Strange Sightings on the Great Western Trail

The Trail

A former railway for Chicago Great Western Railroad this trail begins at Park Ave/George Flagg Parkway in Des Moines and travels 16.5 miles to Martensdale.  The asphalt trail winds through Willow Creek Golf course and under Highway 5.  Tree canopy buffers wind and provides shade on a hot day.    Construction on the new tunnel at Army Post Road looks to be complete.  Sections of the trail have been patched and portions have been replaced with concrete.  There are several gravel road crossings with some flanked by short but steep grades.

Trail Map


The Ride

Leaving the trailhead for an out-n-back ride to Martensdale I decided to "just ride" and not plan on writing about my experience.  I didn't anticipate anything overly new or interesting on this ride.  There's the new tunnel to ride through at Army Post Road, and a new park just off the trail in Cumming, but that would be it, or so I thought.

This ride ended up being one of the strangest and I ended up compelled to share. Unfortunately I don't have photographic evidence of the majority of sightings, so dear reader, you'll just have to trust me. If only I had a GoPro!

The weirdness began just south of Cumming when I noticed something dangling from an overhead tree branch.  What the heck?  It was a raccoon carcass swaying in the breeze.  It had been there quite a while.  Weird...and gross!  

Riding this trail you'll often see cows grazing in fields between Cummings and Martensdale.  These are pastoral scenes worthy of Iowa postcards.  Pretty stuff.   I noticed a cow laying down napping along the fence near the trail.  Slowing down I quickly learned this cow wasn't going to be waking up...ever.  Dead as a door-nail.  The farmer had either yet to notice he was missing a cow from it's herd, or just hadn't found it yet.  Here's hoping he does because this is not desirable scenery.  Double weird...double gross!

Reaching Martensdale I was looking forward to taking a break and eating the breakfast I had packed.  Pulling up to a picnic shelter I was startled to discover a teenager sleeping on a picnic table bench.  It was a school day, so obviously he was skipping class to catch up on his sleep.  I didn't feel like dining next to a dozing stranger so I chose a different picnic area.  Weird!

Was it skip day for students at Martensdale St. Mary's?  Back on the trail I pedaled past the party bus business in Cumming and noticed another young man.  He was sitting alone inside a parked trolley bus and looked to be reading a book. At least he was doing something educational if he was skipping school too.  Weird!

Much of the Great Western trail travels through tree lined areas where you're guaranteed to see either Chipmunks or Fox Squirrels.  A pudgy squirrel with a death wish ran alongside my front tire for several yards before darting across to the other side.   I've almost run over Chipmunks before, but not a squirrel.  Weird!

Back in Des Moines on the trail segment flanking the airport I saw two women ahead of me walking their dogs.  As I approached they kindly moved to the shoulder so I could pass.  Slowing down I noticed on of the dogs looked to be a Golden Retriever, but what was the other strange looking dog?  Wait!  Is that a goat??!!??  Yep! A women had her unique pet on a leash and was taking it out for a stroll.  What kind of bike ride was I on?  Double weird!!

Returning back to the trailhead I took a picture to document my ride for 30 Days of Biking.  That's when I realized I had ridden a trail 16 miles in length on the 16th day of April.  Weird and wacky stuff indeed.

Happy Riding!





An Afternoon on the Great Western Trail

The Trail

A former railway for Chicago Great Western Railroad this trail begins at Park Ave/George Flagg Parkway in Des Moines and travels 16.5 miles to Martensdale.  The asphalt trail winds through Willow Creek Golf course and under Highway 5.  Tree canopy buffers wind and provides shade on a hot day.    Sections of the trail have been patched and portions have been replaced with concrete.  There are several gravel road crossings with some flanked by short but steep grades.

Trail Map


The Ride

With time off from work my brother and sister-in-law met me at the Des Moines trailhead with the plan to ride to Martensdale for lunch.

Unfortunately the ride started on a bad note.  Reaching into the pamphlet box at the trailhead my sister-in-law was stung by wasps from a nest hidden at the back of the box.  Luckily I had my safety kit from Pale Spruce and was able to give her some antihistamine to help with the swelling.  She was quite the trooper and didn't let a wasp encounter deter her from riding.  I would have probably have called it quits and headed home!

In between Cumming and Martensdale we stopped at the memorial for a quick water break. The marker and vintage farm equipment commemorate the environmental contributions of Charles Spain.  A native to Warren County, Charles held degrees from both Iowa State University and Drake University.  He was a teacher for 36 years and also served on the Warren County Conservation board for 20 years.  

It was a beautiful day for a ride.  The shade of the trees and a light breeze kept us comfortable. The pastoral scenes from the trial were something from an Iowa postcard.  Fearless chipmunks scampering across the trail kept us on our toes and signs from the former railroad marked the mileage to Kansas City.

Reaching town we admired the beautiful football field for the Martensdale St. Marys Blue Devils and checked out the chainsaw sculpture at the fire station before making our way to our lunchtime destination.  

Lunch at Roadside Inn was a good choice!  It was a great place to relax and grab a bite to eat.  My brother and his wife shared the giant tenderloin and I had half of a club sandwich and salad. 

On the ride back to Des Moines we decided to stop off in Cumming at Iowa Distilling Company.  After parking our bikes we discovered they were closed due to a family emergency.  We took a break on their steps before heading back to the trailhead.  

Despite the challenging start we had an enjoyable ride.  What better way to spend an afternoon in Iowa than on a bike ride?

Happy Riding!


Morning Ride to Martensdale On the Great Western Trail

Trail Map

Trail Information

Overview

  • The Great Western Trail is a portion of the former Chicago Great Western railroad and is part of TrailLink by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy.

  • A trail head is located north of the highway just inside the Cumming city limits.

  • The asphalt trail has slight grades and moderate tree canopy.  

  • There are significant bumps and dips along the route.   Sections of the trail have been patched and portions have been replaced with concrete.  There are several gravel road crossings.  Some are flanked by short but steep grades. .

  • The Cumming Tap has a porta potty if you need a pit stop before heading out on the trail.  

  • There are two shaded  rest areas along the trail.  One has a water fountain for filling up your bottle.

  • The Martensdale trail head is really nice.  It’s incorporated into a city park.  There are two picnic shelters one with restrooms.  

Considerations

  • This is a beautiful trail that’s perfect for windy or hot summer days .

  • Along with avoiding the bumpy portions of the trail keep, an eye out for darting chipmunks, fallen branches, and walnuts.  

  • Use caution and slow down when crossing gravel intersections.

Stops

  • My break was at the Martensdale trail head. I ate a snack and used the restroom.  I had wore one too many layers today and took off an additional one and stuffed it into my bike bag.   

Sightings

  • There are some pretty views of rolling Iowa country side.  I even saw some cows.  Moo!

  • Not too far outside of Cumming there is a marker commemorating the environmental contributions of Charles Spain.  After doing some research when I returned home, I learned he was a Warren County native.  He had degrees from both Iowa State University and Drake University.  He was a teacher for 36 years and also served on the Warren County Conservation board for 20 years.  

  • A wooden bridge crosses the North River.  In the middle you can pull over and take in the view.  

  • Keep an eye open for the patriotic barn just outside of Martensdale.

Treats

  • Unfortunately I didn’t plan well left home without packing a snack. Thankfully about 5 blocks East of the trail head I found a Jiffy Xpress and grabbed a chocolate milk. Can’t have a ride without a treat!

  • I noticed The Roadside Inn is just across the street from the Jiffy Xpress.  I’ve heard it’s a good place to grab a beer and some grub. It made me think of one of my favorite movies, Road House.  Maybe next time I’m in Martensdale I’ll venture over to see if Dalton and Wade work there.

Happy Riding!