The first iron of the Mesabi Range was discovered here in 1890, and two years later the Mountain Iron Mine shipped the first load of ore to Duluth . This town of just under 3,000 residents—and shrinking—has since proudly proclaimed itself the “Birth Place of the Mesabi Iron Range.”
Mountain Iron is still home to North America’s most productive active taconite mining operation, the Minntac Mine, which turns out 18 million tons of ore annually. You can get up close and personal with the whole process, every detail of which is overwhelmingly massive, on a free tour led by former Minntac employees.
The 90-minute tours begin at an overlook of the East Pit (if you’re lucky you’ll get to see a blast) and follow the same route as the rocks until the finished pellets are loaded onto the trains. Along the way you will visit the half-mile-long concentrator building where the iron is separated from the rock.
Tours (218/749-7300, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Fri. summer) depart from the Mountain Iron Senior Center on Main Street and no children under 13 years of age are allowed. You can get a quick look at the Minntac Mine, and several smaller abandoned ones, from the Wacootah Overlook just east of downtown across from the mine entrance.
In town, directly across from the Senior Center, is a 10-foot-tall statue of Leonidas Merritt, the man who found the “Mountain of Iron,” as he called it. You can also admire some taxidermied albino animals nearby at Mac’s Bar.
One block north is an overlook of the Mountain Iron Mine, a National Historic Landmark, which crept right up to the edge of downtown before exhausting itself. A 1910 Baldwin steam locomotive and some old mining equipment are parked here.