Duluth, Minnesota

Duluth, Minnesota is geographically a very strategic city … And if you are a USA road warrior, you will find yourself traveling through Duluth at some part of your journeys. Highway travel is not even Duluth’s primary claim to fame. It began as an important waterway port. Duluth lies at the most westward shoreline on the Great Lakes, which made it an important port for the transport of raw materials ( iron ore ) and agricultural products. And it is also a road junction for travel on either the northern or southern routes around Lake Superior.

On the map above, you will find Duluth on the western tip of Lake Superior. In my past, I usually arrive in Duluth from the west, and travel across Wisconsin onto the upper peninsula of Michigan. From there, I have re-entered Canada and gotten back on the TransCanadian to Ottawa and Montreal. But on this trip, we will cross over the bridge to the lower portion of Michigan, heading south to the American Interstates that will take us home to Pennsylvania. This is, by my estimate, the sixth time I have driven through Duluth, but until now, I had never stopped to smell the lake.

For most Americans, Duluth is the butt end of jokes. Most see absolutely no reason to ever live there. It is cold and the winds off the lake make it colder and snowier. I recall a movie where the male FBI agent is assigned to Duluth and he excitedly talks about annual ice fishing tournaments. His two women friends, after excitedly discovering they have been to assigned to Los Angeles, sarcastically moan about their misfortunes of NOT being assigned to Duluth. But this has changed a little bit lately. Global Warming has made Duluth more attractive. Even in summer heat waves, Duluth is comfortable, and the winters are not so wintry. Maybe Duluth will become a popular spot … But I’m not going to hold my breath.

To bring this narration back to us, since retirement, our driving habits have changed. We try to limit our days to less than 350 miles … And as I drive in the morning, Mrs Bear is on her phone locating an hour walk along the route during midday. The above pic is from our walk along the Buffalo Trail in Minot, North Dakota. We get back on the road, and Mrs Bear reserves our Inn for the night and finds a local eatery for dinner. It’s a great way to drive longer distances on extended schedules.

This is how I finally got out of the car in Duluth. It became our noontime walk along Lake Superior and their lighthouse. We had lunch at a nice cafe, in a building that looked like it was once a storehouse for grain awaiting seaward passage. There were a couple streets blocked off for a crafts fair. And the walk along the port led us to a very interesting drawbridge.

While most drawbridges lift up from one end, and some actually rotate horizontally on a central swivel, this one actually lifted the section of the bridge straight up. We watched a sailboat move through the channel, and the bridge lifted only to a height needed for this boat to clear. In other words, the bridge operator can adapt the height of the ascending bridge to the needed elevation of the passing ship. If the bridge doesn’t need to fully lift, it can descend back to become a road more quickly.

Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge

So after we got over our shock at somehow stumbling onto this really neat and functional construction, our best guess was that it was a relatively new replacement for a bridge originally built a long time ago. We were right about the bridge being old, built from 1901 – 1905 … But the original was of this design and had been modified in 1929. The last rehabilitation was in 2009, but the historic character of the bridge was maintained. The bridge is 390 feet long and can be raised to a height of 135 feet. It sits at the opening of the channel into Duluth’s port from the lake.

Too soon it was time to get a farewell ice cream cone and get back on the road. But I don’t think we will scoff at Duluth ever again, and most likely welcome another passing visit.

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