Tests conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources indicate there could be gold in bedrock on the Iron Range.

Tests conducted by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources indicate there could be gold in bedrock on the Iron Range.

The tests of soil near Tower and Soudan in northeastern Minnesota contained an encouraging number of tiny gold grains that are rough, likely from a nearby source, the Star Tribune reported.

Don Elsenheimer, an economic geologist with the Department of Natural Resources, said the tests "came back higher than what you would expect." But he said finding the gold grains is a long way from finding gold deposits.

"These are great results," he said, "but there's still a lot of work that would have to be done to determine if there's something to come from this."

Elsenheimer said the bedrock in northern Minnesota is the same bedrock units found across the border in Ontario. He said there are dozens of active and past-producing gold mines on the Canadian side.

It's been harder to find gold deposits in Minnesota because it has fewer spots where rock sticks out on the surface. Elsenheimer said gold deposits in that kind of terrain are typically vertical and possibly extend as deep as 3,000 feet, making it hard to pinpoint on the surface.

Testing was done by the Department of Natural Resources on part of 12 million acres of state-owned mineral rights.

"We have an obligation to generate revenue from the trust lands and to manage all of the trust lands in a way that is consistent with state priorities," Elsenheimer said.

Gold prospectors came to northern Minnesota in the 19th century. Miners settled in communities along the Canadian border in the 1890s in a short-lived gold rush that contained the state's only productive gold mine, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

A number of companies have been actively exploring for gold in northern Minnesota in recent decades. Minnesota-based Vermillion Gold is exploring in fields west of the Soudan area, said company president Rick Sandri.

Most states have gold, Sandri said, but the tricky part is finding enough to be worth the expenses of mining.

"You can find gold just about anywhere ... finding a gold mine is extremely difficult," Sandri said.