Watch your compass needle for signs of deflection as you proceed to the small but tidy town of Crosby, the center of Minnesota’s “forgotten” iron range, the Cuyuna. The flood-prone mines have died out, but the surrounding landscape still bears evidence of mining’s heyday, with lakes and hills created by subsidence and strip mining, and also by contemporary gravel quarrying. Crosby itself has a nice park fronting onto Serpent Lake, complete with a brightly colored 20-foot-high, 25-foot-long sea serpent, while Croft Mine Historical Park (218/546-5926, Sat.-Sun. summer, free), well signposted on the edge of Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, profiles the iron-mining industry, covering immigration and labor issues as well as the actual mining process. Period buildings and a simulated underground self-guided tour round out the site’s features.
South of Crosby, the GRR leaves the truck traffic and takes to the cornfields and sumac-laced forests again, passing as many barns as houses, the occasional lakeside hideaway, and some rural town halls. For a thumbnail overview of the area’s settlement history, keep an eye peeled for the historical markers along the way.