Sunday, July 20, 2008

Photo Essay: The Range

As an editor, a reader and a human being, I hate the "word" "staycation." I also hate all the "reporting" that's been going on with the "staycation" "phenomenon," including the reasons for them (gas prices, poor economy), what they actually entail (camping within 50 miles of home, discovering town you live in) and how most of the reports end with a surly teenager talking about not being able to wait to get back to "civilization" and "TV."

Back in the day, before Matt and I were even dating, we would take these long drives he called capades. We drove to Red Wing. We drove to Pipestone. We drove to Stillwater. We'd drive somewhere, soak in the local, and then come home. It's what we did. Before we were dating, and then when I came back from Russia, too (in fact, we went on a capade in Russia). I hate that "staycation" is this new thing with its own dumb word when a perfectly good one, "capade," is available -- much like Matt, who grew up in flannel and jeans, hated the idea of grunge fashion when it came along.

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I can tell you about the day trip we took yesterday up to the Iron Range. Matt wanted to show us all the places he goes to on the rails, and there were a few tourist outlets we'd always said we should go to but never have, and that was a good enough reason to hop in the car and head -- north? west? I'm never sure on the Range. I don't know if it's the vast amount of iron ore in the ground that throws off my (usually quite good) internal compass, or the fact that it's always cloudy or hazy when we drive on the Range, or the fact that there are at least two roads to get from every town to every other town, but I am always lost on the Range. It should be easy:
...but it never is.

With Matt's job, finding time where we're all off is a little difficult He doesn't have weekends or, really, vacation days. He has 8 hours off after an 8- to 11:59-hour shift, and he has 10 hours off after a 12-hour shift. Sometimes these stretches combine with train times to make the breaks a little longer, but he's basically on call 24/7. Yesterday was a day he had off due to a complicated rule I'm not going to get into here, but the point is he was off, he knew he wouldn't get called for at least 24 hours when he came home Friday evening, and we were going to take a trip.

We got up early and were on the road by about 7. The kids were in a great mood to travel and we told them to watch for wildlife, which always gets them kind of quiet yet interested in what's going on. I usually allow them to bring all the books they want on a drive, but for this trip I each let them bring one. "Can you believe that?" Matt said as we were driving. "Telling a kid to shut a book because he might miss something?" Often, though, Matt and I will say, "Wow! Look at that!" and at least one kid will miss it because of reading.

It's a good thing we did, because this first thing we saw was this:
She watched us for a long time, then ran along the road for awhile before crashing off into the woods.

As we drove on, Matt said we should watch for foxes at the crossroads bar he sometimes drives past. "Every morning I come by and there's a big one sitting in the road," he said. "I don't always drive this way, but when I do, I see him."

As we approached the bar, we saw the owner come out with a big pan in his hand. We raised our hands at each other, then Matt slowed to turn the corner, and:

There were three in the road and at least one in the ditch. I heard the bar owner scolding them to get out of the road and figured he must feed them, which made seeing them not quite as cool. But I got a good photo.

Up on the Range, we swung by one of the yards Matt works in and looked at some taconite cars he had set aside the day before because of bad brakes. We got quick and dirty lesson in how to couple cars, how to throw a switch and how to identify where the taconite comes from by looking at how it's loaded into a car. Take that, foamers! In the meantime, I tried to get a photo of an osprey landing on its nest, but this is the best I could do. At least the ore cars are visible.

The next place we went was the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. I totally beat Matt at bubble hockey until he tied the score before the time ran out. I also found out that I have a 35 mph shot.

After that the only thing to do is visit the world's largest hockey stick. Like any hockey goon, Maia hugged the largest puck when she saw it.

Then it was time for lunch. There was some difficulty finding a place to eat that wasn't a bar or a chain. Not being locals, we weren't sure which bars were actually pubs and so we fled to Chisholm hoping to find a mealhouse there. While driving around Chisholm, I saw my favorite sign of the day.

We found food, we ate, and we moved on to the Minnesota Museum of Mining which was interesting and fun for the kids. The outdoor display is a bunch of old mining equipment and trains that you can climb around on. And not in a "do not go past this point" way, but an "at your own risk" way.
This photo doesn't do it justice, but this was one of my favorite items.

The kids had a good time playing on the equipment. Here they are driving the steam shovel pictured above.

After some coffee and Dairy Queen, we were ready to head home. Maia conked out, John read his one book and I slowly regained my sense of direction as we drove back. After a lazy mac'n'cheese supper and the series finale of "Avatar: The Last Airbender," we were all beat about 9 p.m. As Matt stretched and starting making "I'm going to get ready for bed" noises, his phone rang. It was the call for the 2330 Thunderbird. If he left right then, he'd just make it. He hung up and started getting his lunchbox ready; his break was over, and after that long travel day he worked at 13-hour shift that started at 11:30 p.m.

As far as the rest of the summer goes, we're taking a five-digit vacation to Mt. New Septic Mound. Yes, it's a dream trip to a useless pile of gravel that will freeze in the winter and replaces a fully functioning drain field just to fulfill the county's whim. As an added bonus, we're also going to take side trips to Digging Through Asphalt Driveway and observe the culture of Workers Coming By At Odd Hours, Which Is Fine But Sometimes Awkward.


  1. now THAT was a fun day. i love how maia looks exactly like you.

  2. That last part sounds like our summer. Tomorrow the "workermen" (gender neutral term for anyone with a hammer), will be here at 7:30am. Ugh.
    BTW - we also get time at a lake cabin owned by the parents in Minong, WI. You and yours would always be welcome.

  3. Before kids, my husband and I would go for a lot of drives, too. I don't know if we'll ever being going back to that lifestyle. It used to be a big deal if gas hit $2 a gallon.
    Andrew was talking about "staycations" today. You're not the only one cringing at the "word."

  4. Wow. Two really amazing things about the post (besides Matt's stamina).

    1. John is practically grown up!!

    2. Maia looks exactly like you. Crazy exactly. She's a lucky girl. :)

  5. Avatar finale ROCKED!!!
    And of course, the rest of it sounded fabu, too. :)

  6. Sigh. The hockey stick resides in my home town. I drive up there at least twice a month, and I have never seen a group of foxes, even ones who were fed. I have seen moose, but that was twelve years ago.

    We've never really taken anything other than a staycation, at least not since kids. (Just now we can't even afford I guess we're taking a nocation, right here in the house. At least we don't have to do the septic thing. We do have to paint the house, but somehow we keep putting it off....

  7. Krups,
    You're right, the 's' word is awful, as well as a bit elitist - as a one-income-with-three-children family, we've been vacationing close to home for years. Of course, when you live in Northern Minnesota, you live where people come for a vacation. We just spent a week camping in Itasca State Park - 45 miles from home - and it was a beautiful week, and just an hour from home.

    Your trip to the Range brings back memories of our 6 years there. It's a different world. Last summer, we went back to the Third of July parade in Gilbert, and I got to shake Al Franken's hand! Pretty cool.