Monday, October 22, 2012

Ft. Hill Trail Underpass is Open

Two Route 176 underpasses have been under construction all summer, and as of a few days ago, the Fort Hill Trail (Lakewood Forest Preserve) underpass is completed and open.  Previously, the trail began at the intersection of Route 176 and Fairfield Road, from which point it left the Millennium Trail, crossed Fairfield, ran alongside the dog exercise area, then to and through the former Four Winds Golf Course, and then into Ray Lake Forest Preserve.

The trail now begins at the winter sports parking area which is on Fairfield Road, just south of Route 176.  Here's the view from that parking lot.  The Millennium Trail runs from left to right and the Fort Hill Trail runs straight ahead in this photo...

...and then curves around some woods, and then you'll find yourself here...

The construction progress of the underpass was interesting to watch and was easily observed because the Ft. Hill Trail ran along the dog exercise area and took you right past the work site.

Here you see the Route 176 traffic has been moved to temporary lanes and the foundation for the northern half of the underpass has been poured (click to enlarge photos)...

Here work is progressing on the walls of the tunnel, and the foundations for the wing walls on each side have also been laid...

Forms for pouring the roof of the tunnel are being framed in here and you can see the worker atop the framing to the left of the red ladder.  Forms for the wing wall are also being erected...

The tunnel concrete has been poured in this shot, part of the left side wing wall is done, and the forms erected for the rest of the wing walls on both sides...

And finally, the concrete work is done here, and after the drainage was installed, gravel, dirt, and paving were applied onto the tunnel roof, traffic was moved over to the finished portion, and work began on the southern half of the underpass...

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Favorite Bike Trails in the USA

My Top 10 Biking Trails in the USA

  1. Hiawatha Trail (Idaho on the Montana border thru Bitterroot Mountains))
  2. Chicago Lakefront Path (IL)
  3. Des Plaines RiverTrail (60 miles through Lake & Cook County forest preserves, IL)
  4. Glenwood Canyon Trail (CO)
  5. Gateway Trail (Munger Trail - St. Paul, MN)
  6. Mickelsen Trail thru Black Hills (SD)
  7. Monon Trail, (Indianapolis, IN)
  8. Virginia Creeper Trail (Mt. Rogers Natl. Rec Area, VA)
  9. Cape Cod Trail/Nantucket/Martha's Vineyard Trails (MA)
  10. Acadia National Park carriage road system (ME)

My Top 10 Mountain Bike Trails

  1. Santos Trails (Ocala National Forest, FL)
  2. Wilderness Park Off-road Trail (Tampa, FL)
  3. Rim View Trail (Page, AZ)
  4. Killer 3 Trail in Manchester State Forest (SC)
  5. Deer Grove Forest Preserve (Cook County, IL)
  6. John Muir Trails in Kettle Moraine State Forest (WI)
  7. Munson Hills Loops in Apalachicola Natl. Forest (FL) 
  8. Ft. Clinch State Park  (FL)
  9. North Point Mtn. Bike Trails of Virginia Key (Miami, FL)
  10. Interurban Trail (Bellingham, WA)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Driving Montana's Beartooth Pass

Beartooth Highway, U.S. Highway 212 between Montana's Red Lodge and Cooke City, is a National Scenic Byways All-American Road.  It features breathtaking views of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains, and delights everyone with its high alpine plateaus dotted with glacial lakes, forested valleys, waterfalls, and wildlife.  It traverses over a million acre wilderness since it is surrounded by three national forests (Shoshone, Custer, and Gallatin) and abuts Yellowstone National Park.  With over 20 peaks exceeding 12,000 feet in elevation, nearly all with glaciers on their north flanks, it is one of the most rugged areas in the contiguous United States.  It is also the highest elevation highway in the Northern Rockies at 10,947 feet.

Charles Kuralt called this "the most beautiful drive in America.  The pass is closed each year, generally from mid-May to mid-October, and it is already closed this year in early October. In the photo below (click to enlarge photos) you see the highway as it approaches the box canyon and is about to ascend in steep seemingly unending zigzag switchbacks taking you up well over 5000 feet.  And yes, I did see bikers pedaling up both sides of the pass.

In the photo above, you see the entire box canyon.  The highway takes you up and over the mountain on the left.  If you enlarge the photo above, you'll see the edges of a few switchbacks in the shadows...

The above photos were taken from a lookout point near the top.  There is plenty of parking, washrooms, and a path leading to a marvelous viewpoint.

At the top of the pass, you are far above tree line and have views like these of high mountain lakes below and mountain vistas in the distance. Snowstorms can even occur in the middle of summer, and high winds and thunderstorms are regular occurences.

In May of 2005, mudslides and rockslides in over a dozen locations covering 13 miles of road, damaged or destroyed and thereby closed the highway for the entire season.  An estimated 100,000 cubic yards of rock had to be removed from just a half-mile section near the top of the switchbacks, and crews drilled down to solid bedrock to support the rebuilt roadway.

The 69 mile drive from Red Lodge to Cooke City takes over 2 hours, not counting whatever time you spend gawking from overlooks.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Biking the Teton National Forest's Flagstaff Road

Flagstaff Road is a gravel backroad off of Highway 287/26 just east of Togwatee Pass.  This remote forest service road is very lightly traveled, and since it begins near the pass, it loses about 1500 feet in elevation as you bike down it.  There are a couple uphill segments, but they are rare and not insurmountable, and the breathtaking alpine scenery you will experience makes it all worthwhile!  Here are a few photos to demonstrate what I mean...

Mountain vistas, dense stands of conifers, lush alpine meadows, wildflowers galore, and clean mountain air will enchant you as you follow Flagstaff Creek down the mountainsides past Lily Lake and over to Sagebrush Flats.

Keep your eyes open to the right, and when you see what looks like a seldom used double-track heading a bit uphill, take it to near the top, and you'll see an enticing single-track trail on your left.  Five of us in our group ventured onto it and were not sorry, as it took us through even more remote and beautiful scenery for about 4 miles. as seen in these two photos...

The single-track ends back at Flagstaff Road so you can meet up with less adventurous colleagues and continue your downhill ride.

Flagstaff Road ends at the same Highway 287/26 as you began at, right near the Blackrock Ranger Station.

Biking the Teton National Forest's Buffalo Fork Road

This ride takes you through magnificent wilderness of the Angle Mountains in the Bridger-Teton National Forest.  Begin at the intersection of Highway 287/26 and Turpin Meadows Ranch Road, east of Grand Teton National Park and nearly up to Togwatee Pass.  Ride down Turpin Meadows Ranch Road, a wide gravel backcountry road with marvelous scenery replete with alpine meadows, wetlands, mountain vistas, and wildflowers in every direction as seen in the photo below....

When you reach the ranch, the road crosses the Buffalo Fork River, and on your right is the US Forest Service's Turpin Meadow Campground (washroom and water available) and ahead to the left is the paved but lightly traveled Buffalo Valley Road which you then follow west, again mostly descending, until it ends back at Highway 287/26.

The ride is about 16 miles and will provide endless scenic wonders.

Biking the Teton Boundary Road

Boundary Road serves as the border between Grand Teton National Park and Bridger-Teton National Forest and offers spectacular views of the Teton Range as you pedal this forest service road.  A hybrid or mountain bike is required since the gravel road is a bit rough, but that also means it is rarely traveled by motor vehicles...

You admire unending sagebrush flats on the eastern slopes of the mountain range as you look for antelope and buffalo, all with the towering Teton Mountains to your west while you pedal at 8000 feet altitude looking down at the Jackson Hole Valley below.

After passing the obvious at-large camping area on the left in the national forest, you'll hit the paved Antelope Flats Road where you turn right (downhill) towards Highway 191, but when you see the structures, turn left onto Mormon Row and check out this historic location settled by 11 Mormon families a century ago.

The buildings had fallen into disrepair for years after the National Park Service took over the properties, but in the 1990s many of them were rehabilitated.  The famous Moulton barn and homestead below is reputed to be the most often photographed barn in the country, as it has been featured on many calendars over the years.

We then biked Mormon Row Road, turned left onto a gravel double-track, left again onto Gros Ventre Road for lunch at a nice pond after our 20+ mile ride.

Fall Colors in the Forest Preserves

Fall is 3 weeks early here in Chicagoland, but glorious nonetheless in the forest preserves...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Biking Teton National Park's Multi-Use Trail

Grand Teton National Park is one of the few that offers a bike trail, and this one is only a few years old and involved much controversy before it could be built.  The paved path runs 8 miles alongside the Teton Park Road from South Jenny Lake to the Moose Visitor Center, and then continues another 12 miles alongside Highway 191 to the Jackson, Wyoming Visitor Center and the town of Jackson.

Here is the trail map (click to enrage):

You are treated to views like these below for the entire ride...

The photo below is from the bridge over the Snake River near the junction of Teton Park Road and Highway 191 where an underpass takes you below 191 and then south to Jackson.

Near the southern end of the national park segment of trail you'll see a road to the east going a short distance to the Chapel of the Transfiguration.  It makes a nice stopping point to rest and enjoy the quaint structure with its marvelous view of the mountains from inside the chapel.

If you wish to lengthen your ride, you can begin at highway 191 and go left at the junction towards the Jackson Lake Dam on the Teton Park Road which has a bike lane as seen here...

...and then turn left onto the lovely and scenic one-way road past Jenny Lake Lodge to the South Jenny Lake Trailhead for the Teton Multi-Use Path...

Trail parking is available at Jenny Lake South, at any of the turnouts on the Teton Park Road, at Taggert Lake, at the Chapel of the Transfiguration, at the Moose Visitor Center, or even at Dornan's Store at the intersection of 191 and Teton Park Road.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Biking St. George, Utah's Urban Trail

The St. George, Utah Urban Trail System is constantly growing and now totals nearly 50 miles.  Click map below to enlarge map, or go here to see it in full.

I parked at their new Confluence Park and biked the Virgin River South, Virgin River, Hilton, and St. Clara River Trails, and below are some photos from the ride.  All the trails are paved and in mostly good condition.

This interested me because of the way they protect trail users from golf balls as the trail passes a driving range...

Here's an interactive map for their trails and other amenities.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Biking Nevada's River Mountains Loop Trail

This trail runs over 38 miles as it loops the River Mountains, passing through Boulder City and Henderson and along Lake Mead on its circuit. Big horn sheep call this area home and may be seen as you pedal.

I began at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area parking lot off Highway 93 (Great Basin Highway) -- turn onto Riverside Road and then right to the visitor center, and this lot also serves the Historic Railroad Bridge Trail. The parking area has several sign kiosks with interesting info for you.  Bike a bit up the hill on the paved trail and you'll quickly see the gravel Railroad Tunnel Trail going off to the left.  The paved trails heading each direction are the Loop Trail.

The trail is paved and 12 feet wide and for about 15 miles has an adjacent equestrian trail.  Nearly four miles follow an old rail line used to supply materials to the Hoover Dam construction site.  A parking area at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area visitor center serves both this trail and the Historic Railroad Bridge Trail.  You can see Lake Mead in the distance in this photo...

Tunnels are used to avoid some street crossings...

...and in a few places, the trail is actually the flood water runoff channel and signs warn you to stay out during rain storms.

This trail is for the very hearty since it involves much elevation gain in some areas.  To avoid the most strenuous uphill sections, you can bike the Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail and the segments of the Loop Trail that go each way from the visitor center parking area.  You'll still get great views of the lake as well as a good workout!

You can access the trail in several places:

1) Railroad Pass Hotel Casino, 2800 S. Boulder Hwy., Henderson; upper parking lot

 2) Bootleg Canyon Park, Yucca St. & Nevada Hwy., Boulder City 

3) Lake Mead NRA Visitor Center, Lakeshore Rd. & Nevada hwy 4) Lake Mead NRA Fee Station, Lake Mead Parkway going east out of Henderson & Lakeshore Rd. 

5) Equestrian Park, Foothills Drive & Equestrian Drive, Henderson

Biking Nevada's Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail

Boulder City, about 30 miles from Las Vegas, sports the Historic Railroad Tunnel Trail, the route of the train that hauled supplies for the construction of Hoover Dam (then called Boulder Dam.)  Railroad operations ceased in 1935, the tracks were finally removed in 1962, and in 1995 the trail opened.

I began at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area parking lot off Highway 93 (Great Basin Highway) -- turn onto Riverside Road and then right to the visitor center, and this lot also serves the River Mountains Loop Trail, a 35 mile paved trail. The parking area has several sign kiosks with interesting info for you.  Bike a bit up the hill on the paved trail and you'll quickly see the gravel trail going off to the left.

I biked toward the dam first, about 4 miles to trail's end, which provides views such as this as you travel several hundred feet above Lake Mead. The trail is wide with no guard rails and also is a bit rough with loose gravel and dirt for a couple miles. Road bikes would not be appropriate here, but the Loop Trail mentioned above would be perfect for them.

You'll soon approach the first of the five tunnels blasted through the mountains.  They are very wide, 25 feet to be exact, in order to accommodate the huge equipment that was being brought to the dam construction areas.  You'll also note some foot trails on the hillsides, used before the tunnels were built.

Nice views of the marina are also apparent as you pedal...

After the fifth tunnel, you leave Lake Mead Recreation Area property and enter Bureau of Reclamation property.  You are now in the security zone for the dam, and the gate is closed and locked after dark.  Briefly the trail is paved since it is also a service road.  Then you hit an open area with good views of the new bypass Highway 93 and the parking area for the pedestrian bridge.  The trail then turns right and heads down some loose gravel to a road under the power towers where it ends at the hiker drop-off lot.  The gate was closed going from here to the dam (washed out by flood) and is marked for pedestrians only when it is open.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Lehman Cave in Great Basin National park (NV)

Great Basin National Park in Nevada was established in 1986 and encompasses 77,000+ acres.  It began in 1922 as Lehman Caves National Monument to protect the caves discovered by Absolum Lehman.  It derives its name from the Great Basin, a dry and mountainous region between the Sierra Nevada Range and the Wasatch Mountains and is located roughly between Las Vegas, Nevada, and Salt Lake City, Utah.  In addition to the caves, the park is notable for Wheeler Peak (13,063 feet in altitude) and for its groves of ancient bristlecone pines, the oldest known non-clonal organisms. Here's more info on my time in the park.

Here's a photo on the road up to the trailhead to Wheeler Peak...

Absolom Lehman discovered the caves on his 600 acres of property in the early 1880s, and after the death of his wife, he began leading tours in 1885. Here are sone photos from the cave...