Loess Hills Adventure – Sept. 2016

The fall weather had been wonderful and Renee and I were looking for a new place for a weekend ride.  I had heard of the Loess Hills because some of the stops on the Americana Grand Tour were in the Loess Hills.  Renee found lots of literature about the area and it sounded like a fun place to visit.  So we made plans for a Labor Day Weekend trip.

So…what are the Loess Hills?

They are hills made almost entirely of windblown soils. Toward the end of the last ice age, winds picked up soils that had been ground as fine as flour and formed dunes along the ancient waterway that became today’s Missouri River. The process repeated itself during the thousands of years the ice age took to end, enlarging the dunes. Because the prevailing winds were from the northwest, the dunes on the Iowa side of the river were higher than those west of the Missouri.

Today, the definition of a Loess Hill is a hill made of loess that is more than 60 feet in height; using that definition, about 640,000 acres of land in western Iowa constitute the Loess Hills landform.

Although deposits of loess are found across the world, nowhere else but in China are those deposits higher than they are in Iowa.  Who Knew!!

In addition to the Loess Hills Scenic Byway (which runs from North of Sioux City to the Missouri border), there are several small loops and minor roads all in and around the Loess Hills.  After reading about all of the roads, we planned the following route:


On Friday night we drove to Council Bluffs so we could start our ride early Saturday morning.

Saturday morning we were up and going right after breakfast and as we were loading up I decided to check the oil.  It  was a little low, so I topped it off.


We were quickly on our way out of town.

The sun was out and traffic was light.  Soon we came to our first little adventure.

It started out on a nice gravel road.


But soon we saw this sign…a sign we always like to see…adventure!!


Soon the road turned from gravel to dirt, then mud.  Renee spent a lot of time scouting a path through the mud holes.

Here’s a little video of the fun!

The road was cut out of the hills and the sides of the cut were loose Loess dirt:


We finally made it out to the main road again.

We stayed on the paved roads until we got to the town of Pisgah.  We stopped in Pisgah for a snack and a few pictures.  The Loess Hills visitor center in Pisagah was one of the stops on the Americana Grand Tour:


Pisgah is also famous because it is the location of the famous “Old Home Filler Up and Keep on a Truckin’ Cafe”


We took the Pisgah Loop.  Someone had put this statue at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere:


After we finished the Pisgah loop, we rode up to Preparation Canyon State Park for a picnic lunch.  It is a pretty undeveloped, or under maintained park and while we were there we actually assisted two lost hikers in getting back on the right track back to their campsite.

Lunch was a chance to recharge and stretch a bit. But soon it was time to get back on the road.  Our next side road (Olive Avenue) was the wildest one yet.  I had gotten some advice from a favorite forum of mine to look for Olive Avenue.  From google earth it just looked like a dirt road.  However, when we got to it, we saw how steep it was.  I am not even sure the pictures do it justice:


We couldn’t see over the crest so Renee scouted it out to see if it was rutted like the last dirt road.  Here is her shot back up the road at me:


So we decided to try it.  Basically, I rode the brakes all the way to the bottom.



It seemed like a long way down, and soon we were at the bottom.  The road continued on, but we wanted to do some hiking, so when we got to the bottom, we turned around and this is what we were looking at:


It’s hard to see how steep it was, but it looked pretty steep from the bottom looking up.  I told Renee to hang on and we hit it.  We were about 2/3rd of the way to the top and I had to downshift!  We got to the top and we popped out onto the road, we made it!

After taking a minute to catch our breath, we made our way to our next stop, which was a lookout and a hiking trail about a mile away.

We looked around a bit and started down the trail when Renee’s nemesis raised it’s ugly head:  Grasshoppers!!  A fear, since childhood, she decided this hike wasn’t for her.

The trail was a thin line along the hilltop and it was pretty much overgrown.  We could see the entire area in front of us, so we decided to turn around and head back.

When we got back to the bike, it almost didn’t start.  It had been cranking a little longer all day, and now it almost didn’t fire.  It finally started and we had a quick discussion on what we wanted to do next.  We were getting tired, and the bike was starting to act up.  I was looking at my voltmeter and saw that the bike was not charging.  So we decided to just head straight back to the hotel.  A quick stop at Auto Zone proved that the battery wasn’t charging, and the testing drained it to the point where we almost didn’t get it going again.  It finally turned over, but by the time we got to the hotel, we knew we were done riding for the weekend.  So we loaded the bike back on the trailer and went to get some supper.  We found a neat place near by called Quaker Steak and Lube.

There were also some interesting sculptures near the hotel:

Then next day, Sunday, we decided to just head home since we wouldn’t be able to ride any more.

I spent Monday trying to figure out why my motorcycle wasn’t charging, and I couldn’t figure it out.  So I took it to the shop.  It took them a couple of weeks to figure out that the magnets on the rotor had all come loose and fallen to the bottom of the cage.  They were not in the correct position to generate enough electrical current to charge the battery.

I’m glad that we had the voltmeter hooked up.  It prevented us from getting stranded somewhere in the Loess Hills!

All in all, this was not our favorite trip.  Not just because of the problems with the bike. The land formations were not as cool as we had expected.  We did manage to find some adventurous roads, but there were also a lot of long, rather boring stretches without much of interest to look at.  Places for food and bathroom breaks were few and far between once we were out of the city.  Even ranger stations and park stations were closed due to a lack of funding.  It was a long drive to get there and back home again, and it just didn’t seem that it had been worth it.  We also lost a night on our hotel reservation which was not refundable so that left a bad taste in our mouths.  The weather was a bit gloomy as well.  All in all, just not our favorite trip among a summer and fall of super trips.  You can’t win them all!

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