Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Bicycling West, part two (Des Plaines River Trail)

So, I left off last time just passing Milwaukee on Dempster. Traffic is insane here, and I highly recommend sticking to the sidewalk on the north side of the street. For a good bathroom/water stop, there's a Wendy's at Dempster Plaza that also has free wifi. Further up, the massive mini-city of Luthern General Hospital is also a good rest area, and they have a decent cafeteria on the top floor of the main building.

Colonial Ridge
Typical entrance to a 1965 sub-division

After all that, there are a few weird office buildings and a large number of mid-century sub-divisions that have seen better days. They all have fancy names written in fancy 1960s fonts, barely visible now above the mini-jungles of weeds and piles of beer cans.

(United States Meteorite Impact Craters)

We are coming up on the epicenter of an ancient meteorite strike site. About 280 million years ago what is now referred to as the "Des Plaines Disturbance" occurred. The geological evidence for the strike was discovered when drilling began for the Deep Tunnel project, which is meant to shuttle water from sudden storms away from the flood zones.

impact site
Welcome to Des Plaines! Sorry, we're all out of sidewalk!

Today, it's the intersection of Dempster and I-294. The expressway passes over our route here, and the street is wide enough to just stay with traffic under the viaduct. If you're brave, you can take the turn onto Rand to the right and catch up with the trail in the middle of the "block." Or, you can go straight into town first and connect with the newer re-routed trail at the Miner Street overpass.

Bellau Wood monument
Belleau Wood memorial, kept up by a local Boy Scout Troop

If you take the old trail north from Rand, you'll come across an old roadside monument. Usually when coming across one of these old concrete slabs, it'll turn out to be a Blue Star Memorial Highway marker. This one is a bit more specific, originally erected to pay tribute to the Marines who fought at the Battle of Belleau Wood in WWI. Like many of these memorials, modern traffic precludes any easy way to approach this area; the newer route of the Des Plaines Trail passes by on the other side of the street.

Once on the trail, the going is fairly easy. You zip past Big Bend Lake, which was created in 1958 to provide infill for the nearby interstate. Golf road is an easy and well-marked crossing. Then you come to the Union Pacific tracks.

bad crossing
ah, I'll just fly over the tracks then...

Despite the No Trespassing signs, it is expected that you carry your bike over both sets of tracks. There's no alternate trail to get around this area. I imagine the signs are just there for legal protection, sort of a "wink wink" arrangement between the Forest Preserve District, UP and Com Ed.

natural area
Biggest bird perches I've ever seen

The electric company keeps up their access road area by planting it with native grass and wildflowers. Apparently, this is part of a larger program to provide a habitat for wildlife and keeping soil from washing away. Or, if you're dubious, part of a guilt-ridden public relations campaign to help us all forget about the Zion Nuclear Power Station. 

along the trail
Nothing but Flowers

After passing Central at a ground level crossing, there's a wonderful two miles of uninterrupted trail, which is just amazing. This is probably the most isolated part of the trail, a good mile away from Milwaukee Avenue. If you want, there's a side trail that heads to the west towards Beck Lake, which is kept stocked for fishing. To the north, there's a nice underpass that crosses Lake Avenue. After that we hit the River Trail Nature Center.

Nature Center
ah, clean bathrooms and educational exhibits.

There are some rescued animals on exhibit here, and explanations of how the local ecosystems work. You can check out re-creations of native housing, count the rings on an ancient tree stump and watch bees at work. There are also many non-biking paths, if you want to spend some time in the forest at a more leisurely pace.

I'll have to plan to cover more of the northern trail on another day. And The Grove Historic Landmark looks interesting. And there's the whole, muddy, south part of the Des Plaines trail....

trail's end
End of the Road. For now.

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