Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wapsi Great Western Line

The Wapsi Great Western Line trail is like a beautiful dream. It extends from Riceville, Iowa (population: 400) to the border of Minnesota in a whirl of forest and farms. It's one of Iowa and Minnesota's' best-kept conundrums: if nobody knows it's there, who will come? This beautiful, shifting, astonishing landscape is calm and silent. Eighteen miles of the trail are allegedly paved, but we clocked only 12.5 before the surface turned to big rocks and dirt. We rode an easy 25 miles on asphalt trail and bumpy country roads.

The trailhead (above)

Few trails are this beautifully groomed. We've ridden all over the midwest: there's usually at least a pothole. Here's the history of the WGWL: In 1990, ten years after the last Chicago Western Train whistled through town, the Ricevillians decided to build the trail on the railroad bed. The idea was simple: it would connect the town to Lake Hendricks Park a few miles away. Then the project took off: trees were planted as memorials to people, a butterfly garden was developed, and grants acquired for the extension of "The Gateway to Iowa - Gateway to Minnesota" project. (There are several fundraisers planned.)

At the trailhead are flower beds, an information center in an old wooden church, and memorial stones. This memorial especially struck me:

We rode through dark green northern woods, fields so up close and personal you could touch them, off-trail on a county road past Amish farms, through miles of stunning windmills.

Through the Woods (above)

Riding on the roads I was ecstatic. The roads are always faster than the trails, the surface harder, and the scenery more exciting and varied. We rode up a couple of hills and down dales past farms, many with flowerbeds in their front yards. We passed an Amish farmer in a field with a horse-drawn wagon. An Amish buggy clop-clopped behind us but turned off before it passed us.

Grain elevator

Here are my attempts to photograph the gorgeous windmills (with no zoom on my trusty camera). By the way, in terms of wind power, Texas is No. 1, Iowa No. 2, California No. 3, and Minnesota 4th place. The Great Plains states from Texas to the Dakotas have the potential to generate up to 16 times the normal electricity consumption in the U.S., according to a study released last week by Harvard's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Go, wind!

And what was I reading? The Tourmaline by Paul Park, a fantasy, second in a series, very well-written, vaguely reminiscent of Philip Pullman's books.

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