You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
The road to Duluth and, then . . . Duluth
We're here to see America, after all, after so long away, and Duluth seems like a worthy destination for that. It's in Minnesota, we're told, and it's late June 2022. Proceed ad libitum.
The three-hour trajet is an easy one: Rte 51 north to the end of it, than Rte 2 west to Duluth. Here we are passing through Mercer, Wisconsin.
We're on a brief mission here, or one of our party is. Mercer, an Iron County (WI) town of pop. ca. 1750, is billed as the 'Loon Capital of the World', apparently justifiably, and has about 105 lakes within the town limits; tourism is obviously a major deal here.
Also, Al Capone's older brother, Ralph (Raffaele) lived and ran a hotel/tavern here in the 1930s, after he got out of the slammer. So there's that.
The city centre, with a touch of . . .
. . . the local wit.
No want of bars and grills in this town!
During the height of the iron ore era, all along the northern Wisconsin/upper Michigan Gogebic Range from the late 1880s well into the 20th century, these new Northwoods towns flourished, not always for the most wholesome reasons.
Antiques. And Collectibles. Come on in -- the door's somewhere there in the middle.
The small historical museum in the old railroad depot, and . . .
. . . this veteran of the old train line. 'In 1894 the first train arrived in Mercer signaling the beginning of the early settlers, roads, mills, stores, and other businesses. Mercer was created as a district of the town of Vaughn in 1908 and established as a Town on the 26th of February 1909' (source).
When bars (food; spirits) are in significant demand, nearly any building will suffice.
'Antler's presents, Direct from Chicago's "Back of the Yards", Steak Burgers & Rib Eye Sandwiches'. Yum (if you like meat; pizza if you don't).
Unfortunately, Antler's is posted for sale. End of an era.
Mercer, and its sort of louche history, was great fun briefly, but wait till we get 20 miles farther north to . . .
. . . Hurley, famous for historical louche. That's the Tech-Connect building, by the way.
'Stars' seems to be part of that semi-unsavory history; the Hollywood Grill appears still to have a neon sign up, though neither shows up on Google Maps anymore. This is on Silver Street, and we're one block down (on the right, just past Dawn's Never Inn) from the Montreal River, with lively Ironwood, Michigan, just on the farther bank.
Hurley got its start with the discovery of iron ore in the Gogebic (aka Penokee) Range in 1879 and quickly became a classic 'boom town', apparently growing from 80 to 2,500 residents in six months in 1885 (the present population is ca. 1,400). 'By 1884, Hurley's Silver Street bustled with miners, lumberjacks, speculators, and those who made a living catering to their needs [😄]. New arrivals could find "a little bit of everything" here, from dry goods to libations. Eighty-seven saloons and clubs embellished Silver Street. Early Hurley was known as a boisterous, lusty town' (source).
Also on Silver Street, it's time for lunch, and Sharon's has a pleasant decor, etc., as well as great Reuben sandwiches.
Parked round the back of Sharon's ('more than just a coffee shop'), averting our eyes from the other side of the street, where . . .
. . . the New Normal is in full Triumphal mode. ('Don't meet their eyes, just gaze straight ahead and try to get past them.')
A large part of the exciting history of Hurley, which only became registered as a city in 1918, is that that was just in time for the Prohibition Era, in which Hurley was 'a known gangster resort haven for mobsters', so corrupt that whenever prohibition agents staged massive raids the saloonkeepers paid up and carried on.
According to Wikipedia, 'On December 27, 1926, federal agents padlocked 29 Hurley saloons in a single day. A 1931 raid closed 42 saloons, resulting in the arrest of 60 people -- or one out of every 40 Hurley residents. In an economy dependent on revenues from drinking, gambling, and prostitution, local officers looked the other way and the city continued its business with routine harassment by enforcement officials.'
Here along Silver Street especially, many of those old speakeasies and brothels are still here -- the buildings are anyway -- with a healthy string of present-day establishments like The Munch Bar & Tacos, DJ Music: Cage Dancing, Nora's Red Carpet Lounge, Beer Barrel, The Dawghouse, Bank Club Bar & Grill, Silver Street Pit Stop, Iron Horse Inn, Bucko's Saloon, Ladder 715, Spiders, Mac's Bar, Iron Nugget, Schneider's Trailside Pub & Grill, Cooper Street Pub, all worthy firms no doubt, devoted to memorializing the grand Hurley tradition.
And we mustn't forget Harry's Southern Bar-B-Que (that's apparently round the back, but hasn't made it onto Google Maps yet; or they haven't take the sign down yet).
Hurley sits at the northern end of Hwy 51, at the intersection with Hwy 2 some 10 miles south of Lake Superior. It's pleasant to be welcomed by Wisconsin here, but we'd never left it.
Hwy 2, the Major Richard I. Bong Memorial Hwy, stretching away forever (Hwy 51 is the 'Korean War Veterans Memory Hwy')
We're approaching Ashland, WI, that's the Bad River Lodge and Casino. (We visited with the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, or Ojibwe Nation, in 2014, to study the Bad River Sloughs Ramsar wetland and its headwaters in the Penokee Hills -- but we missed the casino then; and will now. Very nice people, they are, on the reservation.)
The Midwest in a nutshell. We've slid right through Ashland, WI, 'Historic Mural Capital of Wisconsin,' the county seat of Ashland County and port city near the head of Chequamegon Bay. We've been there before, and will stop in again on the way home in a few days.
The scenic elements of our drive are in abeyance, temporarily, we hope.
We may just have to wait this out, to get to the scenic elements.
Coming downhill into Duluth (we think). 'Scenic' is probably coming up soon. In any case, the Richard I. Bong ['shot down 40 Japanese aircraft'] Memorial Airport is down somewhere on our left.
Almost home -- that must be the famous John A. Blatnik Memorial Bridge, i.e., the Wisconsin-Minnesota frontier.
Having left Wisconsin (no border checkpoints), we journey into alien territory now. That's Superior Bay on the right, with a great whacking cruise ship stuck out in the middle of it.
Given the evidence at hand, we've missed the I35 (laughing down at us from the horizon) and are presently making our way along West Railroad Street. But we still have a measured confidence in our Volvo proprietary GPS system, and . . .
. . . indeed, here we are, probably. We're aiming for the 'Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Duluth Waterfront' (a 'casual hotel ... overlooking the Duluth Harbor Basin'), and we believe that we can see a large 'F' on that big white building.
Yes, that's surely it. We found it, no trouble, 1000 Minnesota Ave, easy peasy, although . . .
. . . Google Maps may not have caught up yet. The Fairfield is just millimetres north of the Park Point Marina Inn. The location is actually very good for us -- the very pleasant Canal Park district of Duluth runs just between the I35 and the Aerial Lift Bridge, minutes from the Fairfield.
For the wider view (as we subsequently discovered) -- Minnesota Ave runs out the narrow sand spit of Minnesota Point, 6 miles or so, some of it residential but much of it public beach and recreation areas, to the mouth of the St Louis River and shipping channel out of Superior Bay into Lake Superior. Across the channel there is the 3-mile Wisconsin Point joining up with the southern end of the lake.
Uh oh . . . we're expected.
Our view in the Fairfield -- not too inspiring, but no need to wait for the elevator ('overlooking the Duluth Harbor Basin' is a stretch). We're only here, to be honest, because Kristin's credit card bonus awarded her a few free nights at any Marriott, and the pickings are fairly slim, and one of our party (me) have never been to Duluth, Minnesota, no surprises there, so here we are. The Downside: Marriott hotels do not take 'pets' (not even well-behaved kitty-cats; thugs), so this is our first night since leaving Europe 3½ years ago being compelled to struggle along without our Melvin the Doge and the demonic little Choupette underfoot. It's horrible.
There's that cruise ship, just languishing out there. Covid quarantine maybe. That's all part of the 'Duluth Harbor Basin Northern Section'.
[Quelle surprise! That's the 665-foot 'Viking Octantis', testing the waters for a new industry of monumental cruise ships showing up to improve the scenery of the quaint Lake Superior lakeshores, like at Bayfield, for example (cf. this from The New York Times, 13 Sept 2022).]
The Aerial Lift Bridge, from our little Lakehead Boat Basin next to the Fairfield
Downtown Duluth west of the Canal Park: It seems that we're looking at (based on subsequent researches), all part of the DECC or Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, left to right, the Great Lakes Aquarium, the Amsoil Arena, fronted by the Symphony Hall, the DECC Arena, with the City Side Convention Center behind, the Harbor Side Convention Centre, the Pioneer Hall, 'two ballrooms, two hockey arenas,' and of course the Duluth Curling Club facilities.
The Lakehead Boat Basin, with all the boats of our betters, and . . .
. . . a fancy boat with the enigmatic and perhaps sinister name of 'Shegavein'. Parked between the Reel Value and the Swampthing.
Off for dinner -- Bellisio's Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar is less than a kilometre back amidst the Canal Park district.
We'll soon be trying our luck on the 'iconic' Aerial Lift Bridge. The first incarnation of this thing was a 'transporter bridge' opened in 1905 (since the dredging of the ship channel had made Minnesota Point an island), with a gondola tugging cars, streetcars, walkers, horses, etc. back and forth across the new canal. But with population growth and the proliferation of cars . . .
. . . that became inadequate, so this Aerial Lift Bridge was built and opened in 1930, with this monster roadway and walkway capable of being raised by twin counterweights to the full height of 135 feet, when necessary for tall ships, in a minute. And it appears that we're good to 'walk' now.
The Duluth Ship Canal, first dredged out of the Minnesota Point in 1871
Bellisio's, not bad -- we're always a little chary of Italian restaurants outside of Italy, but this is worth a go.
Dinner's over, we're trotting back -- that the US Corps of Engineers building, at the foot of the Aerial Lift, with the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center behind, at the head of the Duluth Lakewalk (that's for tomorrow).
Early evening views across the Harbor Basin
Here we go, life in our hands. The pedestrian light was on, but halfway across the span the so-called Captain's Salute (long-short-short) gonged out just over our heads ('The bridge's "horn" is actually made up of two Westinghouse Airbrake locomotive horns'), so we had to run for it. 'Run' for it, ha ha; scurry for it.
Which is not quite as efficient for us as it once was, but the bridge boss, in his little cabin one flight up halfway across, kindly waited for us to clear the decks, so to speak, and then . . .
. . . hoisted the whole thing up.
The sailor dude is through now, and here comes the road- and walkways down again, with the huge counterweights going back up. What fun.
We should wave to the bridge boss in his cabin, with our gratitude for sparing us.
The stroll back to the hotel, with a great lot in the Scandinavian immigrant architectural styles. (Guess who did most of the iron ore mining up here in the north, back in the day.)
But whatever their origins, some of the locals can still be as benighted as poopie.
But let us not yield to stereotyping -- surely not all KIA drivers would insist on taking up two disability parking places.
Next up: The Duluth Lakewalk and a stroll through the downtown