High Trestle Trail 1.0 - Bridging the Gap - CycleBlaze

April 7, 2020

High Trestle Trail 1.0

Iowa has almost 300 bike trails, totaling more than 2,400 miles. The crown jewel in this system is the 26 mile long High Trestle Trail, highlighted by the High Trestle Bridge, a half-mile span thirteen stories above the Des Moines River. The Bridge boasts an award-winning art installation, From Here to There, that evokes the coal-mining history of the region. As you pass through the 130-foot tall columnar portals at each end of the bridge, diamond-shaped steel cribbings radiate above in a changing geometry meant to evoke the sensation of traveling down a mine shaft. LED lights line the cribbings over the main river channel, giving the Bridge an even more dramatic appearance at night. Cycling the trail at night – rolling slowly past the portals, above a dark void and into an eerie blue glow - is arguably the most memorable experience of my cycling life.  

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Scott AndersonWow. That’s worth a journey. I’ve been meaning to ask where your cover photo was taken.
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1 month ago
Susan CarpenterIt definitely is a special ride. I've encountered people from all over the country who come just to ride the trail at night.
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1 month ago
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I've ridden parts of the High Trestle Trail perhaps a hundred times since it was completed in 2011. The trail runs 12.5 miles north from Ankeny to Slater where it turns west for another 12.5 miles to Woodward. Located 14 miles from my home, the Slater trailhead also connects to the Heart of Iowa Trail and provides a convenient starting point for rides in almost every direction -which you choose is often determined on the speed and direction of the Iowa winds. It is likely that additional journal entries will involve some part of the High Trestle Trail, so this entry is labeled 1.0.

My plan for today was a quick morning ride from Slater to Woodward. I had several commitments for the afternoon, but did not want to waste what promised to be an excellent day for enjoying the outdoors: sunny, warm and moderate winds. A morning ride was perfect as afternoon temperatures were predicted to be in the mid-70s and the trail would become more crowded as the day wore on. When I arrived in Slater a little before nine, morning mists lingered over the fields and the trailhead parking lot was empty. I headed toward Madrid, the halfway point on the Slater-Woodward section of the trail. It was a quiet, peaceful, and familiar ride. The mist lent a stillness to the air, broken only by birdsongs and the scurrying of squirrels and rabbits in the underbrush.

“If you build it they will come” is one of the more memorable lines from Field of Dreams, a baseball movie set in an Iowa cornfield. The town of Madrid showcases the economic benefit of expanding cycling infrastructure in rural Iowa. The Flat Tire Lounge, a metal Quonset hut sitting just few feet from the trailhead, was the first business built specifically for cyclists. Since then, similar and related establishments have sprung up in each town along the trail. Cycling into downtown Madrid, I see more signs of economic impact – a new cheese and sandwich shop, an art gallery. But adjacent empty storefronts speak to the continuing struggle for small businesses in small town Iowa.

Morning mist lingers over the fields at the start of my ride
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Iowa has few vineyards, but a growing number of wineries
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The Snus Hill winery is about a mile down this road - not an easy ride for the skinny tire road bike set.
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Scott AndersonNice shot, but mostly I like the name of the winery. What sort of name is Snus, and how is it pronounced?
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1 month ago
Susan CarpenterTo Scott AndersonThanks Scott. According to their web site, the winery is named after their Burmese cat, who is named after an old Swedish chewing tobacco - and depicted on their labels.
I'm pretty sure Snus is pronounced like in snooze, with a soft s, not a z at the end.
And they do grow their own grapes in here Iowa!
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1 month ago
The Flat Tire Lounge, a Quonset hut built for cyclists
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Bike repair stand festooned with stickers from cycling teams and bike organizations.
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Madrid is a popular stop along the trail for eats and libations
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Downtown Madrid
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The former Bank is now the Madrid Historical Museum.
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Sisters in Cheese - a new establishment in downtown Madrid that makes a pretty good sandwich, with or without cheese
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What is now Madrid was the site of the first permanent Swedish-American settled community established after the 17th century
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The postage-stamp Cassel Corner Park in downtown Madrid celebrates the original Swedish settlers. The bike rack, like the signs along the trail, evokes the steel cribbings of the High Trestle Bridge
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Just beyond Madrid is a spot that always brings a smile to my face – the underpass artwork honoring the High Trestle Trail and the Madrid Tigers. The 130-foot gateway pillars of the Bridge soon appeared, and once again I was floating along high above the Des Moines River. The sun was trying to break through, but the clouds persisted and my stops for photos were few and brief.

Leaving Madrid
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Artwork on the underpass just west of Madrid. I particularly like the H's depicted as overalls
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The opposite wall of the underpass gives a nod to the hometown Madrid Tigers
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The Des Moines River snakes through the valley
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The eastern approach to the bridge. The 130 foot pillars form a gateway to the Bridge and are meant as sculptural symbols of the "cutting and slicing of nature that forms this river valley". The steel cribbings over the trail appear to rotate, and are meant to evoke the sensation of traveling down a mine shaft as you make you way across the bridge
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View to the south. Last year, the heavy rains and flooding in the midwest swelled the river from tree line to tree line
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To state highway crossing to the north is 70 ft below the High Trestle Bridge
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As I neared Woodward, southerly winds brought the unmistakable odor of anhydrous ammonia emanating from the Landus Cooperative, which lies adjacent to the Woodward trailhead. It was a busy day at the Co-op, another indication of ongoing agricultural activities in the midst of the pandemic. In contrast, the trailhead restrooms and visitor center were locked and all was quiet at Whistling Donkey, the latest of the trailside bars to appear. In town, the café was open for take-out and I spotted one mask among the few Woodwardians going about their essential business - washing clothes, picking up mail, grocery shopping.

Blue skies started to appear as I headed to Woodward
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The Woodward trailhead sits at the western end of the High Trestle Trail.
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Tractor-trailers were lined up at the Co-op, getting a load of corn destined for rail yard and to parts unknown
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Smiling co-op worker who operates the silo shoot for delivery of grain to waiting trucks
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Anhydrous ammonia is a nitrogen source applied to fields in the spring
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The Whistling Donkey is the latest trailside bar/restaurant to spring up. It is a popular spot for bikers - including those riding motorized cycles - as well as local residents enjoying a night out on the town
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No visiting the trailhead restrooms or visitor center
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Downtown Woodward
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"Cycle Reflections" or "Vivien George photo-bombing antique bicycles displayed in a hardware store window"
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The Woodward terminus of the High Trestle Trail is less than 10 miles from the Raccoon River Valley Trail, an 89-mile paved trail that connects to the western suburbs of Des Moines and, from there, to more than 200 miles of Central Iowa trails. A “Connector Trail” that will join these two popular trails is in the early days of construction. Today, I turned back and retraced my route to Slater. 

The sun came out during my return leg, bringing warmth and cyclists. I passed couples, families with small children, small groups of friends and solo riders. A bit too many for my comfort and I stopped only twice for pictures – just to give you a glimpse of the trail in the sunshine.

Map showing several trails of the Central Iowa trail network, including the High Trestle Trail (in teal), the Heart of Iowa Trail (green) and the Raccoon River Valley trail (maroon). The yellow Connector Link is circled
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View of the High Trestle Trail from the old bridge abutment at the west end of the bridge
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Looking south across the river valley
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LED lighting on the inside face of the steel cribbing
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Today's ride: 26 miles (42 km)
Total: 120 miles (193 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 7
Bob DistelbergLooks like a great ride, and the bridge looks amazing, especially those night shots.
Bob
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1 month ago
Susan CarpenterTo Bob DistelbergThe bridge at night is amazing. I've done about a dozen night rights and it never fails to thrill.
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1 month ago
Rachael AndersonThe bike trails look wonderful and I love the bridges! It reminds me up when we were bicycling in Taipei which had amazing bicycle trails. They had wonderful bridges that we rode in the dark!
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1 month ago
Mike AylingAn interesting ride but if the Swedes started there why is the town now called Madrid?

Mike
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1 month ago
Susan CarpenterTo Mike AylingHad to look this one up. The named was changed by Charles Gaston to get even with his Swedish brothers over a dispute regarding the family estate. Gaston was contemptuous of one of his employees from Spain who spoke often of Madrid, Spain. To get even with everyone, Gaston renamed the town Madrid.
In these parts, the name is pronounced Mad –rid, rather than Ma-drid.
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1 month ago
Susan CarpenterTo Rachael AndersonRiding in the dark can be magical, if a bit unsettling. When I was in college we used to ride gravel roads at night - without lights or helmets!
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1 month ago
Mike AylingTo Susan CarpenterThanks for that research Susan.
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1 month ago