Tuesday, August 8, 2017

2017 - Biking and Hiking Driftless Wisconson

Driftless Wisconsin.... what the heck is that?? The Driftless Area (or Paleozoic Plateau) is a region in the American Midwest noted mainly for its deeply carved river valleys. While primarily in southwestern Wisconsin, it includes areas of southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and extreme northwestern Illinois. Ok, so what does that have to do with biking and hiking?

Day One - Biking the Driftless Area

It has been decades since the last time I rode the Sparta to Elroy Bike Trail, in SW Wisconsin. This seemed like a good time to ride it again. In 1965 Wisconsin pioneered one of the most successful and unique recreational endeavors ever attempted. Just one year after the last train used the railroad line from Sparta to Elroy, the old Conservation Department purchased the right-of-way for $12,000 and began the development of Wisconsin's the nations first railroad trail.  From this simple beginning, the Elroy-Sparta State Park Trail has grown into a nationally famous bikeway whose annual visitor attendance averages over 60,000 patrons a year.

Having the itch to go riding, I planned a two day trip to SW Wisconsin, planning to ride the complete trail (32 miles) from one end to the other, and back the 1st day, and then, depending on how I felt, ride one of the other trails connected to the Sparta to Elroy Trail - "The 400" or "The LaCrosse River Trail". Or, if the ol' legs are telling me no more riding, I'll check out a couple of Wisconsin's State Parks for some hiking along the Mississippi River.

The drive from Waterloo, IA to Sparta was about three hours. With my early start (left home at 5:00am), I was at the Sparta Depot by 8:30 (had to stop at McDonalds for a energy boost - Sausage Egg McMuffin with orange juice). After purchasing my daily trail pass ($5), I unloaded and assembled my bike, and loaded up the back pack.

A storm front had passed thru the night before, so the weather was a bit unsettled. Temperatures in the mid-fifties, spotty rain sprinkles, and gusty NW winds (15-25 mph). Hah, I planned this right -riding from Sparta to Elroy(NW to SE). So off I went, with the wind at my back. This trail features three train tunnels, with the longest being 3/4 of a mile long. I couldn't recall how far a ride it was to the 1st tunnel, so the anticipation provided motivation to "pedal hard".

At approximately four miles, I could feel the grade continually increase, signalling the climb to the 1st tunnel. It was approximately nine miles when I rounded a curve to see the entrance to the 1st tunnel. The trail requires bikers to walk their bikes thru the tunnels due to the darkness, and typically wet conditions. As I approached the entrance, the ground became wet and muddy. Water was readily flowing from the tunnel. Assuming it was just because it was the entrance, and once I got into the tunnel the water would be confined to the side channels, I continued into the tunnel.... After stepping across rocks to avoid the water, I finally came to the realization that the 2-3 inches of water continued on well into the tunnel. Knowing I would have another 53 miles to go, I decided that walking in the water, and completely soaking my shoes and soaks was not a good plan. Time to look for an alternate route around the tunnel.

I headed back down the rail to a road crossing, and began the steep, winding climb up the hiway. After about a 1/2 mile, and the top of the hill nowhere in sight, it was time to go to alternate #2 - head back to Sparta, drive to Elroy and tackle the trail from the opposite end.

Remember that wind I had at my back?? Yep.. the easy 7 mile ride became a bit harder. Along the way, I passed probably 8-10 riders heading toward the tunnel. I wander what their "alternate plan" was!

The car ride to Elroy took approximately an hour. Unloading my bike at the Elroy Train Depot, I took off. Yes, the wind was STILL gusting from the NW, and so the easy ride out of Elroy was not as easy. The trail passed thru mostly open landscape for the 1st 6 miles, passing by Glendale and thru Kendall. The towns along the trail have done a great job to provide resting spots, restrooms, and even sights to checkout while grabbing something to eat/drink. Of course, I soldiered on, wanting to complete my goal to ride the entire trail and back.

After passing thru Kendall, the trail incline increased as the landscape transitioned back to the wooded hillside. It was 4 miles from Kendall when the 3rd tunnel of the trail came into sight. My legs were welcoming the "walk your bike thru the tunnel" rule. The only signs of water in the tunnel was along the channels on either side of the roadbed. Ahh.... much better! After digging the flashlight out of my backpack, I headed into the 1/4 mile long darkness. It was like the cartoons you remember when you were little. Complete darkness, with this small dot of light in the distance. As you walked in the cool, dark dampness, you could hear the water dripping from the walls and ceiling... eerie but really neat!

Exiting from the opposite end, I hopped on my bike, and headed off for the next leg of the ride. I knew it was downhill ("what goes up, must come down"), so I made great time... rather than the 9-10 MPH up to the tunnel, the speedometer was flashing 15-16 MPH. The downhill continued to the next town - Wilton. Located 16 miles from Elroy, and the mid-point of the Trail, I knew next (middle) tunnel couldn't be far. Sure enough, the grade of the trail increased, and continued for the next 2-1/2 miles. By now, between the wind and increased grade, the legs were beginning to "feel it". Finally, at 18 miles, the middle tunnel of the trail appeared. Like the previous tunnel, it felt good to stretch the legs (and butt) while walking thru the tunnel. On the opposite side, it was time for a nutrition break, grabbing a protein bar and a couple Slim Jims out of my backpack.

Dilemma time... Do I continue on for the remaining 4 miles to where I turned around at the 1st tunnel, successfully riding the complete trail, before turning around and heading back to Elroy (22 miles, for a total of 64 miles)? Or, do I turn around now, and ride the 18 miles back (endind up with 56 miles)? My legs voted to head back..... I remembered the hard areas and the "downhill" areas from the ride out. And, wind at my back... well, what was left of the wind.

As you can see from the image, the pace returning was not nearly that as the ride out. 3 hours and 53 minutes after departing Elroy, and approximately 7 hours after arriving in Sparta, I concluded my Sparta to Elroy Bike Trail adventure. My only regret was not being able to pass thru the 1st tunnel. But knowing the work it took to complete the rest of the ride, it was MUCH better doing it with dry socks.. and shoes!

Day 2 - Hiking the Driftless Area

After the 56 miles of bike riding Friday, my legs and butt said it was time to hike. So Thursday night was spent checking out Google Maps for some hiking trails in SW Wisconsin. The 1st hike would be in the Hixon State Forest. Once again, the benefits of getting up early stood out, when I stopped at Grandad Bluff Lookout. Fog was hanging over the Mississippi River and LaCrosse. As I left the Bluff, a doe stood munching on grass at the Park entrance.

From here, it was on to the Hixon Forest hiking trails, near the National Weather Service Radar Dome. The area was all set up for what appeared to be mountain biking trail races. Fortunately, there was only one other car in the parking lot, so I headed out on the trails to get my hike in before the bikers arrived. The trails, while traversing along the side of the bluffs, were easy and enjoyable. However, when I left the marked mountain biking trail section, the trails began the downward hike. What was once a wide trail, now had transformed into an exercise in rock and root climbing. Of course, the downhill was easy. Now, the uphill.... well, like I said earlier, "what goes up (down) must come down (up)".. Suffice to say, at the end of my 2.9 mile hike, my shirt was nice and damp! Hey, its not a good workout without a little sweat, right?

Once I packed up and pulled out of the parking lot, I was seriously ready to "call it a day", and begin the ride back to Waterloo. However, on the drive to Prairie du Chien, after some nourishment, I decided to head to Wyalusing State Park, South of Prairie du Chien, and do a little trail exploration. 

Upon arriving, I wandered thru the camping area, FULL of travel trailers, tents and alot of people. From there, I opted to take trails which traversed along the side of the bluffs overlooking the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. The 1st trails, Old Wagon Road Trail & Bluff Trail, gave great views of the Wisconsin River. The trail ended at Signal Point, Treasure Cave, and Point Lookout.

From here, I joined the Sentinel Ridge Trail, which ran along the bluff side overlooking the Mississippi River. This had some great views of the River and of Prairie du Chien, as well as some sites of the Passenger Pigeon Monument and the Bear Effigy Mounds in the shape of conical and linear mounds appeared. It is unclear as to what there purpose may have been. Mound Builders constructed mounds in the shape of animals.  The one way 1.8 mile trail generally follows the top of the bluff, with a steep 1/2 mile downhill to the boat landing on the Mississippi River. I was done with the hill climbing, so at the top of the downhill, it was time to head back. 

At the car, it was time to change shirts. What started out as a 58 deg morning was now in the low 70's. A shirt change was required after this last 4 mile hike. 

What trip to Prairie du Chien would be complete with out a stop at Cabella's. As with most visits, this trip ended up only the purchase of  and $8 "Cabella's" baseball cap. 

One more stop before turning West to Waterloo - Diamond Joe Casino. What a great way to end the trip.... up $10!

These biking/hiking adventures are so refreshing for the mind, and of course, great for my physical wellness. Yes, the stamina and determination to go to the extremes ( the extra 8 miles on the bike ride, and taking on the steep 1/2 mile hill on the end of the Sentinel Ridge Trail) have waned a bit, but I always feel better for taking these trips. 

This Fall will be the continuation of my newest goal - complete the 550 mile North Country Trail across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Hopefully, my health and well being will stay strong, as it will take "a few years" to complete!

Monday, April 17, 2017

2016 - Cedar Valley Nature Trail: Waterloo to Cedar Rapids, Iowa

2016 - Cedar Valley Nature Trail Bike Ride - Waterloo to Cedar Rapids, IA

Its been years, possibly even decades, since my 1st bike ride to Cedar Rapids on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail (CVNT). Having only been open for a year or two, a portion of the Trail was routed on gravel roads (and the associated "hills"), making the ride a bit of a challenge.

Having added a "few years" to this ol' body, it was time to take on the challenge again. This time, not only would the ride follow the complete CVNT route, but would also include the Cedar River Trail thru the Cedar Rapids metro area, and city streets to the historic Newbo area. A 64 mile journey from our house to the parking lot of the Newbo Alehouse - the site of my celebratory meal (and of course, refreshments).


Given that this ride could last over 8 hours, I needed to plan accordingly. 

Weather - On my 1st CVNT ride, I experienced a thunderstorm and heavy rain, mid afternoon, with the only protection from the elements being the closest trees. This trip, having some flexibility to determine the day I wanted to ride (a benefit of being retired), it was going to be a day with no rain and little/no winds, or at least winds blowing "with me".

Nourishment - Having been on a 40+ mile bike ride in Northern Wisconsin a few years ago without any food or water, and paying for it with about 10 miles to go, made me make sure I had plenty of protein bars and water for this trip. Additionally, knowing I would be in the Cedar Rapids Metro area after about 58 miles, I coul always hit up a local store for additional food & drink.

Maps and Technology - My 1st ride was done with a "State of Iowa" road map. This trip, guidance questions would be answered using my cell phone, and Google Maps. And to be sure the phone battery would last, I threw in a spare power pack. Of course, on a trip like this, you also need to have a camera to capture the experience. In the past, I would have depended on my Canon SLR. This trip I would utilize my phone camera, eliminating the extra weight.

Emergencies, SAG Wagon & Ride Home - Of course, I also needed to plan on the "what ifs" - a mechanical breakdown, an emergency along the route, or I can't make it the entire route. This trip I carried the necessary tools to work on my bike (wrenches, air pump, tire replacing tools) in my back pack. In the event of not being able to make it the entire route, my "SAG Wagon" would be my dear wife Sue. Once again, having a cell phone (not in existance on the 1st ride) provided me the safety to deal with just about any unknown I might experience on the ride. Assuming I would be successful in making it to the final destination, we planned on Sue heading to CR, arriving sometime around 3pm, and joining me at The Newbo Alehouse.

The Ride: From Waterloo to La Porte City

I picked the perfect day to ride (June 16th, 2016). A front had blown thru the night before, leaving the morning with clear blue skies, and a slight breeze out of the Northwest. I was pumped! So I got an early start, leaving our driveway at ~7:30 am. After a short ride to Downtown Waterloo, I hopped on one of the trails in Waterloo along the Cedar River, and biked to Evansdale, connecting up with the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. (Editors Note: Along the ride, I noticed work being done on the dike along the Cedar River in Evansdale, which will make a seamless bike trail from Waterloo to the CVNT). 

With a short ride thru the residential streets of Evansdale, passing Meyers Lake, and cutting under I-380, I joined the CVNT at the Evandale Bridge trailhead. The trail, from this point to the the Southern edge of LaPorte City, is paved, and very easy riding. With the Gilberville Depot approximately halfway to LaPorte City, this portion is a great ride for families with children.

The trail for the most part is lined with trees and brush, but with several open views of the surrounding countryside, including creeks, homesteads and farm fields.

The Gilbertville Depot (~ 5miles from Evansdale Bridge) is a great spot to stop for a break, or even use as a destination for a picnic with the family. The facility provides restrooms, water, and great shade on the hot days.

As the CVNT heads South from the Depot, I was greeted with a "road closed - use detour" sign. I had heard of a bridge on the CVNT being damaged from flooding in the Spring of 2016, but wasn't sure of its location. The "detour" was approximately 9 miles of back roads to LaPorte City (and several hills, I might add). So I opted to continue on the CVNT as far as I could, figuring I could cut over to old Hiway 218 and follow that into LaPorte City. This section of the trail seemed to be more dense with trees, providing a wind break, and some relief from the sun. Of course, that also means a great environment for gnats and some mosquitoes, which, during the early morning, seemed to be in abundance.

Approximately 4 miles from LaPorte City, I decided to detour out to old Hiway 218, and ride the shoulder into town. Turns out, the damaged bridge is right on the northern edge of LaPorte City. So I likely could have ridden further on the trail before detouring. I intersected with the Trail near the 8th Street and Sycamore Street intersection (just across from the softball diamonds).
- Total time (Waterloo to LaPorte City) - 2hrs
- Total Distance - 20 miles

The Ride: From La Porte City to Brandon

The next major sight was McFarlane Park, and the rebuilt bridge over the Cedar River. Along the CVNT was a really well maintained park area to stop and take a break. Just past the new bridge over the Cedar, the trail switches from asphalt to the compacted limestone. It was still easy to ride on, but tended to slow down the average pace a bit.

From the bridge, the trail follows along the Cedar River, passing Buzzard's Glory Quarry, and some abandoned silos (used during the railway era), before entering Brandon, IA - home to "Iowa's Largest Frying Pan." This section of the CVNT is not heavily used. The trail path is narrower, and the bush growth is much closer to the trail. But the sights of the Cedar River, the old Quarry (where outdoor concerts were played in the past), and the abandoned silos are well worth the ride.

The ride from LaPorte City to Brandon was approximately 10 miles, and took 1 hour and 20 minutes - a slower pace due the change in the trail, and of course a a couple more stops "to explore".

I decided to take a break in Brandon, to rest my legs (and butt), and to partake in a couple protein bars, hoping to help give the "ol' body" some added energy.
- Total time (Waterloo to Brandon) - 3hrs-5min
- Total Distance - 30 miles

The Ride: From Brandon to Urbana

By now, it was approximately 11am, and I was thinking I am half way there. So off I went, vaguely remembering the ride from Brandon to Urbana that I did years ago... In this section, the relatively flat grade I had been riding for the 1st 30 miles transitioned to more grade changes. The trail began to open up more, with the corn fields of Iowa clearly visible. This section of trail has a short "detour", which leaves the original rail bed, and runs approximately a 1/4 mile out into a field, and then  back, evidently to avoid crossing a landowners property. Being more out in the open now, I could see the "Urbana" water tower in the distance. At this point in my adventure, my thoughts began to turn to "where's my next stop for a short rest...". Sure enough, Urbana had a nice little green space along the trail that worked perfect for a water break!
- Total time (Waterloo to Urbana) - 4hrs
- Total Distance - 40 miles

The Ride: From Urbana to Center Point

This section I remember well, as shortly after Urbana, the trail passes under I-380, and returns to a generally level grade into Center Point. But there's a great downhill section to the Interstate! But as luck would have it, and knowing it was almost noon, the light wind that I had at my back for most of the morning, was now becoming a headwind, and a bit gusty.... that, and the fact that my legs and rear end were starting to "feel" the 4 hours and 40 miles on the saddle. The landscape now was pretty much that of following a power line right of way, with woods and fields on the sides. My memory also recalled Center Point having a refurbished Depot as well. (I should note, that the Depot has converted a portion of the structure to be open, with picnic tables inside, but a couple walls open to the outside - nice!) 

At this point, I was ready to stop for my 2nd major break. I grabbed a picnic table in the shade, and took another "protein bar and water" break. It was definitely time.... the trip from Urbana was only ~ 5miles, but it took me almost an hour to complete! 
- Total time (Waterloo to Center Point) - 5hrs
- Total Distance - 45 miles

The Ride: From Center Point to Hiawatha

By now, my rear was really dreading sitting on the seat, and my thighs were definitely beginning to burn. But I knew, the asphalt portion of the CVNT would begin again, and the end of the trail should only be about 5-6 miles away. As I headed South from Center Point, and reconnected with the asphalt, I started seeing substantially more riders on the trail. Most were riding North, and appeared to be "riding hard", like they were trying to get in a power ride. I even passed a couple groups of riders with music booming from a speaker attached to their bike (So much for the peaceful ride thru the countryside!). The surroundings began to transition from rural sights to those of an approaching community. The trail now began to cross more hiways and streets, and of course more vehicle traffic. While I was ready to make it to Cedar Rapids, I was already missing the peacefulness of the country ride.  
- Total time (Waterloo to Hiawatha) - 6hrs
- Total Distance - 60 miles

The Ride: From Hiawatha to Newbo Alehouse

Having made it the entire Cedar Valley Nature Trail, I was now in unknown territory, travelling through the city of Cedar Rapids to the Newbo Alehouse, in the Czech Village. (NOTE: at the time of this writing, the Newbo Alehouse is now permanently closed). So I took off heading for Downtown Cedar Rapids... I thought.... After making a couple wrong turns (and adding a couple extra miles to my trip), I finally found the the Cedar River Trail, which travels thru the Downtown area of the City, following the East side I-380 to J. Avenue, cutting West and following the shoreline of Cedar Lake, crossing under I-380 again, and following the railroad tracks through Downtown Cedar Rapids.

The Newbo City Market came into sight, and I new was was close. A couple blocks of city roads, and I made it the Newbo Alehouse! I removed the front wheel from my bike for transport back to Waterloo, and then plopped down on the ground under a tree to relieve my aching butt and legs. Shortly after that, my "SAG Wagon" (AKA my Santa Fe Sport driven by my wife) pulled in the parking lot. YES! After a quick refreshing in the restroom with wet wipes and a clean shirt, the only thing left to do was celebrate with a meal and some BEER! 
- Total time (Waterloo to Newbo Alehouse, Cedar Rapids) - 7hrs & 15 minutes
- Total Distance - 69 miles

The Ride: Summary

The ride was a wonderful adventure. While I knew what to expect on most of the ride, the ride thru Cedar Rapids was a new experience, and well worth riding the extra 9 miles. I learned that the ride is "very doable", and a "must do" for those looking for a bit more of a challenge than a long ride on country roads. I also learned that the ride will wear you out if you don't take some breaks, bring nourishment, and ride it at a comfortable pace. I probably pushed the pace a bit too fast this trip, and "felt it" in the end, with tired legs and a rear end which didn't want to get on the bike seat again! But not knowing what the end of the ride would take to complete, I wanted to make sure I got there with time to spare. 

Bottom Line: Do It!!

If you are interest in viewing all the photos taken during the trip, click here.

Editors Note: The only downer of the trip was the "rock" that chose to fly up and chip/crack my windshield on the way home. Very frustrating, but hey, that's what car insurance is for!

Monday, March 14, 2016

2016 Goal - Explore Iowa's 27 State Parks: Visit #1 - The Mines of Spain Recreational Area

Having lived in Iowa practically my entire life, I decided that it was time for me to explore the natural beauty this state has to offer. As most of my friends will tell you, when I set out to do something, I usually have a goal, and I complete that goal (I suspect that's the "engineer" in me). 

So, for 2016, I have set the goal to visit and explore all 27 of the Iowa State Parks. Yes, that works out to averaging about one park every two weeks for the entire year. And those of you know the Winters in Iowa will understand that if I am going to complete this goal, there will be several weeks when I will be checking out more than one park!

To begin my quest, I decided to select The Mines of Spain State Recreational Area, just south of Dubuque. The earliest known inhabitants of the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area were the Mesquakie Indians. From this site, the Indians carried on a fur trade with French voyagers, and worked the lead mines for many decades dating back to before the Revolutionary War. Julien Dubuque, credited as being the first European to settle on what is now Iowa soil, received a land grant from the Governor of Spain who resided in New Orleans at the time. The grant gave him permission to work the land owned by Spain, and specified the 189-square mile area to be named as "Mines of Spain". (Julien Dubuque eventually married Potosa, daughter of the Mesquakie Indian Chief, Peosta).

The park offers fine settings for a family or company picnics. Visitors can also enjoy the outdoors, experience the E.B. Lyons Nature Center, hike the many trails and enjoy the natural vistas at the park, overlooking the Mississippi River. 

There are two entrances to the Park, The North side entrance is accessible from Hiway 61S using the Grandview Ave. exit and Julien Dubuque Drive to Mines of Spain Rd. I chose the southern entrance which is also accessible using Hiway 61S, but travelling a few miles further, turning on Hiway 52 South and exiting on Olde Massey Rd..

Entering on the south side gives you the opportunity to drive thru the "prairie" section of the recreational area, scoping out the various trails and natural sites available to explore. My first stop was at the Julien Dubuque Monument, grave site of Julien Dubuque. Located on a edge of the bluff above Catfish Creek and the Mississippi River, this historic location provides insight into the 1st European to settle in Iowa, and incredible views of the City of Dubuque and the mighty Mississippi River. I picked a great day, as the sky was clear blue, and little to no breeze.

Hoping to hike the park from one end to the other, I found the 1st (and closest) trail - The Julien Dubuque Trail. Recently constructed, this trail was only 0.6 miles long, but with a steep descent from the monument to a parking area and bike trail from the City of Dubuque. The trail, was a bit muddy and rocky, but easy to navigate. I had hoped I'd find another trail head at the bottom, but no such luck. So, I retraced my tracks back to the top of the bluff, and hopped back in the car to find my next trail. 

A short drive down from the bluff, I came upon the Catfish Creek Canoe Access point and the Catfish Trail. This trail followed along side Catfish Creek for approximately a mile before climbing up the hillside to some wooded bluffs overlooking the Creek. This trail would follow along the top of the hill, until eventually dropping back down to the start of the trail and the parking area. The 1st mile was a simple, quiet stroll along the Creek, while the last portion, climbing up to the bluffs, "burned a few calories" and convinced me to stop at the top to enjoy the view (and catch my breath).

By now, the crisp morning had turned into a perfect day - temps in the low 60's and a light breeze. Time to shed a layer, and move on to my next trail - The Horseshoe Bluff Nature Loop. Looking to do some climbing, and check out the great vistas from these bluffs, I headed up the North end of the Loop (fairly steep initial climb), and was greeted with another great view of the City of Dubuque and the Mississippi. Behind me, looking to the South, was Horseshoe Bluffs. This was a really interesting area. There was a huge bluff overlooking the river, and another bluff to the West, which looked down to the parking area, the wetlands, and the picnic areas along the road. In between was this amazing "canyon", which opened up on the South end to the Wetland Trail and Observation Deck, at river level.  I descended to the canyon floor, wandering through a "mini-forest" of evergreens, and surprisingly, a small amphitheater in the middle. While down there (only one in the canyon), some hikers on top of the bluff began yelling into canyon. It was amazing to hear the loudness of the echo off  the bluff's rock walls.. pretty cool!

Reaching the end of the canyon, I came upon the wetlands area, an ideal sanctuary for waterfowl, frogs, and fish.  The trail I was on suddenly turned from rock to grass, and wandered along the side of the marsh, until ending at the base of another bluff on the south side. Rather than retrace my steps, I worked my way down to the railroad tracks along side the Mississippi, and followed the tracks back upstream about a quarter mile before connecting back to the Horseshoe Bluff Trail. (Editor's note - You never can see enough of the Mississippi River, and everything that happens on and around it!).

Rather than wander the trail along the Wetlands back to the parking area, I decided to loop back up thru the Canyon, following a different path and see if I could find a trail to the top of the Bluffs. The 1st "path to the top" I came upon looked "doable" and a good challenge. However, noting it was still a bit muddy and fairly steep, I opted to use my good sense and skip this trail.... maybe next time.

Upon reaching the North end of the canyon, and climbing back up to the observation point, I found a somewhat hidden, beaten down path leading to the top of the Western Bluff, most likely where I heard the other hikers yelling into the canyon. Time to explore!  This trail was not well used, so I was a bit apprehensive at the beginning. However, once on top and able to see the views, it was definitely worth the effort. Incredible views showing the expanse of the canyon as well as the Bluffs along the River, and the Mississippi itself.

At this point, I descended down the bluff to the wetlands trail, and made it back to the Parking area. With almost 5 miles of hiking completed (in addition to my daily morning 4 mile walk this morning), it was time to call it a day. The legs were "feeling it". 

The 1st of my Iowa State Parks visits had come to an end. Having only explored three of the Park's ten trails, I can see a return trip to Mines of Spain in my future. Enjoying a beautiful March day seeing amazing sites along the Mississippi River, learning about the history of the Mines of Spain, and getting in some great exercise without even knowing it... now that's a good visit!

Time to start planning my Iowa State Park visit #2!

(The following are other photos taken during my Mines of Spain Recreational Park visit)