Thursday, August 29, 2019

Historic Hoy Bridge and the Heart of Iowa Trail

Colorado or Bust, Days 60 through 63:

Hoy Bridge, near Rhodes, Iowa, was built in 1912.

It is one of the highlights of my Iowa rail trail hiking.  There's a side trail to an observation deck.  Here's that view.

The bike trail conversion was done in 2003.  Doesn't look like the same bridge, does it?

Rail trail highlights are few and far between, but the five mile section of the Heart of Iowa Trail from Rhodes over the Hoy Bridge is one of my favorites.  The reason:  It's surface is grassy.  My feet loved it, and it feels like a continuous linear park.

Bikers, of course, prefer the hard surface.  And Iowa does a fantastic job building paved rail trail.  It's not cheap asphalt slapped over a little gravel, it's good solid thick concrete slabs.  For hiker feet that makes little difference.  Paved rail trail is just road walking without the traffic noise.  The benefits come with the narrowness of the corridor and the width of the right-of-way, such that a wooded buffer has grown up to shade the walk in many places.

This report actually includes the hike on the "330 Trail", which is a rail trail that parallels busy highway 330 and has little wooded corridor.

It does pass a couple of nice wetland preserves.  Just ignore the roaring eighteen-wheelers and enjoy the nature.

That's not always easy to do.  This poor Right-of-Way sign has turned rather despondent being planted there, unmoving, year after year, facing the traffic, and with its back to the nice pastoral scenery.

There is a five mile gap of road walking between the 330 Trail and the Heart of Iowa trail.

I had fun with signs in this area.  I imagine that this one lists all the generous patrons who contributed to the construction of the spacious Maxwell City Park.

Along the road into Rhodes, it appears that some local has rather gone off the deep end:

After the Heart of Iowa Trail, there's a seamless connection in the town of Slater to the next trail on my westward route:  The High Trestle Trail.  That one provides an even better highlight, but for that, you'll have to wait for the next report.

Here are the GPS Tracks for this four-day collection of hikes:

High Trestle Bridge:  Most popular trail destination in all of Iowa.  Worth a visit.  Stay tuned.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Deep in the Dirt -- Hiking Iowa's Black Dirt Kingdom

Intrepid Black-dirt excavators hard at work on a road shoulder in Grundy County, Iowa.

Okay.  We need to talk.

We don't own this world.  You do know that, right?  Genesis 1:28 notwithstanding.  It is bought and paid for by things much smaller than us, much smarter than us (see below), and very, VERY much older than our human "civilization".

For example: An estimated 10,000,000,000,000,000 ants swarm this planet at any given time -- coast to coast, sea to sea, on every continent except Antarctica.  They control nearly every square inch of land, including places we don't care about.  They've been fine-tuning their culture for at least sixty million years, and possibly as much as a hundred million years.

Now … if your civilization had been 'intelligent' for sixty million years, you would probably have figured out what the person next to you is thinking just by their smell (pheromones) and by their body language.  Talk is … well … really, REALLY cheap (inefficient) as a form of communication.

So … if you're looking for that hyper-advanced civilization -- the one that is so totally beyond our level that they barely notice us, so secure that they consider us no threat, and so dominant that they have no need or wish to communicate with us, you need to look no further.  Think about it.  What could ants possibly learn from us that would improve their lives?  How to crochet a doily?

Among the ant colony's scrupulously organized system the worker class is tasked with maintaining and expanding their underground system of tunnels and nativity chambers and fungus gardens.  Planet Earth would not be the same without the ants' tireless aeration and overturning of the soil.  The things that grow in that soil have come to completely depend on the action of ants, and we, of course, depend entirely on the things that grow in the soil.  Remind me again -- who's in charge here?

The next time you call the exterminator, stop and think for a moment. Think about just how dependent we all are on the ancient civilizations that long preceded us.  On the web of life that has been weaving its intricate tapestry for billions of years.  Ask yourself: "What are *we* doing to sustain the interdependent system that sustains us?"

It's not the ants who are the pests.

Okay, thanks for reading.  Now it's on to the 'enterprise and adventure of the day'.


Colorado or Bust, Days 56-59:

Conrad Iowa styles itself as the Black Dirt Capital of the World.  The soil here looks and feels like the stuff that comes out of a bag sold at a high-end nursery.  Or out of your meticulously overturned compost bin.  It remains the richest soil on the planet, though it is slowly disappearing under our stewardship.  When westerners arrived here in the 1850s to start farming, the black dirt was two feet thick in places (thanks, in no small part, to the constant overturning of ants and other critters).  Now there are only six to nine inches left.

Part of the reason the soil got so rich and so thick is that the flat terrain (an ancient sea bed) meant there was next to no erosion.  Each generation of grass died and left its remains behind for the critters to process.  Fire and dust storms brought nutrients from distant reaches.  The climate is harsh, but the land was a paradise, an American Serengeti.  I *so* wish I could spend an hour as a 'time tourist' here, to see how this land looked before man arrived.

What I do get to see is mono-cultures of corn and soybeans, horizon to horizon, with the occasional token restored patch of wetland or prairie with a 'do not spray' sign along a road shoulder.  In the middle of a lot of road walking I got to hike a piece of old railroad grade on a trail called the Comet Trail.

Often the old rail corridor was left untouched, and without fire to suppress the vegetation, trees have proliferated, creating a pleasant shady corridor for hiking.

It's hopelessly artificial and out of place here, but it "shore is damn purdy."  It's what the state of Iowa has chosen to call "Nature Trail."  Hmmmmmmm.

Out on the road, I look for distractions.  Things that break up the monotony of "corn, wheat, flat, repeat".

When I get to a town or city, there are plenty of nice distractions.  I digressed from the American Discovery Trail route in order to cut a road walk in half and add the town of Marshalltown's seven-mile Linn Creek Greenway Recreational Trail to my route.  (Why the ADT skips that, including a campground at Riverview Park, eludes me.)

Bunches of paved trail and diversity of scenery:

Okay, finally, here are the GPS tracks for the four days covered here.

The people of Iowa are peaceful, respectful, friendly, and happy with their place, as far as I've seen.  What humans have built here works.  But I think it's all built on that inherited, millennia-old black dirt.  What happens when it's gone?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Lucky Days - Hiking the Cedar River Valley, Iowa

Colorado or Bust, Days 49 through 55:

Hiking on bike trail, especially on rail trails, can be monotonous.  The trail is flat and straight, and there's usually not much to look at.  Unlike hiking trails, railroad tracks were all business.  Getting from A to B.

Well, every now and then the 'business' provided some interest, as with the historic depot buildings, and this unusual direct grain loading elevator:

Then there are the places where the logistics of the terrain and the meandering Cedar River required the railroad to cross it.  I crossed it four times in this set of days.  One was not on a rail route.  Here are the views.

Otherwise, for entertainment, you just have to look to the little stuff.  Down in the weeds, so to speak.  Thus the search for four-leaf clovers, and the sighting of this naturally growing … weed.

Other stuff, just miscellaneous, just for fun:

Then there was this weed:

Ragweed pollen.  When I was a kid I was terribly allergic to this.  At age five at my Dad's company picnic I took a hayride in a field full of it and almost died.  Fortunately, and inexplicably, I grew out of it very suddenly at age 20, and the stuff no longer bothers me.

Through Waterloo itself, the trail doesn't follow railroad grades.  It goes through George Wyth State Park.  Some nice "Nature".

And through downtown, where there was no evidence of anything resembling "Nay-chirr"

Okay, I'm making fun of urban hiking, because cities are not my favorite places, even when they're this nice.  Waterloo is nice, as cities go.  Go have a look.

Here are the GPS Tracks of the days covered in this report.  Quite a mess-o-hiking.