We awoke on Day 3 (8/6/2012) to quite a change in the weather. We started out the trip with warm muggy weather, then had big wind, lightning and rain in Harlan, and more rainy, stormy weather on the drive from Harlan IN to Houston MN. By the time we got settled into Houston the weather had cleared and cooled considerably and it looked like we had timed it just right.

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The cool weather had become cooler overnight and Monday morning greeted us with refreshingly cool temps and heavy dense fog.
This shot shows the scenic view from the front door of our hotel room.

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This is the view from behind the big steel bulding which is right behind the hotel. Big difference from yesterday!

The plan for today was to ride a section of the Root River Rail-Trail. Since we were in no hurry, we decided to wait until the fog lifted and it warmed up a bit. In the mean time we spent the morning journaling, webulizing, sorting bike stuff and packing lunch etc. About 9:00 we off loaded the bikes, checked the tires, packed up and rode the mile down to the Nature Center and trailhead.

Root River Rail-Trail: Houston to Peterson

Here is a cropped out section of the Minnesota DNR map of the Root River-Harmony Valley trail. It shows the segment Betsy and I cycled. The image is linked to the PDF of the map.
As you will find out below, the Root River Rail-Trail is part of a larger, regional system.

Blufflands State Trail is a 60-mile (97 km) paved multi-use rail trail system in southeast Minnesota. The trail system consists of two main segments, the Root River segment, and Harmony-Preston Valley segment. The trails are used mainly for bicycling, hiking, and inline skating in the summer, and for cross country skiing in the winter. Much of the trail, especially the Root River segment, is built along a former Milwaukee Road (Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad) railbed following the contours of the Root River valley.

Root River segment
42.3 miles (68.1 km) in length, the trail runs predominantly east/west, following the meanders of the Root River for much of the distance. Because most of this trail segment was constructed on an abandoned rail grade, most of the inclines and curves are quite gradual.

The trail intersects six towns along the way:
0 miles (0 km) - Fountain, Minnesota (western terminus of trail segment)
6.5 miles (10.5 km) - junction with Harmony-Preston Valley segment
11.2 miles (18.0 km) - Lanesboro, Minnesota
15.8 miles (25.4 km) - Whalan, Minnesota
24.7 miles (39.8 km) - Peterson, Minnesota
29.5 miles (47.5 km) - Rushford, Minnesota
42.3 miles (68.1 km) - Houston, Minnesota (eastern terminus of trail segment)

Source: WikiPedia

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I had packed my mini-pod in one of the water bottle sleeves of my day pack and here put it to good use.

When we got to the Nature Center, we stopped in and had a look around. They had some very intersting displays. One which I had never seen before was a collection of owl parts - heads, wings, tails. I think there were parts from 5 or 6 species. Quite interesting. Turns out little old Houston is home to the International Festival of Owls. It is "The only full-weekend, all-owl event in North America!" Whoda thunk it!!

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By the time we left the Nature Center, the fog had burned off and it was warming up fast. The nature center is to the left and way up on the hill to the right is the white "Houston" marker. We saw these prominant town markers all over.
Just beyond the Nature Center is a campground which was completely empty. The fee was 10$ a nite and there were restrooms and showers. Too bad I did not find out about this earlier!

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Here is another one of the metal sculptures in the garden area of the Nature Center - a mother consoling her child who has just had a bike wreck.

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Off we go!

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The trail starts out flanked by corn and soybean fields and then hugs the river and wanders in and out of the woods.

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Here is one of the mile markers and two of many Blue Bird nesting boxes we saw. The distant peak was quite prominant on the landscape. It reminded me of Nipple Hill in New Mexico

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This is the only photo of the shady sections worth showing. I neglected to pay attention to my ASA and shutter speeds and all of the photos but this one turned out a blurry mess. I'm a big dummy...

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There was just enough sun and shade to make it interesting and the corn and soy often gave way to trees and wildflowers.

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At an unmarked intersection, Betsy checks the map. Here started one of the "Relatively steep hills" noted on the map above.

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At the top of the climb a local farmer flagged down Betsy and asked if she had time to plow the back 40. She gladly obliged.

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What goes up - must come down! This was a fun coast back down to the Root River and more flat to rolling trail.

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Another species of the giant "sunflower" which flanked this section of trail.
This one is Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum).

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Note the interesting way the fused leaf is pierced by the stem. In the world of botanical lingo this is called " perfoliate". Now we know the origin of the species epithet. These leaves were nearly a foot across.

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This big bridge crossed the Root River. It was a new bridge, not an old rail-road bridge. Musta cost a fortune! But, what better way to spend tax dollars?

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Great scenery and the weather was perfect - high 70s, breezy and low humidity.

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Just east of Rushford these folks passed us by. They all had matching panniers and were on an overnight. Lucky them!

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This is the outskirts of Rushford and shows a new trail connector under construction. Just about then a siren went off. Three kids peddled by and I asked what the siren was for. One of them said, "It's noon". Then another one said - "Don't worry, it's not for a flood". The third chimed in with "We just had one!".
Considering the close proximity of all these small towns to the river, I imagine flooding is part of life here and happens with regularity.

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Here we can see the Rushford trestle and part of the flood wall. Flood walls are fine - until they are breached. And, they always are.

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We detoured off the trail and took a spin around Rushford. Here, at the public library you can just barely see Betsy peeking over the wall.

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This is the Rushford Lutheran Church which was built in 1908 from locally quarried limestone.
This was shot at 24mm with my new digi-cam. Note the distortion of the entry cover on the left. Betsy's mom would have said that it looked like it was "leaning towards Fisher's".

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We then got back on the trail and rolled down to the restored Depot and Museum.

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Next to the depot were shady tables where we relaxed and ate our packed lunch.

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I love hand drawn maps. This one was on the wall of the depot facing the trail.

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We then poked around the museum a bit. This manequin was all decked out but I could find no info on the costume she was wearing.

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Some details of the bead, needle and metal work which adorned this flaxen haired beauty.

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The Root River Rail-Trail is paved with asphalt. Up until now it had been in great shape with only a few pot holes, root humps and cracks. The section from Rushford to Peterson was another story.
There were many bone jarring pot holes and cracks and most of the bridge approaches had lips which required careful handling of the bikes. I saw a couple of holes which would have sent all but the most skilled rider flying if they had hit them. But this section was only 4 miles, so we complained not.

When we got to Peterson we again took a spin through town and found yet another depot museum. This one had a very engaging docent who told us all about the history of the area and gave us a very informative tour of the museum. It was stuffed full of all kinds of goodies! One could easily spend hours poking through it.

Adjacent to the museum we saw "Geneva's Hideaway", a hotel which was back off the street. It was behind Chiggy Liquor which had 10 buck cases of beer. My kinda place. Geneva's Hideaway would have suited us better being in the sleepy, quiet town of Peterson. But, belive it or not the suites started at 70 bucks a nite for a studio and a one bedroom was 90 bucks a night. These were weekday rates. The weekend rates were higher. We are not used to paying this much for small mom and pop places in small towns. I guess this must attest to the popularity of the area.

After our museum visit and look around town, we did an about face and started the ride back to Houston. We again stopped at Rushford for more snacks and to cool off in the shade.
Outside of Rushford I caught a glimpse of something big flying along the river. "Great-blue Heron" I thought. Then, there was a break in the trees and I turned to look at the river and suddenly found myself eye-to-eye with a Bald Eagle! We peddled on and then noticed it perched on a dead snag over the water. Betsy got out her binocs and got a really good look it. Nice.
We got back to Houston around 4:30 and had started around 9:30 that morning. A full day of fun in the sun!

We relaxed, had Happy Hour then dinner and around 7:00 went out for a walk about town.
Betsy took a few photos:

Houston Public Library

This is the Houston Public Library. Betsy, being a retired librarian, could not resist taking a few shots.

Houston Public Library
Root River Sunset

After about an hour of exploring Houston backstreets, the sunset was getting pretty nice. We then walked up to the river and Betsy snapped this nice shot.

We got back to the hotel around 8:30. Betsy journaled for a while and I watched an episode of King of the Hill. Then, at 9:00 it was to bed and some welcome down time.

Soon we will be on our way. Next stop - Lake Louise State Park. We hope to find a quiet cart-in campsite and spend a few nights. If we cannot, we will look for another hotel in the area. So, if we camp we will be WiFi free for a few days which means no trip reports for a while.

Stay tuned...