On a warm afternoon, Dick and I like to drive through the backroads that wind through the Cuyuna Range Mine Pits near Crosby, Minnesota located twelve miles northeast of Whiteley Creek Homestead Bed and Breakfast. After church, on this early spring Sunday afternoon bright with sunshine, we did just that.
The dirt roads, which were spread with iron ore when they were originally constructed as an access to the mines, are no longer colored as dark a red as in years past. However, their hue is still unique enough to imagine the former activity that took place on these roads for 80 years. More than 106 million tons of ore were mined and shipped from the Cuyuna Range between its discovery in 1904, and 1984, when mining ceased. Dick's father was employed there for many years and his Grandma Olive Dullum ran a boarding house for the miners in her home in the nearby town of Woodrow.
The open-pit iron ore mining in this area, and the little towns that once thrived from serving the miners needs, has long ago become a meer skeleton of former booming activity. Remnants of building foundations can still be found in the dense undisturbed overgrowth. Tremendous beauty, however, abounds in these former pits that are now lakes stocked with trout to fish, canoe, kayak, and scuba dive.
The Cuyuna Lakes Trail for hiking, rollerblading, and biking weaves in between the mine pit lakes. The trail, which was built in 2005, is lesser known than the Paul Bunyan Trail in Brainerd but is as, if not more, beautiful. Cycle Path & Paddle in Crosby, a source for "silent sport" adventures, offers canoe, kayak, in-line skate, and bike rental. They offer drop-off service to a mine lake where you can paddle from that lake into four additional mine lakes. The area, owned and managed by the DNR, is very much a wilderness without human inhabitation... a hidden gem.