Before we leave Kansas, Barry wanted to make sure to ride the Prairie Spirit Trail, a 51-mile rail trail running north-south between Ottawa and Iola, Kansas. A newer extension, the Southwind rail trail, was added to extend the trail south to Humboldt in 2013, bringing the total mileage up to 58.6 miles. Naturally Barry wanted to ride that one as well.
We picked a perfect day for this adventure, with blue skies, warm temperatures, and breezes from the southwest, which would give Barry a tailwind for his entire south to north ride. I would drop him off at the southern terminus of the Southwind trail in Humboldt, then drive up to Ottawa, at the northern terminus of the Prairie Spirit trail. From there, I'd ride south to meet up with him, then we'd head north together. I never mind this kind of plan as it means that Barry gets to ride more miles than me, which works for both of us!
After seeing Barry off, I drove north to Ottawa, parked, paid my $3.50 day use trail fee, and started out riding south from the Old Ottawa Depot Museum.
Starting out from the museum, I had to ride on the road (no traffic) a couple of blocks to hook up with the trail. Then just on the outskirts of Ottawa, there's a confusing section where you have to cross a couple of exit ramps and go under the interstate before getting back on the trail. This part could definitely have been better marked -- I kept thinking I missed a turn as there was almost no signage telling cyclists how to proceed here. Other than this part of the trail, the rest was excellent and easy to follow.
We were both so pleased with how nice the trail was. It's pretty close to flat with only slight grades, so very little gear-changing involved. There was green foliage all along the way, providing some shade (would be a lot more later in the spring/summer when trees are fully leafed out), plenty of birds (red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, bluebirds, sparrows, blue jays, thrashers, and doves along the trail, and hawks overhead), creek crossings, and pastoral views of fields in shades of green and gold just beyond the treeline.
We were both surprised by how few other people we encountered on the trail, especially on such a pretty spring day. This was in sharp contrast to the popularity of the well-known Katy Trail in Missouri. The Prairie Spirit trail is well-maintained, packed limestone, and every bit as nice as the Katy. It is a true hidden gem! After leaving the town of Ottawa, I saw only two cyclists and two walkers the entire time until meeting up with Barry after I'd gone a little over twenty miles. Barry saw two other cyclists and three walkers in the 40 miles he'd pedaled before meeting up with me.
Here are some of the sights I saw on my ride south.
And here are some of Barry's photos of his ride north.
From Barry's photos, it appears that the Santa Fe Depot in Garnett wins the award for prettiest trailhead along the way. I didn't get that far south so didn't get to see it other than through photos.
Cellphone coverage was good all along the trail, and Barry and I were able to determine that we'd meet up between mile markers 78 and 79, north of Garnett. He snapped this as I was riding up to meet him.
I rode just a bit farther south with him so I could see this bridge.
We had a nice 20-mile ride back into Ottawa with the wind at our backs (at last, for me!) It was nice to catch up and share the experiences we had while riding alone. This tunnel still had puddles inside from the previous day's rain, but the trail was well-drained so we had no problems with mud or water.
We took a slight detour onto Main Street in Ottawa for a photo of the striking county courthouse. Ottawa has a charming, old-fashioned downtown.
The end now in sight, we crossed this bridge over the Marais des Cygnes River in Ottawa in the late afternoon right before the end of the trail at the Old Ottawa Depot.
And we're done! Barry ended up with 62.43 miles thanks to a bit of extra he did here and there, and I clocked 41 miles. If you're ever traveling in Kansas, we can recommend the Prairie Spirit Trail whole-heartedly!
It has never ceased to amaze me how much more you see when pedaling around on a bicycle than from a car. Even familiar places provide intriguing and sometimes beautiful sights. And places we've never been before, when seen from our bicycles, are all the more vibrant than they would be through the windshield of a car, whizzing by at a high rate of speed. Not to mention how much more accessible these sights are. It's so much easier to stop for a closer look -- at a flower bed, a beautiful waterway, a bird building its nest, public art, an interesting house or building -- when riding a bike. Bike parking is usually as simple as leaning your "steed" against the nearest tree.
Yesterday we rode down Santa Fe Trail Drive through old town Lenexa, KS into Olathe. This is where the old Santa Fe Trail went through Kansas in the 1800s. As we turned off the road onto a paved bike path, we were delighted to come across the Santa Fe Trail Heritage Center and Mahaffie Farm Historic Site right beside the trail. What a pretty place and a great photo opportunity!
Immediately beyond the Heritage Center along the trail lies the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm historic site, where the Mahaffie family operated an inn and later a stagecoach stop for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail in the 1800s. Quickly we stopped again, and as luck would have it, were even able to get a shot of the stagecoach as it went right by us around the track.
It was fun to be riding our bicycles along an historic trail and imagine people riding horses along the same path (unpaved at that time, of course) many years ago.
Earlier in the month we had ridden north on the Gary L. Haller bike trail to its northern terminus and were pleasantly surprised to run across a pretty park-like area along the Kansas River at the end of the trail. I later did some research and found out that this area is called Nelson Island. There's no parking at this end of the trail, so if you arrive by car, you'll have to park approximately two miles away and walk or cycle to the river.
The trail has many bridges over waterways. This bridge leads to Nelson Island on the far side; we were just coming back from the trail's terminus and starting to head south at this point.
The Haller trail also supports the longest bluebird trail I have ever seen. I have heard the unmistakable twittering of bluebirds while riding along the trail and have occasionally seen one flying out of one of these boxes. The folks who maintain this trail do a great job rigging up predator protection of the nest boxes to keep snakes, raccoons and other predators from destroying the nests or getting the eggs or nestlings. Notice the mesh around the hole and the spikes on the pole!
I found this tidbit online and was amazed to discover that there are over 330 nest boxes in area parks (Note: JCPRD = Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department):
"...the Kansas Legislature designated JCPRD as “the Bluebird capital of Kansas.” With more than 330 monitored nesting boxes in seven parks, more than 1,400 bluebirds are fledged, or developed enough to leave their nests, each year. This includes more than 120 nesting boxes along the Haller trail, making it very likely that visitors can catch a glimpse of these magnificent birds."
Here are some other photos I've snapped on our bike rides recently. The flowers and trees have been so gorgeous, I've tried to capture them when I could -- before April slips away.
In addition to all the beautiful planted flower beds like those pictured above, there are dandelions blooming all over town now. Although we think of them as weeds, en masse they are actually quite pretty in the green grass, I think!
I never fail to see interesting and pretty things as I ride along, and for every photo I take, there are four or five more I don't take because I'm huffing and puffing up a hill, or flying down one, or traffic doesn't allow. The next time you ride your bike (or take a walk), take your camera along -- you might be surprised at what you see along the way that you'd miss in a car.
Although it has long been one of my favorite months, April is one of the more fickle months of the year, at least here in Kansas City (and certainly in my home state of North Carolina as well). One day will be gorgeous, with bright blue skies and warm breezes, and we'll don shorts and t-shirts and think winter is behind us. The flowering trees will bloom and bikes will be ridden without tights, wind jackets, or wool socks.
But just when you think spring has really sprung, April fools you with a blast of winter.
We've also had hail a time or two during spring rain. Ah, April...a month where anything can happen.
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
Favorite Travel Blogs