfortable as could be.
A big Bob Dylan fan, Jeff wanted to make Hibbing our first stop. Dylan grew up there, and Jeff wanted to drive by the musician’s childhood home, Our second stop was Hibbing High School, where Bob Dylan was kicked off the stage by the principal during a talent contest. Our tour guide did an amazing job leading us through the school, an incredible building that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and boasts crystal chandeliers, imported marble floors, and valuable murals throughout. Fans of architecture (and Bob Dylan!) will love this stop.
I must admit, this wouldn’t have been my top pick of places to visit, at least not until I had been there. The amazing landscape was impressive on many levels, and the friendly volunteers at the visitor center were full of information and stories.
By now, we’d eaten up most of the afternoon, and it was time to grab a bite. We stopped at Valentini’s Supper Club, an Italian place just five miles from Hibbing, where the rigatoni with meatballs was delish! From there, we headed to the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Mountain Iron, where we could park our motorcycle under a covered awning, and they even provided a kickstand puck for free!
The Road King (and Queen): Day 2
The next day we hit the road early (I’ll tell you, a good long soak in the hotel hot tub the night before felt great!), and followed the recommendation of the Mesabi Ride Guide for a 155-mile loop around the region. From Virginia we headed west on Hwy 135, passing through the small towns of Gilbert, Biwabik, Aurora and Hoyt Lakes, before joining Forest Highway 11/the Superior National Forest Scenic Byway. Not far outside of Hoyt Lakes, we stopped at Skibo Vista, a former fire tower lookout with an amazing view of the forest and fall colors galore.
From there, we continued on the byway until it met Highway 2, which leads deep into the Superior National Forest (no place to stop and get gas here!), reaching the curvy and fun-to-ride Hwy 1 outside of Ely well before noon. We made sure to visit the International Wolf Center, a fantastic museum where we saw exhibits and live wolves, before breaking for lunch at a restaurant on Ely’s busy main street.
We followed Hwy 169 east out of Ely, and stopped at Soudan Underground Mine State Park for a 90-minute tour ¼-mile underground. Jeff was fascinated by this tour, led by a wonderful guide who seemed to know everything there is to know about the state’s last underground mine, now open weekends after Labor Day into October.
Just outside of Soudan, we hopped on Hwy 135 in Tower, taking this gently winding, pine tree-lined route back Aurora and Eveleth, which we heard was the birthplace of Minnesota hockey. As a Minnesota Wild fan, Jeff wanted to see the US Hockey Hall of Fame Museum, open Friday-Sunday after Labor Day. Even though I don’t follow hockey, this museum, a mecca of all things hockey, impressed me!
Jeff back to the hotel to freshen up, and we headed back to Eveleth for dinner and drinks at BoomTown Woodfire Grill. I recommend the prime rib!
The Adventure Continues: Day 3
On Sunday, we took the Ride Guide’s “Mines and Pines” tour up Hwy 5 through McCarthy Beach State Park and the Sturgeon River State Forest. Lunch was in Virginia at a great restaurant and market run by a local farming family called Kunnari’s Kitchen (order the soup!). From there we followed the Superior National Forest Scenic Byway again, this time all the way to Lake Superior.
The awesome view of the lake was thrilling. We stopped at Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors for a tour, and then found our way back to Biwabik and Giants Ridge Recreation Area where we stayed onsite at the resort Villas where we could relax in a condo-style lodging with a kitchen, fireplace and hot tub. The lakeside view was wonderful, and the Caribbean-style restaurant, The Whistling Bird in nearby Gilbert, was amazing!
A glass of wine in the hot tub on the deck of our Villa, under the stars, was a romantic way to end the day. The hour or so we took the following morning to walk the paved Mesabi Trail across the Embarrass River was a great way to counteract all that “seat time” from the past two days!
We departed early in the afternoon, one of us extremely proud of himself and his new found trip-planning abilities, and the other one a converted fan of motorcycle travel!
Ready for some adventure? Get more information on magical Mesabi motorcycle rides, or call 800-777-8497.
This September, consider some ways you can celebrate the spirit of the Mesabi Iron Range. We all love our summertime fun, but fall brings some pretty amazing opportunities to explore, connect, and remember what makes Mesabi magic.
12. Rent a kayak or canoe at Vermilion Trail Campground in Biwabik, or bring your own, and put in on Embarrass Lake, or nearby Wynne and Sabin lakes at Giants Ridge. There is no destination: just paddle around and watch the waterfowl, the changing colors of the leaves, and the sun on the water.
11. Have a traditional Christmas treat early this year. Pick up a locally made potica (shame on you if you’ve never had one!), and enjoy!
10. Hockey fans, and non-hockey fans: get to the US Hockey Hall of Fame Museum now. You won’t be disappointed by this shrine to the sport. Open Friday-Sunday after Labor Day.
9. Do some stargazing. Seriously. Our skies are amazing. Look up!
8. The Wirtanen Farm Fall Festival is September 10. Carriage rides, music, artisans, crafters and food at an historic, lovingly restored farm. Can’t get enough of the pioneer spirit? Visit the Nelimark Homestead Museum in Embarrass, open Thursday-Saturday til September 24.
7. Load up your machine and head to the Iron Range OHV Park in Gilbert. 36 miles of trails, plus areas where you can play like you’ve never played before (legally). Hill climb for Jeepers and more. Open daily thru October.
6. Camp with the kids at an abandoned mine “location”! It’s all part of Night at the Museum at Minnesota Discovery Center Sept 23. Super cool. Super fun. Awesome awesome awesome.
5. Have you tried the best local, homemade ethnic sausage ever? Stop by Koshar’s Sausage Kitchen in Gilbert and pick some up!
4. See some mining at Hull Rust Mine View in Hibbing. Hibbing Taconite’s operations are *right* next to the viewing area. Say hey to the super volunteers and climb on the equipment daily through September.
3. Hike the mountain at Giants Ridge. Download a map and get over there! Great views of fall color in the Superior National Forest.
2. Take a fall trolley ride. Again with the fall colors: beautiful, amazing, not-to-be-missed-again-this-year-because-you’re-“too busy.” You’re not! Get to Minnesota Discovery Center Thursdays or Saturdays by October 1.
- For the best fall color on the entire Iron Range, go to Skibo Vista just outside of Hoyt Lakes. From here, you’ll see 30 miles of the Superior National Forest, faraway towns, minelands and more. It’s very cool, trust us. Makes a great stop when you’re getting in the last motorcycle rides of the year, or taking a jaunt to the North Shore.
Get more info on things to do on the Iron Range by calling 800-777-8497 or visiting ironrange.org
In a couple days, hundreds of Harleys will hit the streets of Iron Range communities as the Harley Owners Group Rally kicks off in Eveleth. Welcome, HOG riders!
A they cruise around using ride maps created by the local HOG members and Iron Range Tourism, they’ll be stopping to enjoy views like Hull Rust Mine, and Glen View from the trolley at Minnesota Discovery Center.
Yep, rain or shine, our bikers will be riding along Highways 169, 53, 37, and a bunch of county roads as they explore the region.
Maybe some could even enjoy our local events, like the 100th Anniversary of the White bus that led the way for Greyhound – see the bus, some trains, and bunch of other stuff, plus sample some homemade pie – at the Minnesota Museum of Mining Saturday, June 25.
It’s shaping up to be a great week, weather-wise. Here’s to our new friends on the Range, and safe riding for everyone!
Get maps and info to plan your Ride the Range vacation today. Questions? Call Beth 218-749-8161.
Explore the Iron Range, Minnesota for an unforgettable getaway
By Elizabeth Welden,nature-loving blogger
History in the Making
Call me a nerd, but when I travel I like to learn along the way. Great scenery, food and recreation are important, of course, but I’m fascinated by the stories of a place.
Who are the people that live here? What is the history of this land? Why is this area special? I especially like to learn about a destination’s role in American history.
I was intrigued by northern Minnesota’s woods and water, but learning that this region has been mining iron ore for more than 100 years gave me pause. How does mining fit in with deep forests and even deeper lakes? I was about to find out on two wheels.
The Range on Two Wheels
I’m a cyclist—not hard core, just a regular active gal who likes to do some biking—and I wanted to incorporate some paved trail riding into my trip. A few clicks on my keyboard led me to the Mesabi Trail. It’s 75 miles of paved trail that wind right through the heart of Minnesota mining country known as the Mesabi Iron Range.
I quickly found that bikes can be rented in the small town of Biwabik, home to an acclaimed golf and ski resort, Giants Ridge. A shuttle service based at the resort would drop me off/pick me up wherever and whenever I want. The service’s kind owner Chris Johnson even recommended itineraries complete with places to eat and stay. With this kind of help, this trip was going to be a walk—or a ride—in the park!
Mesabi is Magic
As I explored the Mesabi Trail website (a three-day Wheel Pass is only $5), I learned where this rather odd word, “Mesabi” comes from. It has to do with a Native American legend about a giant, named Mesabi, who ruled the northern lands, gathering and hiding its treasures, and not allowing any human to enter. At the end of his days, he laid upon the earth, covering his collection of valuables, and became part of the land. Since then, the people of the region have enjoyed Mesabi’s wealth: lakes, forests, wildlife and even the iron ore that has been mined in this area for more than 100 years. With that magical story on my mind, I planned my route.
I began my journey with a relaxing stay at a B&B on the west end of the Mesabi, in the region’s largest small town, Hibbing. Pam, the owner of the Mitchell-Tappan House, a cheerful five-bedroom historic home, served coffee, fruit and raspberry-caramel muffins from the iconic Sunrise Bakery just down the street, and got me in the mood to move.
I pedaled two miles to the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine View, a sweeping overlook of the canyon-like mine where two-story trucks tool around like giant Tonka toys. The mines of this area provided the raw material for the steel used to win both the world wars, and build 80% of the bridges and buildings in this country during the first half of the 1900s. Whoa.
After more than 100 years in operation, this mine presents an incredible sight—one that had me worried the landscape is more industrial than serene. I shouldn’t have been concerned. After a stroll through the nearby Greyhound Bus Origin Museum, housing a virtual treasure trove of artifacts chronicling the life of the world’s best-known bus company, I hit the trail and was quickly surrounded by trees as I wound my way eastward.
Into and Out of the Woods
Aspen, birch and a variety of evergreen trees line the seven miles of Mesabi Trail between Hibbing and my next destination, Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm.
I spotted whitetail deer bounding into the woods near a creek crossing. Shortly after, I was compelled to pull over and enjoy the view of a secluded lake. Pam informed me before I left that this is actually a “mine lake,” former minelands now filled with glacial springwater and surrounded by trees.
Continuing on my ride, I soon arrived at Minnesota Discovery Center, “The Museum of the Iron Range.” I explored exhibits dedicated to Native American heritage, as well as to the immigrant story of those who came to the region in the early 1900s. I was delighted to take a ride on a vintage electric trolley to a former mining community and explore the historic buildings and mining equipment there.
Around lunchtime, I rode into Chisholm with a growling tummy. Good thing Valentini’s Supper Club was waiting with homemade pasta and sugo. Along with a refreshing iced tea, it was just what I needed.
The next leg of my trip was about 20 miles, and took me through the small towns of Buhl and Kinney, right to the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Mountain Iron, where my car was waiting. Chris (of the shuttle service) would pick up the rental bike and I’d take some time to relax.
Queen City of the North
I headed into the nearby city of Virginia and stopped at the Heritage Museum, where the admission was free, but I felt the exhibits were worth a donation on my part.
Artifacts and images combined to illuminate the town’s storied past, particularly in logging, while a new exhibit highlighted “The Women of the Iron Range.” The knowledgeable docent and I spent a pleasant hour chatting and indulging in our shared love of history. Just a few blocks away, I peeked into Irma’s Finland House, a Scandinavian gift store inspired by the region’s Finnish heritage. From there, it was a short drive to Natural Harvest Food Co-op on the edge of the small Silver Lake, where I made a note to stop back for picnic items tomorrow.
On the recommendations of everyone from the shuttle service provider to the hotel front desk, I stopped into Canelake’s Candies, an old-fashioned candy store on Virginia’s main street, where I sampled “hot air,” a dark chocolate-covered confection that’s crispy, light and sweet on the inside. I followed that up with coffee at the friendly and funky Shop Coffee House. Next, I was off to the US Hockey Hall of Fame Museum.
Eveleth, Minnesota, embraces hockey and the sport’s rich tradition in this region with the Hockey Hall of Fame Museum. You can explore professional exhibits, listen to game recordings, track the speed of your slapshot, and view the names of inductees. On Eveleth’s main drag, I snapped a selfie by the nation’s largest hockey stick.
After I’d had my fill of hockey, I hopped over to the unassuming Wandering Pines restaurant, where I was told I could find a local specialty, porketta sandwich, made of pork shredded from a highly seasoned roast. Think fennel and oregano with plenty of other spices thrown in. The sandwich, served with sweet potato fries and coleslaw, was delicious.
More to Explore
My Mesabi vacation was far from over. Day two started with a fresh pastry and coffee from Kunnari’s Kitchen and Farm Market in Virginia, then on to Giants Ridge, a golf and ski resort with kayak rentals and multiple scenic lakes. I would pack a picnic lunch and climb the hiking trails on the back side of the ski mountain to a scenic peak, and finish my day with a massage at the Laurentian Spa onsite, before heading to Green Gate Guest Houses for my overnight in the luxury “barn home,” one of three gorgeous buildings lovingly refurbished by owner Shawn Callahan. A glass of wine by the outdoor fire pit was a treat before I dropped off to sleep in a cozy room under the stars of Magical Mesabi.
With easy access to the north shore of Lake Superior via the Superior National Forest Scenic Byway, or Duluth via Hwy 53, and just three hours north of Minneapolis, the Mesabi Iron Range offered a great combination of history, mystery and classic outdoor recreation. With no shortage of trails, great places to eat, and interesting places to stay, “Mesabi Magic” will be with me for a while!
To plan your own trip, visit ironrange.org or call 800-777-8497 for great ideas on where to stay and what to do!
Venture north to Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range and you’ll find 75 miles of paved cycling trails, 60 miles of hiking trails, many small, friendly lakes, and one-of-a-kind attractions that explore the region’s history and mystery. The must-see list is long, but wherever the trails take you – into the woods, onto the course, or into the water – you’ll need to refuel! Try these regional specialties that hearken back to the early 1900s when many nationalities came to the region to work in the burgeoning iron ore mines. One serving of these comfort foods will make you feel strong like a miner, and give you a taste of some Mesabi magic.
They are (in no particular order):
1. Porketta – If you eat meat, you’ll be ordering these delicious roasts online for the rest of your life, or making a special trip north to buy them in our grocery stores. A rolled Italian pork roast covered with fennel, oregano, garlic and other spices, this slow-cooked nom-nom perfect for hard roll sammies. The drippings are great for dipping or gravy-making, but the porketta’s most common iteration is shredded on a bun and served at just about any family gathering, any time of year. Try a porketta sandwich at The Wandering Pines restaurant in Gilbert, or buy one from Sunrise Deli or Fraboni’s in Hibbing, or just about any grocery on the Range. The also-popular “turketta” (take a guess) can also be found in stores.
2. Sarma – These delightful little Serbian “pigs in a blanket” can be made a variety of ways, but I’ll describe the way I know. The filling is a large handful of seasoned ground pork and beef (ground ham or even veal is not-entirely-uncommon), mixed with rice. Wrapped in a leaf of sour head cabbage (basically, cabbage that’s been frozen, at least that’s the technique I learned), they’re cooked in a casserole dish or even stacked in a roasting pan and covered with sauerkraut and lightly seasoned tomato juice/sauce. Some make this without tomato – maybe purists or something – but I like the saucier version. So yummy. Serve with crusty bread. Buy these from the Hibbing Tourist Center Seniors (218-262-4166) or Sunrise Deli, also in Hibbing (218-263-5713).
3. Potica – Pronounced Po-teet-suh. Also pronounced delicious by, like, everyone. This pastry hails from eastern Europe – Slovenians, Slovakians, Croatians et al serve some equally yummy version of this. My favorite has paper thin bread layers, a process that involves stretching the sweet dough to the size of a large dining room table. Others like a thicker dough layer. Either way, the filling of finely chopped walnuts (or pecans, sometimes with apples or even raisins) mixed with a sweetener – sugar or honey – and cinnamon, among other things, is spread onto the dough and rolled, cut and baked into a cherished holiday treat the size of a loaf of bread. Some like it served warm with butter, but honestly, the nut filling is rich enough that potica is fab cold, too. Purchase at Italian Bakery in Virginia, Andres European Pastry in Chisholm, and Sunrise Bakery in Hibbing.
4. Pasty. Pronounced past-ee, this meat pie carries its heat and shape, and thus made it a lunchtime staple among the working men of the mines back in the day. Many still adore this dish today, and pasties are monthly money-making, mass-production projects for a solid number of church groups across the Range. Basically, root veg like potatoes, carrots and rutabaga (this last ingredient is controversial. I’m going to go pro-“root-a-baggy”), and onions, and seasoned with S&P and mixed with ground beef and/or pork. The crust MUST BE made using lard. Roll the dough, put the filling in, and fold the dough, crimping the edge. Bake and voila: your pasty. Serve with butter, gravy, ketchup or all three. These hearty little guys are a meal of their own. Can be purchased frozen at Sunrise Bakery in Hibbing. Groups get a kick out of the “pasty in a pail” miners’ lunch experience at Minnesota Discovery Center.
There you have it, four of our favorites. Find them during your next visit to the Mesabi. Questions? firstname.lastname@example.org 218-749-8161.
Longer days are here, and spring is right around the corner on the Mesabi Iron Range. If you’ve been hibernating, it’s time to get out and move!
It’s not too late to take a guided snowshoe hike at Minnesota Discovery Center. Stop by Thursdays (free admission, you only pay for snowshoe rental), Tuesdays, or Saturdays.
There are plenty of hiking trails to explore on your own, plus a variety of fat bike routes you’ll dig – find a few of each at Giants Ridge, or look for wooded trails in Hibbing, Hoyt Lakes, and in virtually every community the Mesabi Trail passes through.
If the wilderness ain’t your thing, these March events will help you get through the transition from winter to summer in the company of others:
Artisan Market: Crafts to Crops at Minnesota Discovery Center Saturday, March 12.
Green Envy at the Olcott Greenhouse in Virginia, 3-7 p.m. March 19. Celebrate the spring equinox surrounded by food, wine and exotic plants.
Giants Ridge Spring Carnival and Slush Cup, March 19. Dress for the beach and get ready to party. Food, drink, music and fun.
Mighty Mutts Beer and Wing Tasting, March 30, 5-7:30 @ Hibbing Armory. Sample them all and vote for your favorite. Proceeds benefit area animal shelters.
Iron Range Home, Sport & Travel Show at Miners Memorial Building, Virginia March 31-April 3. Free admission!
Got an event or activity to share? Email email@example.com!