GUEST POST: The raw, cold appeal of the Iron Range

From time to time I share guest posts from readers and those with an Iron Range interest. This one comes from Nicole Anderson who wrote this reflection after spending a year on the Range recently.

The Iron Range at first comes off as depressing with its empty store fronts and ghost town feel, but that is just so outsiders stay out and keep on driving up 53. It is place that is more than guns, fire and drinking–although there is a fair amount of that too. To me it was a mysterious place. Piles of overburden were the closest thing I ever got to mountains when I was a kid. Hull Rust was my Grand Canyon. Mining pits were lakes that were no different than Como or Calhoun.

The air is different up there—a dry, crispness that in the winter seems to steal your breath. The cold is almost a comfort. The winter is still, as if frozen in time. There is an attitude, a state of mind on the Range that can’t be found anywhere else. The place is on a different wave length, one that is tied to the booms and busts of the steel industry. Rangers know where they came from and they will continue to do what has always been done. Sometimes things seem to take longer, backwards at times. Sometimes it is, they know it, and they don’t care what an outsider has to say about it.

The mentality is work hard, play hard— maybe not entirely different than the average blue-collar town, but the Range is a subculture—a distaste of metropolitan opulence and a place where politics has its own flavor rooted in its immigrant past. Rangers grow up to be taught to distrust outsiders, especially those whose area codes are 612—for good reason. Rangers aren’t quaint, and don’t ask if they feel gosh darn lucky to be living in the woods and able to go fishing and camping “whenever.”

It is a hard place to grow up and a hard place to stay, voluntarily or involuntarily, with the lure of Duluth and St. Paul. It is harsh, cold—more than in a temperature sense, but that too. No one owes you anything, and your trust must be earned. But their kindness transcended the cold and their hospitality will be something I will never forget. They not only knew you by name, but you knew you could count on any number of them to help you when you needed it.

I went to the Range on instinct. I went with no concrete way to explain why I wanted to go. I went to the Range with no expectations and I left all judgments behind. I went to the Range to prove to my uncles that I wasn’t just some city kid. And even though I may have stuck out and in their eyes and never be one of them, I felt more at home there than anywhere else. I may never be a born and raised Iron Ranger, but for a year I understood, I felt like I belonged, and sometimes I’d give anything to go back.

Nicole served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA at the Hibbing Community College Service-Learning Office from 2007-2008. Currently she works for the Girl Scouts in the Twin Cities, but will never forget the people and lessons learned that year on the Range. Hopefully someday a simple twist of fate brings her back.


  1. I hear you…. My friends ask to come up all the time from Cities. They say they come up to fish, hunt, golf but I know they come up to lose themselves in a different world. They get a charge out of my life long friends up here that rip them steady about being City Slickers. They can’t get over how a group of miners can beat them in golf and how hard those same miners will compete for $10. They leave with smiles on their faces and making plans to come up and get abused again as soon as they can get away.

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