Monday, September 9, 2013

I've Been Walking on the Railroad

My brother Tom lives in Deadwood, SD, for the last six years. He has been telling for a long time about the Mickelson Trail which starts just a couple blocks from his house and ends in Edgemont - 109 miles to the south. Tom and wife Janet and daughter Megan are among many who take to walking or cycling on the trail from their homes in one of several towns along its route.

Well, the trail sounded like a fine thing. But, Seeing is Believing and Experience is the Best Teacher.

When I stayed at my brother's house for two weeks plus, I got to put my feet on that path once or twice daily. I joined my brother's family several times. On practically every excursion, Molly the Dachshund came along. We became good buddies.

Molly can be mouthy and excitable when first encountered. And her different-colored eyes can also be somewhat intimidating. But, she is a lover at heart. I wished I could have brought her on the trip. My brother said that I am in line to inherit Molly if anything should happen to her present masters.

When the time came to depart Deadwood for southern lands, it was a relatively easy choice to take the Mickelson Trail which was built between 1991 to 1998 on the old Chicago, Burlington and Quincy RR bed from Edgemont to Deadwood. These are some of the high points of the Trail and of my 3 1/2 trip on all but the last 16 miles:

A bit of a miracle in 19th century construction - The trail is spotted with dozens of signs with stories from the old railroad's history. It is both fascinating and impressive to learn that the 109-mile line was built to include 100 trestles and 4 tunnels in 255 days in 1890-1891. That was a time when manual labor, primitive machinery, and dynamite were the only forces available to get the job done. (The Burlington Northern Railroad ceased running the line in 1983 and eventually donated the land to what eventually was called the Mickelson Trail.)

Chipmunks and chokecherries - The little critters were the most frequent animal company on the trail. And chokecherry bushes line the trail by the thousands. My mother would have gotten her fill of chokecherry picking if ever she had visited the area.

Grand and constantly changing scenery - I'm sure that bicyclers enjoy their tours on the Trail. But like my other travels, walking the Trail gave the slow and steady opportunity to appreciate the terrain, the trees, and the rolling trail itself.

Fifteen trailheads are interspersed along the route - Some spots are plain and with modest facilities. Others are more developed. I stopped for the night at two trailheads. I didn't camp. I just unrolled my pad and laid out my sleeping bag at Mystic and Lien Quarry. The latter night seemed almost magical as I looked out across the Black Hills forest under the starry sky. Mystic had its own moments as its name might suggest. Both were isolated and away from traffic.

On the second night, I just rolled my buggy off the Trail and parked myself under some pine trees a mile south of the Crazy Horse Memorial intersection and a bit short of the next trailhead. That kept me some distance away from the highway.

Between trailheads, benches appear every few miles - That came in handy for a walker like me. I find that I can sit for just a few minutes and be rejuvenated. If I lay down, it is harder to get going again.

The Mickelson Trail is extraordinarily well maintained. The paths are gravelled and graded and almost spotless of litter. Users appear to really "pack it in and pack it out."

My only quibbles include too much barbed wire. But, that is practically the case on every stretch of road I travel. My other strange complaint is "too many trees." I am a flatlander and like to see the prairie stand out before my eyes. So, I was relieved when the forests broke for the plains after Crazy Horse and later on. Picky, picky, picky.

I also think that the Trail should open up ways to accommodate Walkers like myself who might wish take the whole shebang on and sleep out under the stars along the way.

I had the good fortune to meet the Manager of the Mickelson Trail just after I finished my trek to Minnekahta Junction - instead of Edgeont. I took a rest in the early afternoon and walked on to Hot Springs later.

Dana Garry, the Manager, was making her weekly check on the trailheads and picking up registration packets. We visited for some time. Comparing notes, we found that Mitchell, SD, had been important in both our lives.

I shared a copy of my Montana book with her and she left me with a cold peach for my lunch.

I recommend others to Take a Walk on the Railroad - the old Chicago, Burlington and Qunicy which is now the Mickelson Trail. Great scenery, lots of history, good exercise, plenty of greenery, fresh, fresh air, etc.

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