Des Moines River Dips - Bridging the Gap - CycleBlaze

April 23, 2020

Des Moines River Dips

As readers of this journal will have noticed, Iowa is not blessed with mountainous terrain and sinuous switchbacks. As a central Iowa cyclist, I have spent many, many miles on relatively flat open roads, with wind usually the greatest challenge. I did not avoid hills per se, but neither did I seek them out. Over the last few years, however, I’ve found myself increasingly attracted to hillier terrain. Before a virus changed the world, my touring plans for 2020 included a guided tour in northern Vietnam/Laos and a self-contained trip through the Italian Alps. In anticipation of the Alps, I outfitted Vivien George with new drive train that would give me gearing ratios better suited touring in mountainous regions. I decided today would be a great chance to try out the new gearing. 

Vivien George was just back from my LBS with her gravel tires, so I could head for the hilliest area around and not worry about what road surface I might encounter. So, are there any steep hills in central Iowa? Not exactly. The steepest climbs are found on roads that drop and rise as they cross the Des Moines river, similar to one through Lehigh I’d ridden the other day. I planned a route that would cross the river plain several times, starting at Ledges State Park and looping north and east through the towns of Boone and Odgen.

Located just east of the Des Moines River, Ledges State Park features a sandstone gorge that was formed by Pea’s Creek, a tributary of the Des Moines River. Ledges is a popular destination for those seeking a bit of the outdoors, with a number of campgrounds, picnic sites and a nice network of hiking trails. I got an early start and arrived at the upland campground area a little after 9 am. It was a crisp, blue sky day with little wind – a wonderful biking day. Heading out on Canyon Road, I wound my way down to the lower levels of the park. At several points, Pea’s Creek flowed over the roadway –today I was sensible enough to ride, rather than walk, through the water.

Ready to roll
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Sandstone bluffs of Ledges State Park
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Pea's Creek flows over Canyon Road at several spots in the low-lying areas of Ledges State Park
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Ledges State Park
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Though I'm a bit jealous of those pink boots, I more than likely would have been the little girl wading in with sneakers and socks
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Though it lies just 15 miles west of Ames, I had visited Boone only a handful of times and was not familiar with the downtown area. As I passed through neighborhoods towards town, I had the uneasy sense that this was a town in pandemic denial. My unease increased when I came across a downtown building sporting a very, very large Trump 2020 mural (I’ll spare you the picture). I reluctantly stopped at Casey’s store for a bottle of water and found it busy with unmasked workers and patrons milling about in close proximity. I couldn’t wait to get out of town. Maybe I was a bit too paranoid, but there is no sense catching the virus from Covid deniers.

Old school bus love nest?
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Excellent ratio of dirt:gravel
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Looking east to the far side of the Des Moines River
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A gravel dip - yippee!
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Cattle in a wooded pasture
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Mum and a little one
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Looking back toward the Des Moines River
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Birthplace of Mamie Doud Eisenhower, one of Boone's most notable former residents
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Leaving Boone, I crossed the Des Moines River, stopping roadside for a quick bite to eat  before heading up through woodlands. Turning east along a county highway, I was back into the familiar landscape of farmland and open vistas, the rhythm of quiet roads stretching toward the horizon. After four miles, I turned south for another five miles until reaching Ogden, pop. ~2,000.

It was my first time in the town of Ogden and I found it a somewhat charming town with a number of Main St businesses, including a local newspaper. However, my conversation with a local resident Jeff was less optimistic. He was sitting outside in front of a large vacant lot that was previously the site of the local grocery store, before it burned down. Several small towns in the area have recently lost their local grocery, and each is concerned about the long-term effects of losing such an important community presence.

A quick stop for lunch after crossing the Des Moines River
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Looking south down the Des Moines River
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Sights on the way up from the river included amusing yard sculpture and...
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....an old Standard gas station. The covered gas pumps in the small covered building are difficult to make out in the shadows
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The open road
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Downtown Odgen
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Keeping a safe distance from Jeff at the site of the former Odgen grocery store
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I left Ogden on the Lincoln Highway, which was the first transcontinental highway from New York to San Francisco. The section through central Iowa has been largely usurped by US Highway 30, which closely parallels the Lincoln Highway and absorbs most of the east-west traffic. I crossed the Des Moines River for the final time and headed south just before Boone, retracing my route along the gravel road to the entrance of Ledges State Park.

It was mid-afternoon on a warm, sunny day when I pulled into the “Flood Pole” parking lot, which was packed with cars and visitors. The lowland levels of the park are often flooded by the Des Moines River, and floods have increased in frequency since the creation of the Saylorville Dam in the 1970s. The high-water marks noted on the flood pole give an indication of just how significant the floods have been. The final climb of the day was a challenge, and I did get off to walk the last steep bit. Overall though, I was very pleased with my new gears and am ready to take on more hills.

Leaving Odgen on the Lincoln Highway
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Battin Chapel, built 1887
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Scott AndersonWhat an interesting roofline! I’ve never seen a church like this.
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3 weeks ago
Crossing the Des Moines River
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Back on my new favorite gravel road
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Des Moines River
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The Flood Pole, showing high water marks during years of significant flooding. The Great Flood of 1993 caused considerable flooding throughout Central Iowa. Des Moines was without potable water for weeks. Most of Ames was impassable, and there was 14 ft of water in Hilton Coliseum, home of ISU basketball
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Back at the upland entrance to Ledges State Park
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Home
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Today's ride: 44 miles (71 km)
Total: 319 miles (513 km)

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Rachael AndersonGlad you got to test your new gearing. I have super low gearing for climbing and it’s great! I sure understand you uneasiness being somewhere where people are ignoring the necessary precautions. It creeps me out!
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3 weeks ago
Susan CarpenterThanks Rachel. The lower gearing gives both a physical and psychological boost - and we all know how important your mind set is when facing a challenging climb.
It's amazing to me that our safety during this pandemic can depend on who we have for a governor. It is a bit unsettling to live in one of the few states that never locked down, and is re-opening as the case numbers continue to increase. I feel very lucky that am I not dependent on a job in a meat plant!
Enjoy the Palouse - Susan
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonNice, and yet just a bit disappointing. No barns?
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3 weeks ago