‘Cool view’ at the Iron Range’s new Highway 53 bridge

The view from the new Highway 53 bridge near Virginia, Minnesota, on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017. Notice the steam rise off the water and slow-moving waves as the pit approaches its freezing point. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

Though it’s been in use for a couple months now, I made my first trip to the other side of the Mesabi Iron Range to see the new Highway 53 bridge last week.

An online contest gave this 1,000-foot-tall span the moniker “Taconite Sky Bridge.” (The legislature must act to make that official). What the bridge actually does is connect Virginia to Highway 53 south to Eveleth, creating a new route for one of Northern Minnesota’s most important highways. The old route stands ready to be mined for iron ore. A provision in the state’s 1960s-era leases required that the road be moved at state expense if there was any future interest in the ore.

A friend of mine up from the Twin Cities for the day wanted to see the new bridge. Anthony is an old college pal, the first guy I met in the dorms at the University of Wisconsin at Superior. I was in his wedding. Anthony and his wife are very tall and have very tall friends, so in their wedding pictures I look like a small child despite being a man of average height.

There was a moment early on where I realized that a guy I hadn’t seen in several years had called up out of the blue to secure a meeting with me at the midpoint of the state’s tallest bridge, still under construction. This would be exactly how the Russians, the mafia, or the Russian mafia would dispose of a guy. Fortunately, Anthony picked up my lunch that day instead of murdering me. Sometimes it works out for the best.

But the day was not without its challenges. It’s not readily apparent how to get on the Mesabi Trail pedestrian pathway from the highway. We had luck going downtown to the far eastern end of Chestnut Street where the town overlooks the Rochleau Mine Pit. There you can drive a block north along the pit, park the car, and walk onto the bridge on the Mesabi Trail.

Winter came early this year. It was well below freezing the day we walked onto the bridge and the wind blew hard. If you’re planning a winter visit do make plans for scarves, gloves and something to cover your ears. The new bridge was “cool … and cold.

But the view is spectacular. It will be” fun to watch the seasons change from this vantage point.

People are still learning how to drive across the bridge. (In other words, how to not freak out about crossing it). A quick scan of my fellow drivers revealed many wild-eyed elderly drivers who, by appearances, would rather have been at the dentist.

In other words, a normal day on the highways of the Iron Range.

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