Summer Hiking

Summer Hiking
Mt. Constitution

Monday, June 10, 2013

Biking on the Route of the Hiawatha

My son and his family invited me to join them biking the Route of Hiawatha on Sunday.  We drove to Lookout Pass, purchased our trail and shuttle tickets, and then drove to the East Portal to begin the 15 mile ride on an old railroad bed.
It was a absolutely beautiful day and we were all happy to be enjoying the sunshine and being in the forests of Idaho.
The Route of the Hiawatha was called one of the most scenic stretches of railroad in the country. When the Milwaukee Railroad was operating, the trains traversed through 11 tunnels and over 9 high trestles, covering a 46 mile route that crossed the rugged Bitterroot Mountains between Idaho and Montana. The "Route of the Hiawatha" is most famous for the long St. Paul Pass, or Taft Tunnel which burrows for 8771 ft. (1.66 miles) under the Bitterroot Mountains at the state line.

We had to have appropriate headlamps and head gear to travel through the tunnel - 40 degrees year round and dark, dark.  I kept telling Colin, "this is more exciting than Space Mountain at Disneyland."  I encouraged him to keep smiling because I was quite sure someone would be taking our picture at the end.
 Anne took this picture with her IPhone - ah, the light at the end of the tunnel!

We marvelled at the beautiful scenery and wondered how the pioneers carved the railroad through these beautiful mountains.  How did they ever get the ties and beams down the mountain?  
I found this information on the website:  The route proposed for the new line was through the rugged Bitterroot Mountains. Prior to preparing official plans for the construction, significant exploration had to be undertaken to select the most feasible route. Various possibilities existed westward of Butte and up beyond Missoula. The exploration and reconnaissance crews reportedly covered over 2,000 miles in country that was wild, uninhabited, with very few trails, and virtually no maps. In the late 1800's the Milwaukee Road was a prosperous railroad out of Chicago that had over 6,000 miles of track in the upper Midwest. Experiencing competition from other rail lines, the company decided to expand west to take advantage of the expanding West Coast markets, as well as the Pacific Rim trade. The exploration work on the Montana side began in November, 1904.  The exploration on the Idaho side began in May, 1905. In November of 1905, the Milwaukee Railroad Board of Directors formally approved the lines extension to Seattle-Tacoma, Washington. Because time was an enormous factor, the crews worked year round and did not stop because of winter weather. By the spring of 1906 the choices were narrowing to the St. Paul Pass and St. Joe River valley. After the exploration surveys, during most of 1906 engineering survey crews finally helped select and identify the actual location of where the tracks would be located.  By early in 1907 the construction work began. The actual construction of the rail bed and the track was very difficult due to the forbidding terrain and the weather conditions. The cost of the project which was originally estimated at $45 million, ended up exceeding $234 million, (plus another $23 million to convert to electric locomotives in 1910 to 1911). All in all it took nearly 9,000 men, Italians, Serbs, Montenegrins, Austrians, Belgians, Hungarians, Japanese, French, Canadians, Spaniards, Irishmen, Swedes, Norwegians, and others all working together from 1906 to 1911 to construct this Pacific extension.  Intercontinental freight service on the new line began on July 4, 1909, with passenger service following six days thereafter.

Colin probably would've preferred a few more stops to throw rocks into the creek, but we had to keep going in order to catch the shuttle bus back up the hill.  
He and Anne got a little too close to each other and he suffered quite a scrape.  Four "angels" were behind us, one with a huge first aid kit, iodine wipes and big bandages.  I asked her if she was a nurse, "No, but I'm a bleeder."  I had a few bandaids and a washcloth so we were soon on our way, determined to remember the first aid kit on our next bike ride.

Colin really kept up with us and needed very little encouragement to keep going.  I stopped to take a few pictures and felt quite sure that Mom and Dad travelled this route on their honeymoon trip from Chicago to Idaho in 1945. The tour guides told us to notice the mile post markers - we started at the tunnel, milepost 1750 and ended up at 1763 - that many train track miles from Chicago!

We were happy to let the bus shuttle us back up the entrance to the Taft Tunnel.  This time we all got a little muddy from riding in the puddles in the tunnel.

Nice bike racks on the bus!
Colin fell asleep on the bus....

We ended our adventure at the Moose Creek Grill in Kellogg - a lovely restaurant in an old home, owned by a husband & wife team of professionally trained chefs.

We enjoyed our dinner, topped off with a huckleberry ice cream cake!  
I continue to be surprised by the wonderful travel experiences so close to home.  Travel to Disneyland and Europe is highly over rated because Here We Have Idaho....

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