In Search of Tunnels and Continental Grifts. (Day One, Part Three)

After Enger Tower, we started driving southwest to look for the tunnel at Ely Peak (suggested by rediguana). We had a bit of difficulty following the supplied directions — “start from the climbers’ trail off Beck’s Road and head east” — which resulted in a picture of the hilariously unhelpful sign to the right, a meandering (and beautiful) hour-long hike, and this very poor and brief recording of a woodpecker:

I imagine getting lost in the woods isn’t too uncommon a thing to do around here, so I’d like to consider that part of the experience mildly ‘cultural.’

Eventually we found the trail we were looking for at a turnoff near a pylon that looked like it was the remains of a massive, rigid man-eating insect — maybe the kind that would menace small towns in the North Woods. If that was the case, I’m glad his exoskeleton is working for us now. (Note: there are plenty of those bug-emperor type pylons along Beck’s road, so this picture may not be the most helpful clue if you’re looking for the tunnel yourself.)

After a short walk, we came around a bend in the trail and found ourselves in front of either a cave or tunnel — you never know when you’re looking into the dark.

I’d never felt like I was at the entrance to a video game dungeon until that moment:

The reason the tunnel's no longer in use.

We wandered into the tunnel and I was immediately taken. I’m not sure what I found so novel about being there, but it might have been the fact that we were standing in the hole where all that rock that had been cleared out by dynamite and manpower. All that blasting and all those straining joints were in the deep background. If you haven’t been to the Ely’s Peak tunnel and you’re around, it’s definitely worth hunting down — check out a few more of my photos on Flickr.

Now, I’ll close this post with an awesome story I just heard that’s only tangentially related to to this experience, but has to do with railway tunnels in this part of the world.

*                                               *                                               *                                               *

Jack, my friend who was with me in the tunnel, works for Duluth Metals. As you might expect, the senior geologists there are Minnesota mining history buffs. A few days ago, his boss told Jack this wonderful story about the genesis of the Minnesota Geological Survey. I’ve taken a few poetic licenses in my retelling, but its major plot points, as they were told to Jack, remain intact. Also, we couldn’t find a solid reference for this story, so there’s a strong possibility that this is a tall tale, passed down from generation to generation ’round the Minnesotan geology campfire.

*                                               *                                               *                                               *

The Continental Grift

Back in the time of western expansion, in the mid-19th Century, when the North Woods were still part of the American frontier, there was a particularly fearless and crafty swindler in the Minnesota Iron Range. Upon hearing there was a group of Eastern investors coming through town looking for prospects, a bushel of peaches ripe for the picking, he went to a recently blasted train tunnel on his property and picked out a few freshly blasted rock faces. He then loaded a shotgun with gold as the slug — jewelry,
trinkets, and whatever else he could find — and shot at the recently exposed rock. The shards of gold were fired with enough force to become embedded in the side. So if you didn’t know any better, which you certainly should have, it appeared as if the gold was squeezing itself out of the rock — hootin’ and hollerin’ for a fortunate financier to swoop in and gather by the armful.

The Easterners came around and he brought them to his gleaming rock face. When these tragically hasty and gullible marks saw the glinting gold, they had no choice but to snap up this bonanza before anybody else could lay an eye on it. How could they let such an opportunity slip away? The first thing he bought with the bounty of investment loot was a ticket straight out of town, probably with an extra seat for a wheelbarrow full of those bags with money signs on them. Eureka!

Finally, a scene from the story illustrated on Christmas stationary from my hilarious and talented friend Jamie:

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3 Responses to In Search of Tunnels and Continental Grifts. (Day One, Part Three)

  1. I love your retelling of the “The Continental Grift”. It will certainly become one of my next road trip/slash campfire stories. I hope you post more semi-factual or completely fictionalized historical tales. I am a sucker for that kinda stuff.

    Best of luck!

  2. Peter says:

    Back in the 1980s, some friends and I used to climb up the the D.W.&P. tunnel to photograph/film the freight trains rumbling up and down the hill. It was a little nerve-racking walking through the tunnel because you couldn’t see around the bend and didn’t know if a train was coming your way. There wasn’t too much room on the sides of the tunnel if you did meet one.

  3. Pingback: Abandoned Tunnels, Sarah Kruegers, and Stressless Trespassing. | January In Duluth

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