Saturday, August 31, 2013

Biking Wisconsin's Tomorrow River State Trail

Wisconsin's Tomorrow River State Trail runs for nearly 30 miles, from Plover to Manawa, passing through Amherst Junction, Ogdensburg, and Scandanavia.  The trail is crushed limestone and was in such good condition that road bikes could use it.  A sign warned that the trail was closed when aerial spraying of crops was occurring, and the trail does pass many fields.

I began in Plover, parking in the Copps parking lot at the corner of Highway B and Hoover Avenue.  The trail starts behind Copps, just over the railroad tracks. Exit I-39 at Highway B and take it west to Hoover Avenue. Other trail parking is available at Twin Towers Road, Custer Road, Lake Emily County Park, and Highway Q in Amherst Junction.  I biked 28 miles, but only the Portage County sections.  The remainder of the trail is in Waupaca County.  A Wisconsin pass is required which can be bought at any trailhead for $4 a day, or an annual pass for $20.  Below is a map of the Portage County portion (click to enlarge.)

The first couple miles has a railroad spur alongside the trail which serves industrial concerns such as R. R. Donnelley and Del Monte factories. The spur track ends and you find yourself biking through rolling Wisconsin hillsides with meadows and crops on either side.  As with most rail-trails, many mature trees edge the trail, often obscuring views of the fields.  A lot of irrigating was occurring as I biked, as seen off to the right in this photo.

Horses are allowed east from Twin Towers Road, but they are not allowed on the limestone trail.  They have their own mown path alongside the trail.

 Much of the trail is very scenic as seen below, and the opportunities to see the neighboring fields and crops and farm structures adds more interest to the ride.

I biked east the 11 miles to Amherst Junction where the trail is missing a segment for 1 mile, after which it continues to Manawa.  Then I continued biking the detour around the missing section: at Highway Q in Amherst Junction, turn left, at the next road turn right onto Highway KK, bike under the underpass, at the next road turn left onto School Road, take it to Alm Road and turn left, and the trail is soon on your right.  But the route is well marked with large brown signs pointing the way to “Tomorrow River Trail” so navigating the detour is not a problem.

After reaching the eastern segment of the trail, I biked until I reached the river.  I’d hoped that the trail would parallel the Tomorrow River, but instead it simply crosses the river on that eastern segment near Amherst Junction.  One of the two railroads that ran through town was named the Tomorrow River Railroad, and its roadbed is the one the trail runs on, and hence the name.  But here’s the namesake river the trail crosses over...

You regularly see speed limit signs of 55 mph, which seem out of place until you remember that snowmobiles use the trail in the winter.

Every mile you’ll see very small brown signs for Tomorrow River State Trail, and beneath giving the mileage in even smaller lettering.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Biking Madison, Wisconsin's Capitol City Trail

Madison has four trails that were combined into this 17 mile Capitol City Trail, which in turn connects to several other trails. This map shows the myriad of trails using colored lines (click to enlarge.)  The trail is paved and in good repair.

 I parked at Olin Park which can be reached off the Beltline Highway (US 12 and US 18), exiting at John Nolen Road and going north to Olin Park, just past the multi-building Alliant Energy Center which hosts expositions, conventions, concerts, and sporting events.  The trail runs along Lake Monona with views of the downtown and Capitol building seen below...

Often along the trail you'll find helpful map kiosks like the one below, showing where you are, what's near you, and what other trails connect near you. The trail is well marked with signage so you don't miss a turn.

 As you reach the downtown, you can head west to bike the historic downtown and see the Capitol building if you wish. The scene below is of the Monona Terrace Convention Center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Beyond this point, the trail leaves the lakefront which becomes private property, but using the trail and/or side streets, you can circumnavigate the entire Lake Monona and return to your vehicle.

At Olin Park, you have the option of biking the Wingra Creek Trail which traverses park areas, crosses several streets, and gets you to the University of Wisconsin's Arboretum, the Henry Vilas Zoo and Park,  which also offers more paved trails. and the dam which creates Lake Wingra as well as a public beach.

Heading south from Olin Park, you'll find 12 miles of trail, first briefly paralleling John Nolen Road, then passing beneath Nolen.  The next section is run by the county, not Madison, and requires a DNR pass ($4 for a day pass or $20 for an annual pass) which can be purchased at a registration station.  After paying, the trail deteriorates a bit, with frequent bumpy sections as you pass the  huge sewage facility on both sides of the road you are alongside, and then the trail finally heads through rolling hillsides of meadows, then marshes, and later woodlands.  You'll see mown grass pathways which are the E-Way, a cross country ski trail, and then the Lussier Family Heritage Center which has a wildlife viewing area, prairie restoration area, campground, washrooms, showers, water, and vending machines.  By this point, I had biked 20+ miles in 95 degree heat, so I returned to my vehicle and missed the remaining 9 miles or so of what would have been the best natural scenery still ahead.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Colorado River : Source to Sea

I’m re-reading Colin Fletcher’s River: One Man’s Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea describing his six-month, 1700 mile solo raft trip in 1989 from the Wind River Range in WY to the Gulf of California.  Since first reading it, I was so inspired that I've rafted, canoed, or kayaked 670 miles of the river on various adventures, and now in re-reading the book, it’s fun to re-live my trips through his narrative.

 Fletcher studied the river and decided that the true "ancestral waters" of the Colorado River start in Wyoming's Wind River Range, and that these drops of water from springs high in these mountains, trickle down to the Upper and Lower Green Lakes and then down the Green River to its Confluence with the Colorado River.

Explanation is required here: The "Colorado River" originally referred to the waterway located on the Colorado Plateau below the junction/confluence of the Green and Grand Rivers in Utah's Canyonlands National Park. At that time, no part of the Colorado River actually ran through the State of Colorado. In 1921, politicians in the State of Colorado managed to get the "Grand River" (which flowed out of Grand Lake in Colorado below Rocky Mountain National Park, through Granby and later Grand Junction -- notice the Grand in these names) renamed Colorado River. Thus the original Colorado River, along with the formerly called Grand River, together became the longer and current Colorado River.

But Fletcher and many others feel that the Green River, which is 300 miles longer than the former Grand River and drains a larger area than the old Grand River, is therefore the "master stream."

 In the photo below, I sit in the front-left of a raft on a rapid in the Colorado River...

Here is a shot of one of my two 120 mile canoe trips down the Green River from Green River, UT to the Confluence with the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park, at which point a jet boat from Moab picked us up and returned us up-river to Moab because canoes cannot negotiate Cataract Canyon's rapids below the Confluence (which by the way was so named by John Wesley Powell in 1869 when he made his first trip here.)  

Here's a video I made of my 2 excursions canoeing the Green River...

But on both canoe trips, as I camped at the Confluence waiting for the jet boat, how I longed to make that right turn and continue down through Cataract Canyon, but of course couldn't. Finally, a few years later I did! The Sierra Club offered a service project removing invasive Tamarisk at the Confluence.  By necessity, we had to raft to the Confluence from Moab, do our work, and then exit through Cataract Canyon's rapids.  What a great raft trip that was!

Below is a photo of the Colorado River from up above on the mesa...

...and here's a photo as we entered Lake Powell at the end of Cataract Canyon, beneath the Highway 95 bridge (also called the Hite Crossing Bridge)...

Here's a video of both our Tamarisk removal project and our wondrous and exciting and wet raft trip through the rapids of Cataract Canyon...

After Cataract Canyon, the Colorado River becomes Lake Powell National Recreation Area, thanks to the Glen Canyon Dam at Page, Arizona.  Below are two aerial shots of magnificent Lake Powell and a few of its side canyons, several of which we explored by houseboat and kayak on my two houseboat adventures there (in 2003 on the western end, and in 2012 one on the eastern end of the 186 mile-long long lake.)

Kayaking the side canyons is a wonderful way to explore Lake Powell...

Here's a video I made of my second houseboat/kayak adventure trip on Lake Powell, this one at the eastern end of the lake...

Fifteen miles after Lake Powell (below Glen Canyon Dam) you arrive at Lee's Ferry, the put-in for raft trips through first Marble Canyon and then Grand Canyon.  I was fortunate to raft the entire Grand Canyon in 1999 and here are a few photos and comments.

Then in 2002 I kayaked 50+ miles from the base of Hoover Dam (Lake Mead Recreation Area) through the Black Canyon/Lake Mohave portion of the Colorado River.  Here are some photos and info from that 5 day kayaking/camping Elderhostel program.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Millennium Trail Underpass Open at Grand Avenue

(Click to enlarge photos)

The Forest Preserve District of Lake County has opened another underpass on the Millennium Trail, this one ensuring safe passage beneath Grand Avenue in Lindenhurst, and connecting Fourth Lake Preserve to McDonalds Woods Preserve...

I began at the Operations Center visitor lot on the north side of Grand Avenue west of Route 45, and biked south through the underpass.  The trail then proceeds south through lovely forest and open meadows (and some leased farm fields) to a gate near Rollins Road.  Another underpass is planned at Rollins Road which will join this segment with the miles of trails available in Rollins Savanna Preserve.

A grass/dirt side trail heads west to this overlook at Fourth Lake, and assorted other brief grass trails weave through the area...

If you pedal north from the Operations Center, you leave the preserve and bike along a paved path through the Country Place subdivision.  Stop at the start of the houses and study the map seen below (or take a photo of it with your cell phone camera) because the Millennium Trail ahead is uncharacteristically (for the LCFPD) poorly marked with signs. After you cross Sand Lake Road, turn right as the trail encircles the Bonner Farm/Millennium Park property, and then crosses Country Place road.  The Millennium Trail continues as a paved trail as it follows Starling Lane through the subdivision and then crosses Meadowlark Circle.

The trail again becomes crushed gravel (all in good, solid condition) as you enter McDonald Woods.  You are in the southern-most section of the preserve and the trail is basically a lopsided figure eight trail.  Study where you are entering the loop trail or make a noticeable mark in the gravel so you see it when you return here, so you know which trail to use to leave the woods when you are heading back.  Again -- no signage here.  I turned right (counter-clockwise around the loop) and soon came to this preserve map.  As you can see, the lower loop goes around meadows and the upper loop around lakes/ponds, and your exit trail is at the bottom of the lower loop...

You'll no doubt enjoy the magnificent woods and scenic open areas and lakes.  The upper loop has an access trail to the parking lot off Grass Lake Road, and signage there indicates that an underpass is in the early stages of construction to take visitors under the road to Lindenhurst's Oak Ridge Park that is across the street, and presumably, an eventual extension of the Millennium Trail to the north.

This ride is only about 11 miles in length, but when the Rollins underpass opens next year, you'll be able to get rides 20+ miles in.  In addition to parking in the Operations lot, you can also access this ride using the Bonner Farm lot or the lot off Grass Lake.

Thanks again to the LCFPD for their continued work in extending the Millennium Trail and building segments to connect the existing sections of the trail!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Wildflowers Ablaze!

The wildflowers abound alongside the Millennium and Ft. Hill Trails in Lake County (Illinois) forest preserves...