After spending time in Louisianna we traveled north back into Mississippi to visit Hattiesburg. We were up in the air about visiting Hattiesburg but after a conversation with a former resident of Hattiesburg (that we met in Cleveland, Mississippi) we decided to invest a day and check out the town.Additionally, visiting Hattiesburg would provide an opportunity to ride the LongleafBike Trail.
Hattiesburg was founded in 1882 by William Hardy and named after his wife Hattie. The land that is now Hattiesburg became available after the Chicksaw and Choctaw peoples were forcibly removed under the Indian Removal Act which allowed the government to relocate the nations to land west of the Mississippi River.
The city thrived in its early days as part of the burgeoning lumber industry (Hattiesburg sits in the Pine Belt) and is known as the Hub City because of the confluence of rail lines running through the city. While the timber industry is not a major economic forcetoday, the city is still a major rail hub with freight lines bisecting the city.
While Hattiesburg was not founded until well after the Civil War, the town nonetheless did its part to uphold the legacy of slavery and segregation. The Black residents of Hattiesburg were still largely unregistered to vote in 1962 due to the efforts of the municipal government to make it impossible for Blacks to qualify to vote.For more information about the Civil Rights Movement in Hattiesburg click on the link: https://mississippiencyclopedia.org/entries/hattiesburg-civil-rights-movement/
Hattiesburg — home of rock ‘n roll?
One facet of Hattiesburg that we were totally unaware of prior to our visit is the claim that Hattiesburg is the true home of Rock ’N Roll. Musicologists have traced the roots of the genre to the Graves brothers – Blind Roosevelt and Uaroy. The brothers started as Gospel singers but in 1936 joined with pianist Cooney Vaughn to form the Mississippi Jook Band. Two of their songs in particular are now viewed as very early Rock ’N Roll songs. These songs, Barbecue Bust and Dangerous Woman, were performed and recorded long before the genre was clearly defined and popular. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pegm79r1zE
The Longleaf Trail is a 45.5 mile paved rails-to-trails bikeway. The southern trailhead is in Hattiesburg and the trail runs in a northwest direction terminating in Prentis. We rode out and back on the southern half of the trail from Hattiesburg and the northern half of the trail from Sumral Station (west of Laurel).
Longleaf is a Hall of Fame trail and for good reason. The trail is paved, in excellent condition and passes through beautiful Southern scenery. Surprisingly, we encountered very few other riders on either of our rides. We highly recommend this trail. The round trip is 91 miles – beyond our current range – so we split the trail and enjoyed two rides.
Laurel is not our ”home Town” but it could be!
Laurel was added to our intinary once we decided to visit Hattiesburg. If you are a fan of the HGTV show Home Town you may recognize Laurel as the small town where husband and wife Ben and Erin Napier help folks renovate local homes. As a result of the popularity of the show, the town has attracted many visitors and new residents.
We visited their retail store and woodworking shop while in town, but there were unfortunately no celebrity sightings. We can tell you their two stores are doing a brisk trade! Good for them – the couple has done a lot to help bring back this former lumber industry town.
We arrived in Laurel on the day of the annual crawfish festival.The festival runs from 11AM to 3PM – all you can eat for $15- Classic Low Country Boil – crawfish, sausage, potatoes, sweet potatoes and corn. Live music to boot. Now that is Southern Hospitality!
Laurel has more than the CrawFest and the TV show to offer. There are several excellent restaurants (The Loft….our favorite) and several neigborhoods with streets lined with live oaks and stately homes. Lastly, the former town library was converted and expanded into an art museumwith a very nice collection of paintings and sculptures.We have included several photogrpahs of our favorite paintings at the end of this post.
This post is our penultimate post on Mississippi as part of OTR 8.0. If you missed our previous posts you can find them at ctsprinterlife: OTR 8.0: Mississippi Part One and Ocean Springs, Mississippi at ontheroadwithmariastephen.net Our final post will cover our exploration of the Mississippi Delta.
After a brief but exhilarating visit to Moab (see post Moab = Fun and Adventure) we set out for Durango across Utah 46 which becomes Colorado 90 at the border. Colorado 90 is a gem – a beautiful ride up into the Southern Rocky Mountains within the Manti-La Sal National Forest. The pass at the top of route opens up to the panorama of the Paradox Valley. The majority of this route is very remote and we would not advise traveling this road in winter weather.
The Paradox Valley is a remote, thinly settled and beautiful place. The valley is approxiamtely 25 miles long running in a north – south direction. The width of the valley is between three and five miles. The paradox that led to the naming of the valley is the unusual east to west flow of the Dolores River which cuts across the valley, as opposed to running the length of the valley.
A Canadian company proposed building a uranium mill in the valley in 2009. Fortunately, the project was abandoned in 2020. As much as we recognize the need for extractive industries it would have been a shame to alter the beauty and character of this place with a uranium mill and everything that comes with the extraction of radioactive materials.
We were looking forward to taking a break at the Bedrock Store (serving outlaws since 1881). The Bedrock Store was used in the filming of the movie Thelma & Louise. Unfortunately, the store was not open.
We made a brief stop in Durango, CO enroute to New Mexico. Durango is a mountain town which sits just below 8000 feet above sea level and is a base for the alpine ski mountains in the areas. The town sits along the Rio de las Animas Perdidas which provides wonderful scenery for the bike path nestled on the bank of the river.
As you might surmise from the photos we were quite taken with Taste Coffee as well as barista and co-owner Mike Clarke. P.S. There is a narrow gauge railroad that runs from Durango to Silverton – which we did not ride because we left town to avoid a predicted snowstorm – but it looks like a lot of fun.
With heavy snow predicted in the Western Rockies we re-routed due south into New Mexico – stopping to visit the puebloan ruins located in the town of Aztec, Colorado.
The Aztec Ruins National Monument is located in the town of Aztec, New Mexico. The ruins are 900 years old. We utilized the excellent self-guided audio tour to explore the ruins. This is an impressive site with over 400 rooms and an a restored Pueblo Great House. It is well worth the visit if your travels will be taking you to northern New Mexico. ( https://www.nps.gov/azru/index.htm )
Change of plans
After our overnight in Chama we traveled north and east across Colorado Route 17 to access the Carson National Forest for our planned overland trip from the border to Jemez Springs, NM. When we arrived we found the forest roads still covered in snow with mud underneath. This is a bad recipe for safe travel on narrow mountain roads so we decided to hold off on overlanding (no paved roads) until conditions improved.
We decided to visit Taos while waiting for better conditions on our overland routes. We will report on our stay in Taos in our next post.
Moab was a sleepy trading post and farming community for most of its history. Its settlement dates back to about 1829 when people traveling north on what is now known as the Old Spanish Trail would attempt to cross the Colorado River in Moab and the local inhabitants would sell their goods to the travelers.
A little over 100 years later uranium was discovered in Moab. Uranium was in great demand for use in nuclear weapons post World War 2, so the federal government stepped in and passed laws mandating that all uranium mined in the United States could only be sold to the federal government. The economy of Moab shifted to mining overnight and Moab became known as the uranium capital of the world.
Unfortunately, as must, all booms result in some sort of bust. By 1960 the federal government declared it had all the uranium it needed. Since no one else could purchase uranium the mines in Moab began to close; the last of the mines closed in 1980. The population which had reached 6,000 declined to 1,000.
Today, the Moab area draws tourists who come to mountain bike, hike, rock climb, drive off road trails and boat on the Colorado. Additionally, Moab hosts two unique national parks – Arches and Canyonlands
While the town is prospering, there still remains the issue of remediating the uranium sites. When a visitor enters town for the first time driving south on route 191, it is hard to miss the large mound of contaminated pilings near the road.This pile consists of the remaining contaminated tailings. Over 16 million tons of tailings were produced from the uranium mills in Utah. The tailings are being removed and taken by train to a permanent disposal location in Colorado. More than 10 million tons have been removed so far under the auspices of the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) program paid for by the citizens of the United States.
Final note: many of the miners that worked in the Uranium mills were Navajo. There was little regard for their safety. The Navajo workers suffered significantly from lung cancer and other diseases. While the U.S. Public Health Service was aware of the effects as early as 1951, it was not until 1990 that the health impact was acknowledged. To make matters worse, the Navajo were not eligible for financial compensation until 2017.
Moab is certainly a mountain biking mecca – the good news is that for those of us in need of less demanding terrain, the town has developed a number of bike paths and bike lanes. One of the bike paths runs east along the Colorado River providing magnificent views of the river and red rock cliffs.
Camping with a view…
Moab and the surrounding area offers scores of camping choices. Everything from in town RV resorts to remote primitive camping. We look forward to “boondocking” in Moab. We generally camp in a different location each night to enjoy different settings as well as the fantastic night sky and solitude.
One of the reasons we chose a high clearance 4wd equipped Sprinter was our desire to go places that we would never be able to see and experience without that capability. The Moab area provides a plethora of opportunities to put the Beast to the test. Above and below we have included a sample of several of our 4wd adventures.
Our favorite new Moab mural.
Our trip from Salt Lake City to Moab usually involves a lunch and coffee stop in Helper, Utah. Helper has been undergoing a revitalization over the last several years and has become home to a number of artists. On this stop we discovered some wonderful paintings by Thomas Elmo Williams. Williams was a coal miner for 14 years before a mining accident put an end to that line of work for him. Williams started his new career sketching fellow miners and still focuses much of his art on the labor of working folks. He has a gallery in Helper.
We love Utah and recommend that if you love outdoor recreational activities then a visit to Utah should be on your travel list, with a definite stop in Moab.
The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway is a spectacular drive. The route follows a paved road from Wise, Montana to its end near Dillon, Montana. The Pioneer Mountains have an eastern and western range. The drive winds through the meadows between the ranges providing incredible views all around. Interestingly, the two ranges are very different in appearance. The eastern range has tall, jagged peaks (think Grand Tetons) while the western range is more rounded. These are big mountains with several peaks above 11,000 feet.
We were not familiar with this range before a gentlemen in Shelby told us about this drive – thank you! This is one of the biggest ranges we had never heard of before. The range is within national forest – largely unspoiled – just mountains, forests, meadows and the the byway bisecting the range.
About 25 miles along the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway we came to a five mile dirt road that climbs up to the site of the ghost town of Coolidge and the defunct Elkhorn Mine and Mills. The road is fine for 2wd vehicles if it is dry.
The former mine and town sit at an elevation of 6601 feet. The mine produced zinc, lead and silver from 1875 until it was decommissioned in 1899 when the ore load was considered to be played out. The Elkhorn was the last mine in Montana to produce silver.
Work to reopen the mine under new ownership began in 1918. The tunneling work brought people back to Coolidge and a school and post office were established. The town even had electricity – no small feat at that time in such a remote location. Unforunately, by the time the tunneling was completed and the mine was actually ready to begin producing in 1923, silver prices plummeted and the mine went bust.
Subsequently, a dam collapse wiped out several sections of rail line and the town lost rail service marking the beginning of the end. The school and post office closed soon after.
The remains of the town are mostly collapsed at this point – not much to explore in that regard, but we think it is worth the visit – the scenery from the mine site is gorgeous and you walk away with a real sense of the what conditions must have been like when the mine and town were operating.
After completing our drive on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Highway we continued south through the Grasshopper Valley to visit the ghost town of Bannack. The town sits on the bank of Grasshopper Creek and was founded in 1862 after gold was found in the creek. The town is named after the Bannock Indians that inhabited this area at that time – the spelling with an a instead of an o was the result of a clerical error in Washington.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition first documented the creek in 1805 and named it Willard Creek. When the population swelled in 1862 after the discovery of gold, the miners renamed it Grasshopper Creek due to the abundance of grasshoppers in the area.
In addition to the influx of miners (many from Colorado) prospecting for gold, the town became a haven for Civil War deserters and outlaws (in part due to its remote location). Within a year there were approximately 3000 people inhabiting Bannack. Almost all of the inhabitants were men. The handfull of women in town were mostly “saloon girls” who worked in one of the four saloons.
As the population continued to swell (10,000 people at its height), the outlaws took full advantage of the opportunity to relieve miners of their gold. Miners frequently went back and forth between Bannack and the mining camp at Virginia City. By this point the outlaws had organized into several large gangs and routinely robbed and in some cases murdered the miners.
The town hired a sheriff (Henry Plummer) to stop the violence but he turned out to be the leader of the largest and most violent of the gangs. Dang!
As this fact became well known, folks of Bannack and Montana decided to take matters into their own hands, forming the Montana Vigilence Committee. Between December 1863 and February 1864, 24 men suspected of crimes were lynched by the Vigilantes. There were no trials! One of the most notable of the men hanged was Sheriff Henry Plummer, who was suspected of being a gang leader. Montana State Police still wear a shoulder patch with the numbers 3-7-77. The numbers supposedly represent the dimensions of the graves of ths suspected outlaws killed by the vigilantes. Three feet wide, seven feet long and 77 inches deep…and now you know.
As with many gold rush towns, the bust comes just as quickly as the boom. By 1870, the easy gold was dredged out of the creek and the population began to quickly decline. Bannack’s population dropped from almost 10,000 to just a few hundred by 1870, only eight years after its founding.
The town carried on until the 1940s due to several small gold booms, but they were not enough to sustain the town. The majority of the remaining population moved on during the 1930s and by the 1940s the one room schoolhouse and the post office closed. The town was effectively non-existent, although a small number of residents hung on into the 1970s.
Today Bannack is managed by the state of Monatana as part of Bannack State Park. The state has done an excellent job preserving the remaining structures as they were but is not restoring the buildings
The history of this short lived town is deep and fascinating. The town physically has over 60 structures remaining – the majority are open for exploration.
If you enjoy western history, Bannack is a fun and interesting place to visit. The Grasshopper Valley is beautiful but remote, so give thought with combining a visit to Bannack with other destinations in southwestern Montana and perhaps Idaho.
Friday night rodeo is a weekly event during the summer in many ranching towns in the west. Kids begin competing at age six. Most high schools have rodeo teams and there is a collegiate circuit as well. Towns take great pride in their rodeo stadium.
The video below is of Cole Trexler, age 18, Montana high school all-around rodeo state champion. Cole will be riding at the collegiate level this fall. His brother Cash, 14, is also a budding rodeo star. He is the high school state champion bull rider. We met Cash and his mom. She told us that Cash “sat” his first horse at age three!
The Senior Professional Rodeo Association was in Darby for the weekend while were camping up the road a piece in Victor. On a gorgeous Friday evening we enjoyed watching the cowboys and cowgirls compete in bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, calf roping and barrel racing (cowgirls only). The senior circuit is for cowboys and cowgirls forty and over.
The local rodeo is a big deal. The whole town turns out to support the riders. It is also deeply imbued with patriotic and christian themes. The opening ceremony includes prayers for the safety of the riders as well as the servicemen and servicewomen who protect our freedom. The prayers are also for our political leadership – that they make the hard decisions necessary to protect our way of life.
The photos below were taken at the Little Smith Creek Ranch where we camped for several nights. We were the only campers at the ranch during our stay. To say that the setting was idylic is an understatement. The ranch is located at the base of the Bitteroot Mountains on the western edge of the valley and our view to the east extended across the valley to the Sapphire Mountains. Plenty of deer wandering by as well. Wow!
Biking and hiking Bitteroot
The Little Smith Creek Ranch, while remote with spectacular scenery, is only minutes from a good number of spectacular hikes into the Bitteroot.
The photos above and below are from our favorite hike. The Kootenai Creek Trail follows a fast flowing creek with waterfalls and pools up to the North Kootenai Lake – a distance of about ten miles to reach the lake, and no – we did not make it all the way to the lake!
Clark fork of the columbia river
The Clark Fork of the Columbia River is a 310 mile long river originating as the Silver Bow Creek in Butte. It carries water from a substantial portion of the Rocky Mountains into the Columbia River Basin, which makes the river an excellent choice for white water rafting.
We ran a number of rapids which were mostly class 3. Early spring produces the biggest rapids -class 5- due to snow melt while by August most of the rapids are class 1 or 2 due to the reduced flow of water.
I am not sure if it was due to our senior citizen status or not but we had three guides on our raft! Regardless, were glad to have the two additional paddlers when we went into the bigger rapids.
Fika and art: Missoula style
After our stay in the beautiful Bitteroot Valley we drove north to Missoula. We had hoped to do some more bicycling in addition to river rafting but the heat was too much for us to manage the cycling side of the equation.
We did stay for a couple of days and spent some time at two local coffee shops and visited the interesting (but small) Missoula Art Museum (MAM).
Southwestern montana…hidden gem
Southwestern Montana did not originally factor into our initial planning but after conversations with several Montanans we decided to vector to the region and we are pleased that we did. The southwest corner of Montana is well known to fishing and hunting aficionados, but it’s not found on the standard tourist itinerary.
We had a piece of the planet to ourselves (well, at least regarding other humans) for stretches of time as we drove through the Pioneer Mountains and the pristine Grasshopper Valley. We will definitely return to the area for a more extended stay in the future – lots of hiking, ghost towns and backroads to be explored and dispersed camping under the dark sky.
Fika at Velodrome Coffee in Marquette was our first destination as we returned to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the first time in over two years.
Pictured Rock National lakeshore
The Pictured Rock National Lakeshore (PRNL) was created in 1966 to protect a 42 mile section of coastline along Lake Superior. The 15 mile stretch of sandstone cliffs rising as high as 200 feet above the water is the real attraction here. The total protected area is around 71,000 acres which provides a buffer zone between the lakeshore and commercial logging.
We toured the lakeshore by boat. While there are a substantial amount of hiking trails throughout the park which lead to the cliffs the best views of the various formations are from the water. We would recommend a boat tour if you are going to be in the area but would not recommend PRNL as a multi-day destination unless you are going to camp in the park and kayak from the beach through the formations.
While iron ore mining and production is very often portrayed as nonexistent today in the United States, it is still quite active in parts of the Upper Peninsula and Minnesota. In fact iron ore mining has been ongoing here in the Marquette Iron Range since 1847.
The completion of the various shipping canals and locks throughout the Great Lakes facilitated the efficient movement of iron ore by lake freighters to ports further south-close to major manufacturing operations for steel and auto-making.
More to come on iron mining when we post from Minnesota where we will be traveling through the Iron Range.
Iron ore heritage trail
The Iron Ore Heritage Trail (IOHT) is a winding and hilly 47 mile trail that utilizes the former rail lines that were used to bring timber and iron ore to Lake Superior. The trail runs through many wetlands and wooded areas as well as a number of closed and abandoned mines.
We rode the trail from the west to east (from Ispheming towards Marquette) which means a long uphill climb as you return from Marquette to your starting point. One of our favorite trails to date because of the fast downhills and corners.
Keweenaw Peninsula (KP)
The Portage Lake Lift Bridge pictured above connects Houghton and Hancock, Michigan. The bridge is the widest and heaviest double deck lift bridge in the world. When the bridge is in position for automobile traffic it sits a mere four feet above the water. The bridge fully raised provides 100 feet of clearance allowing large lake freighters (lakers) to use the canal.
The canal itself came about as mining companies sought to decrease the time it took to haul copper from the copper-rich Keweenaw Peninsula to markets. Work on the canal began in the 1860’s with dredging and widening of several narrow riverways to Portage Lake thereby creating a east/west canal and shaving 100 miles off the trip.
When the canal was completed, the northern half of Keneewaw Peninsula technically became Copper Island. For a number of years all traffic had to go across the canal via ferry boats while winter allowed for crossing on ice roads. As the demand to cross the canal increased, a series of bridges were constructed to allow people, vehicles and trains to cross the canal. The current bridge is the fourth bridge to connect the southern and northern halves of the peninsula. The first three were swing bridges which were slow and unreliable. The second bridge was destroyed when a freighter collided with the bridge. The current bridge came into use in 1959.
Copper was first utilized on the peninsula by Native Americans long before the arrival of Euro-Americans. The Native Americans utilized copper for tools and jewelry. Copper had been separated from rock by retreating glaciers and was scattered around the surface in abundant quantities requiring no mining or excavating.
While the first copper mine in the Upper Peninsula began operation around 1771 it was not until around 1840 that large scale commercial extraction of copper (as well as iron and silver) commenced. The rush began in earnest when the the state’s first geologist, Douglass Houghton, released his report affirming the abundance of high grade copper on the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Copper was mined for the next 150 years on the Keweenaw Peninsula where a narrow seam of copper runs from the Wisconsin border to the tip of Keweenaw Peninsula (Copper Harbor). The mines in Michigan produced more than 14 billion pounds of copper during that period of time and during the late 1800s was the largest copper producer in the world.
The mines began to mature around 1900 as the depth of the shafts made the cost of extraction unviable. A number of mining operations closed down and the population of Keweenaw Penninsula declined for a number years.
War is good for business and the increased demand for copper during World War II brought prices to a level which made copper mining in the penisula viable again. Several mines continued operation until 1969 when a labor dispute triggered the closure of those mines. Today most of the copper production in the United States takes place in Arizona.
The legacy of the cooper mining industry is still highly visible on the Keweenaw Peninsula today. There are numerous mine-shaft rockhouses scattered along what is now Highway 41. The rockhouse stood over the mine shaft. The rock was brought up the shaft in train cars (skips) and dumped into rock crushers below, which then fed uniform sized pieces of rocks into rail cars below the crushing machines.
Another lasting legacy of the copper mining on the Keneewaw Peninsula is pollution. The good news in that regard is that because the copper here was native copper is it 99.99% pure and as such the slag, rock waste and tailings are much less toxic. Having said that, there was enough concern that an EPA Superfund Site was created to deal with the waste. The site has been removed from the Superfund list as a result of the remediation effort.
The Keweenaw Peninsula economy has transitioned to focus on tourism and timber as the main sources of employment. This area is a haven for boating, fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking and OHV riding.
Copper Harbor via the m26…but first, breakfast
WIth a day of exploration in front of us we have learned that is is essential to be well fortified. So we stopped at Slim’s Cafe in Mohawk. Slim’s Cafe has been serving breakfast to Yoopers and visitors for over 40 years. In addition to the massive and tasty breakfast it is mandatory to have their absolutely delicious cinnamon rolls. Do not leave without purchasing cinnamon rolls!
After fortification at Slim’s, we spent the day touring the KP from Houghton to land’s end at Copper Harbor. The M26 winds along the western coast of the peninsula providing wonderful views of Lake Superior and the coastline. Beautifully preserved lighthouses dot the coastline and provide excellent opportunities to learn about the history of the area.
We veered off the M26 a few miles south of Copper Harbor to take in the views from Brockway Mountain. The “mountain”is 720 feet above Lake Superior and on a clear day provides a panoramic view of the lake as well as Copper Harbor and several other lakes.
After descending Brockway Mountain we continued to Copper Harbor and followed US Highway 41 through the village where the highway terminates. This is one of those places where you feel as if you are at the top of the world.
On the day we visited the village, the sun was shining and the sky and lake were deep blue. We had a picnic lunch sitting at the waters edge. We could not, however, keep ourselves from envisioning being here in the dead of winter with the 85 brave souls that call this village home. The cold, the wind and prolonged darkness that occur at this parallel is requires a level of self-sufficiency we do not possess.
We decided to return to Houghton by a more rustic route. While Highway 41 ends in Copper Harbor you can continue on via the dirt roads used by loggers and eventually loop southward down the peninsula.
We had the opportunity to meet with many residents of the Upper Peninsula – known as Yoopers. Yoopers do not consider themselves as Michiganders. In fact, there have been numerous attempts in the past by Yoopers to form their own state – unsuccessfully, obviously.
Yoopers clearly see themselves as separate and distinct from the city folk downstate. This is outdoor country where sled racing, skating, ice fishing, snowshoeing are part of everyday life. Of course the most Yooper outdoor winter sport of all is probably outhouse racing (paint your own mental picture!)
Many of the Yoopers we met made it very clear that to be able to live here year round a person must be extremely self-reliant and self-sufficient and you better know how to drive in the snow! Yep!
While we had planned to travel north through Wisconsin as part of OTR 6.0 we did not initally envision visiting the southwestern part of the state. But, after coming across some information about the Badger State Trail, it looked as if it would provide several days of enjoyable riding through the countryside. We decided to swing west to camp, bike and explore the region.
The geography of this area is predominated by rolling hills and dells. This is dairy country with much of the milk going to the production of locally made cheese. The picturesque countryside is dotted with dairy farms.
There is a large Amish community here, it is quite a sight to see fields being plowed using horse drawn equipment. The winding hilly roads require extra caution due to the presence of horse drawn carriages.
Badger state trail
The Badger runs north/south from Madison to the border of Illinois. This trail was originally the rail bed for the Chicago, Madison and and Northern Railroad, with successor railroads carrying freight until the mid 1980s. The trail was opened for cycling and walking around 2007. The trail is not paved but the dirt and sand surface is good. We thoroughly enjoyed riding through the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin.
On the advice of a local resident we met while doing laundry in Monroe (The Cheesemakers) we had breakfast at a local institution in the nearby Village of Argyle (pop.857). Irma’s Kitchen was founded in 1976 by Irma Collins. Irma has retired but IK continues as a family operated business with two of her daughters serving classic and delicious breakfasts between 6:30am and 11:00am. Another of Irma’s daughters is an extraordinary baker, making pastries and PIES for the cafe.
We ended up having breakfast at Irma’s several times – not just because the breakfast and pie was delicious – we met the local guys’ coffee group on our first visit and knew we had to go back to capture more of the local flavor and history. Thanks guys! We really enjoyed chatting with y’all.
Jane Addams Trail
With continued good weather we decided to bicycle south from Monroe and ride the Badger Trail into Illinois where it becomes the Jane Addams Trail. The trail runs 19 miles from the border to the town of Freeport.
The trail is named in honor of Jane Addams, the second woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919. She worked for many years lobbying the major nations of the world to disarm and sign peace accords. Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois which is located close by the trail.
On the advice of our new friends at IK we spent an afternoon in Mineral Point. The town was founded in 1827 and is Wisconsin’s third oldest city. The town grew rapidly for a number of years after the discovery of lead deposits.
As the scope of the mining operations increased, experienced miners immigrated from Cornwall in England. The arrival of the Cornish miners enabled a significant increase in lead production.
The discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s coupled with diminishing lead production triggered an exodus of the miners from Mineral Point.
The legacy of the Cornish immigrants is still prevalent today in Mineral Point thanks to the construction of many stone cottages and buildings by the Cornish miners and the work of a number of residents to preserve the cottages and buildings.
Mining returned in the late 1800s due to the discovery of zinc at the bottom of the lead mines. The zinc mining played out by the 1920s. Today the town draws many tourists to see the architecture and shop and dine at the beautifully preserved historical buildings.
The mulberry pottery
Mineral Point has become an artistic enclave and we were fortunate to stop in to see the pottery of Frank Polizzi. Frank has been creating wood fired stoneware and pit fired earthenware for over forty years. Frank’s lovely wife Barbara shared the history of the pottery and explained the process for us.
The Mulberry Pottery utilizes a wood burning kiln built by Frank which can hold up to 300 pieces of pottery and achieves a temperature of 2400F during the roughly 15 hour process.
Yes, of course we loved many of the pieces and are now the proud owners of a beautiful vase!
More from Milwaukee (MKE) soon. Be seeing you!
We had never been to Madison so decided to spend an afternoon there as we traveled from Yellowstone Lake to Milwaukee. We had read about the vibrant and pedestrian friendly shopping and dining area along State Street near the State Capitol Building. We thought it would be nice to stop for coffee and tea and explore the area.
We were saddened to find that protests last April-May had turned into violent street riots in which 75 businesses in this area were damaged and looted. Today 30 of the 75 businesses remained closed, boarded up and covered with graffiti.
The business owners requested financial support from the city in the amount of $250,000 to help repair damages and reopen. The city council voted not to provide funding since most of the State Street businesses are white owned and as such providing funding would constitute an act of systemic racism.
We discovered the Franklinton Arts District (FAD) during our brief visit to Columbus last fall when we visited One Line Coffee. In addition to a terrific coffee experience at the cafe we found ourselves surrounded by amazing mural art everywhere we looked (or so it seemed). As a result we knew that we wanted to pay another visit to Columbus as we journeyed west on OTR 6.0 to take advantage of the excellent coffee and street art opportunities.
The FAD is not just a geographic district but also a non-profit organization http://www.franklintonartsdistrict.com/ created to support and advocate for artists and art organizations in the district.
The photographs above and below are just a small sample of some of the murals we saw during this visit. We have also included several more mural photos at the end of this post.
Our first rails to trails ride in Ohio was on the Heart of Ohio Trail (HOOT) and the Kokosing Gap Trail. We rode from the Centerburg Trailhead to the end of the HOOT in Mt Vernon and then continued on the Kokosing Gap Trail several more miles to Gambier where the trail runs through the Kenyon College Campus.
Our departure from Centerburg was delayed slightly by the arrival of two gentlemen who approached us to inquire about the Beast (not an uncommon occurrence). We are always happy to share our travels and provide a tour of the Beast and even more so because we found ourselves talking to two of the top specialty coffee people in the Columbus area.
Kenny had served as a youth pastor for a number of years before deciding to jump into the specialty coffee business while Frank had been in the industry working for one of the top specialty coffee organizations in Columbus.
After chatting about the Beast and some of our adventures Kenny and Frank graciously invited us to visit the roastery and the cafe the next morning. We said YES!!
Frank explains the operation of the Loring Roaster as he expertly roasts a batch of coffee.
We had a fantastic experience visiting the with Kenny and Frank and found out that they are more than just two really nice guys. Kenny started this business in order to help people in need and Frank signed on for the mission. The Roosevelt businesses are owned by the Roosevelt Foundation https://www.rooseveltcoffee.org/ and donate a portion of the money generated by the two businesses to organizations fighting against hunger, unclean water and human trafficking.
We are humbled to have had the opportunity to meet Kenny and Frank and learn first hand about the business and their mission. Thank you Kenny and Frank.
Alum Creek Trail
We took advantage of the fine weather on our last day in Columbus to bike the Alum Creek Trail. Although this trail runs through the city of Columbus it provides many miles of greenway as it meanders back and forth across the Alum Creek. This trail is a wonderful asset within a major metropolitan area as you feel transported to a much more rural environment. We encountered many deer along the route – some who seem perturbed by our desire to proceed on the trail!
Historically, Alum Creek was a key route in central Ohio for escaped slaves and free blacks to move north to free states and Canada. The sycamore trees which line the banks of the creek and the creek itself provided cover for the railroad’s “passengers” seeking freedom.
A key group in the operation of the Underground Railroad in central Ohio were the Quakers that created the safe haven known as Quakertown. The number of escaped slaves that came through on this route is not documented for obvious reasons but it is a credit to the abolitionists that risked their own safety to assist with this humanitarian initiative to right the horrible wrong of slavery.
Franklinton Arts District
Next stop Wisconsin to bicycle the Badger State Bike Trail and possibly eat cheese! Be seeing you!
We spent several weeks in West Virginia hiking and biking as well as driving a number of backways. In this post we are primarily focusing on our Rails to Trails rides. In an upcoming post we will share our experience of spending several days deep in coal country – which is not the West Virginia that you see in the tourism marketing materials.
Also, just a clarification for the record – chronologically we visited West Virginia before Virginia so the trail rides we are highlighting in this post occured prior to the Virginia rides.
Mon river trail
The Mon (Monongahela River) River Trail was our first Rails to Trails ride of this journey. As you may recall from an earlier post OTR 5.2 got off to an inauspicious start ultimately requiring a 1200 mile round trip detour to Indiana for repairs to the Beast.
As a result our first round of planned rides in Pennsylvania and Maryland were postponed. If the weather co-operates we may have an opportunity to ride some of the trails as we return to Connecticut.
The Mon River trail is a 48 mile trail that sits on the right of way of the former Fairmont, Morgantown and Pittsburgh Railway. This railway began operations in 1886 and was a bulk carrier of coal, limestone, coke and sand which were and still are major sources of trade in West Virginia. The rail line was abandoned by CSX in the 1990s after a rock slide caused significant damage and CSX opted to shift coal traffic to a different route.
The trail provides a beautiful setting for biking and walking. The trail hugs the river for its full length providing great views and vistas as you follow the many curves of this meandering river.
The Mon River runs 130 miles northeasterly towards Pittsburgh where it meets the Allegheny River. The entire length of the Mon River is navigable due to a series of nine locks and dams. This engineering feat has made the river commercially viable for transporting coal by barge.
While riding we saw many coal barges being pushed up and down the river and being loaded and unloaded. The coal fired electric plant pictured above is the Fort Martin Station which is located on the west side of the river north of Morgantown. This power plant burns 2.8 million tons per year – hence the steady traffic of coal barges.
Interestingly, this plant is not a major source of air or water pollution. The scrubber systems at this plant remove over 98% of the sulpher-dioxide emissions. The river itself is very polluted – the culprits being steel and iron mills located in Pennsylvania
We stayed in Morgantown while riding the trail. Morgantown is home to West Virginia University with the campus being just up the hill from the downtown area. While the students were back on campus we did not see many college age folks in town which was surprising (perhaps Covid-19 related).
So, while Morgantown was not very lively, the trail itself warrants a couple of days in the area. Also, absent Covid-19 restrictions, WVU provides a number of attractions including a recognized art museum and a first rate arboretum.
North Bend trail
After completing the Mon Trail we traveled south to Clarksburg to ride the North Bend Trail. The trail is a 72 miler running west from Clarksburg to the Ohio River at Parkersburg. This trail is one of the segments of the American Discovery Trail. The ADT runs from Delaware to California creating a 6000 mile non-motorized trail.
We began our ride at the eastern trail head in Clarksburg to bike west to Parkersburg. What we did not know at the time was that the eastern end of the trail has not been completed (not mentioned in any of the literature). In fact it took us a while to realize we were at the trail head because there was just a sign and a grass path. Nonetheless, we pushed off to the west assuming the trail would become a more developed trail as we went along. We were wrong!
As we realized the eastern portion of the trail was still a work in progress we made a decision to ride to Tunnel #2 at Brandy Gap. This tunnel is 1086 feet long! The tunnel is dark, wet and cold. At a certain point in the tunnel you can’t actually see light at the other end which was disorienting.
Having said all that – riding through the tunnel was a hoot! So we went through the tunnel pedaled on for a while (until we had another crash) and then turned around and rode back through the tunnel for a second time.
At some point we will return to this trail and having learned our lesson will start at the west end. The full trail ride takes you over 36 trestles and 10 tunnels including a tunnel twice the length of Tunnel #2.
While we have been heavily focused on bicycling the Rails to Trails bike paths we have been making sure to take some days off from cycling – and hiking instead. The views above are from Raven Rock in the Coopers Rock State Forest looking to the northwest at the Cheat River Canyon.
Greenbrier river Trail (GRT)
The Greenbrier River Trail was our final rail trail ride in West Virginia. This trail runs 77 miles along the 173 mile long river. The GRT is the longest trail in West Virginia and is one of fifty Millennium Legacy Trails ( http://www.millenniumtrails.org ) in the United States. The Greenbrier River Valley is a beautiful valley tucked in the shadow of the western approaches to the Allegheny Mountains. The river is the longest untamed river (no dams or locks) in the eastern United States and is only utilized for recreational purposes (fishing, boating, rafting).
The trail was originally a freight and passenger branch line of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. The primary freight hauled in this part of West Virginia was timber. This line was abandoned during the Great Depression and never used as a railway again. The trail is currently operated and maintained by the state as a linear state park.
We started our ride at the southern trail head in Lewisburg. Lewisburg is a great town to utilize as a base for riding this trail. It is a picturesque, small town with a number of fine dining restaurants as well as art and historic homes.
We had a great day riding north under the colorful autumnal canopy before retracing our ride back to Lewisburg. This trail also provides many opportunities to camp along the trail in the adjacent Jefferson and Washington National Forest as well as several state forests.
We would be remiss if we did not mention our three favorite coffee cafes in West Virginia: Mea Cuppa Coffee Lounge in Charleston, Range Finder Coffee in Fayetteville and Koin Coffee in Bridgeport.
Next stop: Virginia as we cross over the Allegheny Mountains and the Blue Ridge Trail to begin our next set of adventures.
We have been keenly interested in cycling the significant network of Rails to Trails in Virginia and West Virginia for sometime. For a variety of reasons our previous plans to do so did not come to fruition.
Happily, we found while riding the trails in West Virginia and Virginia our expectations have been exceeded. The trails are well maintained and surrounded with breathtaking scenery and rich history.
In this post we are providing a brief overview of each of the trails we have completed in Virginia. We hope you enjoy it!
High bridge trail (HBT)
After riding the Greenbrier Trail in West Virginia, we journeyed east over the Allegheny Mountains and through the picturesque and pastoral Virginia Highlands to ride the High Bridge Trail.
The HBT is operated by the state of Virginia as a linear park. The trail itself is 32 miles long. The right of way that is now the bicycle trail dates back to 1838 when a nine mile section of track was completed and the City Point Railroad began operations. As with all of these abandoned lines, the original railroad was acquired by a number of successor companies finally coming under the ownership of the Norfolk & Southern. The Norfolk & Southern ceased operations on this line in 2005 and transferred the right of way to the state of Virginina.
The high point of this trail is figuratively and literally the High Bridge Trestle. The trestle is almost a half mile in length and sits 125 feet above the Appomattox River, making it an exhilarating span to cycle.
The High Bridge is an historically significant bridge – beyond the engineering feat – as it was the site of two Civil War battles. During the first battle the Union Army attempted to destroy the bridge in order to stop Confederate troops from fleeing over the Appomattox River, however the Confederate troops repelled the Union Soldiers and were able to retreat across the bridge.
The very next day, 7 April, 1865 the Confederate troops attempted to burn the bridge in order to stop the Union troops from using the bridge to pursue the Southern troops. The High Bridge was rendered unusable but unfortunately for the Confederates the Union troops were able cross downstream on a wagon bridge and caught up with them just three miles north of the Appomattox River.
The High Bridge was repaired and put back into service by the Union Army to transport supplies and troops until the end of the war soon after these two battles.
TOBACCO HERITAGE TRAIL (THT)
The THT runs from La Crosse to Lawrenceville in Southside Virginia. This area is in the heart of what was once the “Old Belt” of Virginia tobacco country. This trail was built on the former Atlantic and Danville Railway – which was formed to haul agrarian products including tobacco to market. LaCrosse, which is the current eastern trail head for this bicycle trail, was the site of the People’s Warehouse Company which stored and sold the tobacco grown in this area. Today, LaCrosse is a tiny town with a population of 575.
Tobacco in Virginia was cultivated during the early 1600s by British settlers. Prior to the British arriving the Native Americans were already growing and utilizing tobacco.
The British tobacco growers initially utilized indentured servants from Scotland and other European countries, but by the early 1700’s the growers could not import enough laborers from Europe so they turned to Africa and began importing slaves.
Tobacco is still very much part of the economy of Virginia today. The state is the third largest tobacco grower in the United States. Most of the “Virginia Gold” is used in cigarette manufacturing, although most cigarette manufacturing plants are located outside of the United States.
The five counties that the THT runs through are part of what has been called the Southern Black Belt. The Black Belt was originally areas in the deep south where cotton was grown and in North Carolina and Virgina where tobacco was grown. These areas had large populations of blacks because of the slave labor used to support the plantation economy. Today, many of these these counties still have majority black populations and the term Black Belt is used as a political construct as blacks are seen as voting largely as a block by political analysts.
The THT is a 22 mile trail and the plan is to double it in length as more funding is available to complete work on the abandoned right of way in additional towns.
It is an enjoyable ride through forest and field but lacks the dramatic aspects of the trestles, tunnels, waterfalls, river, mountain and valley views afforded by many of the other trails. THT is a trail that is less traveled than others we have ridden on this trip and we had the trail to ourselves.
Virginia Creeper trail (VCT)
The VIrginia Creeper Trail is a 33 mile bicycle trail running from Abingdon at the western terminus to Whitetop at the eastern terminus. The trail had its origins as a Native American footpath and was later used by early Euro-American settlers including Daniel Boone.
During the early 1900s a railroad was constructed between Abingdon and Damascus and operated as the Virginia-Carolina Railroad. The railroad hauled timber, iron ore and passengers. The line was taken over by the Norfolk and Western Railroad which continued operations as a branch line until 1977. It is surprising that the line was operated through 1977 as it was never financially profitable. The Virginia Creeper moniker was the nickname of the line because the original steam locomotives had to “creep” up the steep and winding grades.
The former Virginia-Carolina has 50 trestles and bridges even though it was just a 33 mile branch line. From a bicycling perspective, the variety and number of high and curved trestles across hollows, valleys and rivers really adds to the excitement and enjoyment of this ride.
As you can see from the photographs we had beautiful weather during our two days of riding this trail and lots of solitude. The VCT is one of the best trails we have ever ridden.
New River Trail State Park (NRT)
The New River Trail is a 58 mile trail which follows the rail bed of the former Norfolk & Western Railway. The rail line was established primarily to haul iron ore to the railway’s main line in Pulaski. This line was in service from 1882 until 1982 when the successor company, Norfolk Southern, abandoned the line and donated the right of way to the state.
The NRT follows the the New River closely for most of the route and crosses the river several times as you travel from the terminus in Galax to the terminus in Pulaski. The trail provides wonderful views of the river and the surrounding rolling hills dotted with grazing cows.
Between our time at New River Gorge and our three days cycling the NRT we have spent a fair amount of time with the river as a travel companion. The New River runs through three states and affords breathtaking scenery as it carves its way through the Appalachian Mountains.
Interestingly, the New River is claimed to be the second oldest river on the planet although there is some disagreement by the National Park Service. It is not disputed that it is among the top five oldest rivers while the Appalachian Mountains are considered by many geoligists to be the oldest mountains on earth.
Alisonia, one of the tiny towns that was a stop on the former Northern & Western Railway line. The town still exists today, with a current population of 114.
In a future post we will share the highlights of our Rails to Trails cycling adventures in West Virginia.
While we are doing our best to be productive and helpful to others during our time at home our thoughts invariably turn to travel: over coffee we began to reminisce about trips we have taken over the years. This post is a photo essay of some of our favorite trips. We hope you enjoy the photos and are inspired to make the journey to a place you have dreamed of visiting.