My latest foray into hiking took me for the first time into Iowa. A parent of one of the Wife's students, a former employee of the Western Historic Trails Center , recommended the Hitchcock Nature Center. The park is located about 45 minutes northeast of Omaha and is located in the Loess Hills of Iowa. The Loess Hills are made of ... Loess , windblown sedimentary soil. The hills in eastern Iowa are some of the largest examples of windblown sedimentary deposits in the world. The Hitchcock Nature Center trails take you up to the top of some typical narrow ridges and into hidden valleys in between.
The hike starts at the lodge. There was an observation tower similar to the one at Platte River State Park but I didn't climb it this time. I'm saving it for later this fall when the leaves change. The trailhead was surprisingly well stocked with trail maps. I often find these kiosks empty. I had a good idea where I was going as I'd studied the same map on-line the day before. I decided to join 6 different trails into a couple of connected loops.
I left, this time well stocked with water and snacks, and headed out on the Fox Run Ridge trail. This trail, like all other trails in this park, are old, grass covered dirt roads. Actually, many of the trails were made by bulldozer by the former owner of the land who wanted to turn the area into a landfill. The trail follows the southwest side of a ridge and gives the hiker a great view of the forest and meadow land of the park.
One interesting feature of this park that I did not partake in but I found interesting, were little orange signs with headphone icons placed along the trail. You can download podcasts ("Trailcasts ") to your MP3 player and get a guided tour of some of the trails around the park. The signs indicate when to play the next segment of the podcast. Since I enjoy listening to the sounds and silence of nature, I don't carry my MP3 player when I hike. Having said this,this seems like an interesting and cheap way to introduce people to nature.
I left the Fox Run Ridge trail and followed the Dozer Cut off the ridge dropping down and connecting with the Bluestem Meander. (Meander - I love the sound of this word.) The Dozer Cut was a little muddy and covered in acorns, who yearned to be ball bearings, which made going down hill a little hazardous. The Bluestem Meander meanders through a meadow of tall grass. Meadows do not have to be flat and this one is no different as the trail climbed up and down the side of a hill.
Up to this point I was very impressed with the well marked trails and the accurate trail map. The meander was supposed to connect up with the Hidden Valley trail. I reached an unsigned junction and mistakenly thought it was the Hidden Valley Trail. The unmarked trail, not on the map, took me back to the back gate of the park. When I reach the gate I realized that I'd been mis-guided. I backtracked to the junction and took the other branch which took me to a signed junction less than 50 feet down the trial. The map and signage were pretty accurate after that.
The Hidden Valley trail takes you around the end of the eastern ridge and into a valley between tall, sharp ridge lines. The trail, covered in dead leaves and more acorns, follows a little creek/wash. At the Westridge trail junction I turned left and followed the trail on the other side of the creek/wash. Before long the trail makes a turn and heads straight up the end of the ridge. No wimpy switchbacks here. Straight up. It is a little reminiscent of Heartbreak Hill .
The trail eventually levels off and follows along the rather narrow ridge that is common for Loess formations. The trail splits - one trail follows the top giving you a view of the Missouri River Valley, the other runs lower and on the forest side of the ridge. Both branches connect up to form a long and narrow loop. I took the right and admired the sweeping views. I stopped at one of the two camp sites (the cottonwood site), rearranged some logs into a semi-comfortable bench and rested. I cracked open some water and a protein bar.
Further down the trail is the High Point camp site where the trail connects with the other ridge trail. I followed this trail back. This trail is a little more strenuous as it went up and down like a roller coaster but the views of the forest were spectacular.
I returned to the main Westridge trail and walked back to a spur called, simply, the Shortcut. This steep trail connects you back to the Hidden Valley Trail. A left here takes you along a path through the middle of the narrow valley. This was probably the nicer part of the hike. The trail ends at a large American Elm tree. The clearing around the tree was lit with sunlight filtering through the tree canopy. Whenever the breeze would pick up, a rain of dead leaves would flutter down from overhead. A perfect setting for a picnic or something fun like that.
There were a couple of trails leading off past the tree that I thought might form a loop but after reaching a dead end on one of the trails I figured I was wrong. I returned to the clearing around the Elm and backtracked to the Hidden Valley-Bluestem Meander junction and followed the other branch of the Hidden Valley trail.
The trails takes you through more forest and up a short steep trail before connecting with the Badger Ridge Trail. The trail goes up the ridge line, skirting the edge of the forest on the west, and offering a beautiful vista of farmland and hills to the east. There's a geocache along this trail but I decide to leave it for some other time.
The Badger Ridge trail takes you back to the lodge. It was a very satisfying hike with interesting terrain and beautiful views. I really enjoyed it.
By the time I'd reached the car, I was hungry. I stopped in nearby Honey Creek at the Aeroplane Inn to see if I could get some lunch. I pulled up and saw the For Sale sign next to the unlit Open sign. Thinking it was closed, I started to back out when the Open sign lit up. I parked and went in. The proprietor asked me if I'd thought it was closed. I said yes and asked if they served food. She said no ... or rather, only at night. I thanked her and left. I settled for Arby's instead.
Pictures from the hike can be found here . The hike was 6.38 Miles with about 380 feet of vertical (once again done several times).
[UPDATE: My original post had some disparaging remarks about the Aeroplane Inn. Since I didn't even have a chance to sample the food, I should not have mentioned it at all. My description of the proprietor were mean spirited and frankly I was a Jerk to include it in the post. A commenter corrected me in a not so subtle way and I've removed the offensive remarks from the post. My apologies to anyone this may have offended.]