Freezer on the Fritz

Friday, August 31, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Highways and Byways, Day 17:  International Falls, MN

When we packed up in early August, we were ridiculously naive about what kind of weather to expect on this trip.  Disregarding the news reports we've heard all summer about the brutally uncommon heat suffered even in the northern reaches of the U.S., we pulled out long-sleeved shirts for our trip.  Yes, we had more appropriate seasonal attire as well, but as we have discovered, our only use for wrist-length garments has been in restaurants where the AC was turned too low.

Icebox of the Nation!
Today, however, would be different.  We were sure of it; we were heading into America's refrigerator.  If you've ever noticed how often you hear in weather reports, "And the coldest temperature in the country today was in International Falls, Minnesota," you'll understand our optimism.  We were heading into "Frostbite Falls," where the January temperature averages 2.7°, where the high temperature reaches a balmy 32° only 12 or 13 days from December to February.  This is the town that has fought for the trademark to the 'Icebox of the Nation' title.  To prove its claim, just after the city's 2008 victory against an upstart Colorado town in a recurring battle for the slogan, International Falls recorded a temperature of 40° below zero.

But today, the temperature in town had very little resemblance to a freezer.  Our final hope for cool weather dashed, we resolved to rip the cool weather clothes from our bags and store them in the car so we can quit carrying them around on a daily basis.

Timber awaiting processing
With abundant supplies of wood and easy access to water, International Falls was an obvious choice for the construction of a paper mill in the early 20th century.  In 2010, that mill, now owned by Boise Cascade, celebrated 100 years of operation.  Built to meet the burgeoning demand for newsprint in the U.S., the mill has changed with the times and now produces 548,000 tons of office grade copier and printer paper.  As an employer of nearly 1,200, the mill is a major player in the town's economy.

International Falls is also home to Minnesota's only national park, Voyageurs National Park.  Established in 1975, the park pays homage to the voyageurs, French-Canadian merchants and canoeists whose industrious travels created a flourishing fur trade in the late 1700s and 1800s.  According to legend, an average voyageur paddled 16 hours per day.

Voyageurs National Park Visitor Center exhibit
Voyageurs were adventurers with many types of skills they learned from Native peoples.  Their trade journeys often lasted many months and covered thousands of miles.  Voyageurs National Park preserves much of the scenery and waterway system that formed the routes of these early traders.

National Park Service boat
Dominated by water, the park is quite popular for boating and fishing.  Campsites in the park are accessible only by water.  On our way back south today, we saw dozens and dozens of boats headed north for the Labor Day weekend and wondered how many will be visiting these protected waters.

While visiting the park, we kept our eyes open for our hiker pal Kenny that we met a couple of days ago on Isle Royal, but our trails did not cross again today.  We're confident that he completed his goal of seeing his final national park.

Honest Sign of the Day

International Falls Stats:
  • Population:  6,424
  • Average low January temp:  -6°
  • Average high January temp:  15°
  • Average snowy days per year:  60
  • Record low temperature:  -55°
  • What residents do when temp falls below 0°:  Keep calm and carry on 
  • Famous International Falls native:  Tammy Faye Bakker
More Photos from Today
Lots of these larger-than-life Voyageur tributes in the area, this one in Ranier, MN
Why don't we use these temporary signals more often?