With temperatures forecast in the 70's a day before
Thanksgiving, it seemed like a good opportunity to hit the trail and burn some
calories before eating too much the following day.
Instead of riding some of the more popular paved trails
on this day, I thought it would be fun to explore some segments of the Heart of
Iowa Nature Trail that I have never visited before. As both a cycling and railroading afficionado, I looked forward to cycling portions of this former Milwaukee Road right-of-way.
I decided to start at the Huxley Trailhead and work my
way east. The trailhead in Huxley has a
nice shelter, restrooms and ample parking.
Through Huxley, the trail runs through a corridor where the former
Milwaukee Railroad once traversed the city.
After zig zagging a bit to cross Highway 69, I was back on the right of
way headed east toward Cambridge. A new
trailhead park looks to be nearing completion on the southeast side of Huxley adjoining the trail.
After crossing under I-35, I encountered a nice mix of
wooded ares, prairie remnants, wetlands and farm fields. I made it just in time to the bridge crossing over
the Union Pacific "Spine Line" at Cambridge to catch a passing train
below. Crossing the Skunk River bridge I had a great view of several bald
eagles feeding just north of the bridge.
Between Cambridge and Maxwell as you climb out of the
Skunk River valley you go through some deep tree lined cuts through the hills
that makes it feel like you're in a tunnel.
This stretch also offers some great views of the rolling countryside in
this southern part of Story County as you progress on towards Maxwell.
Just before entering Maxwell, I blew a tire and not
having a spare tube with me had to use the emergency patch kit for the first
time. After taking care of this, I decided to turn around and head back to
where I started vs. continuing on to Collins which was my intended destination.
Upon returning to Huxley for a quick lunch, I decided to
drive over to east of Collins to check out the segment running from there to
Rhodes including the famed Hoy Bridge over Clear Creek. This segment of the trail felt noticeably
more remote and traverses some heavily wooded areas with deep cuts through the
hilly portion of southeast Story and southwest Marshall Counties.
The Hoy Bridge didn't disappoint with
spectacular views of the countryside below as well as the impressive
architecture of the bridge itself. Not
far to the west of the bridge where the trail curves is the site of a 1902 train wreck
where 13 individuals were lost. In Rhodes
there is a trailhead at the south end of their Main Street where you can access
the east end of the trail.
Even today signs of the old "Milwaukee Road"
still exist along the trail with many of the original telegraph poles still
standing along the way. It's great that
portions of this corridor have been preserved as part of three different trail
systems in central Iowa - The Heart of Iowa Trail, the High Trestle Trail, and
the Raccoon River Valley Trail west of Perry.
It's too bad that the entire corridor isn't contiguous from
Melbourne all the way to Slater and beyond, but there are efforts to connect some of the short "broken" segments and there are easy detours around them today.
Riding the 'bent with the wider
tires was definitely the right choice for this excursion, as the trail is
mostly crushed limestone and was soft in some spots. I did encounter one fellow cyclist near
Huxley, some folks hiking near Cambridge, and one person jogging on the stretch
between Rhodes and Collins.
This trail is certainly a gem
and well worth the visit, particularly with the wide variety of landscapes,
wildlife, and small towns along it's path.
I look forward to riding the segment between Collins and Maxwell on my