Hiking | Secret Waterfall Hike

Too many areas get spoiled by publicity, so a blogger/photographer is in a pickle when she wants to share her find, but doesn’t want to ruin a new favorite spot. So this will remain a secret and I will resist the urge to post the usual GPS map of our hike. If you want to know where and how to find it, you’ll just have to go hiking with me sometime.
IMG_20190119_142647455_HDRNow, one of my favorite parts of the hike was definitely the above sign towards the beginning of the trail. Hang gliders? Really? As Axel pointed out, the sign is only there because someone sometime tried all of those things…I got a laugh out of that. IMG_20190119_152204834_HDRIMG_20190119_150405093_HDRTrails are nice, but hiking where no one else goes, in search of confirmation of a rumor, has a romance all its own. This hike was one such hike, and we took off off-trail in search of a waterfall I had heard existed, but had never confirmed. In total, our hike was about 4.5 miles round trip, most of the distance along an established trail in the Black Elk Wilderness, but the remaining short distance was the hardest part. We bushwhacked up a frozen creekbed, which turned into a very steep boulder field, with huge bedroom-sized boulders, creating what sometimes looked like an impassible wall. And all of this was covered in snow and ice, of course, with beautiful, sheer ravine walls on either side. It all looked like something out of the depths of Middle Earth, and in terrain as gorgeous as that it was hard not to feel like an intrepid explorer. 50668204_361176928014278_8154445975000186880_nIMG_20190119_151452121We weren’t disappointed in the least. The search for a single waterfall turned up two. One was a huge, solid ice pillar growing behind a cluster of boulders, and the other was a graceful, tiered formation of ice spanning a good 20 or more feet.  And I’m not positive that either one we found was the one I’d read about. Ice builds up over time, creating deceptively massive formations from what normally would have been little more than a trickle of water. My impression from what I’ve read is that the Secret Waterfall really is a waterfall, not a mere trickle. So I’m looking forward to exploring this area after everything thaws, and seeing what these falls look like when they’re flowing, and possibly finding a third, the “real deal.” 50813630_277697642922061_8692885039689498624_nIMG_20190119_153606333I got a chance to try out a new pair of ice cleats by Unigear, which were amazing and absolutely indispensable for this hike, much of which was on treacherous footing, scrambling over and under snow- and ice-covered boulders. This must have been one of our more adventurous hikes, in the sense of the very rugged terrain we were in, and the shenanigans we pulled while hiking.  I love a hike that includes hands-and-feet scrambling, a little spelunking, and some boulder hopping! But we have a healthy enough sense of caution, probably partly built on the fact that we’re both first responders and if we got in a bad bind we’d be calling people we know. That’s a good deterrent to stupidity. 50244702_308980189619832_5913311587313123328_nThis is the kind of hike that I hate to have end. In this part of the country, there is so much beauty we take for granted every day, and then there are the places that are absolutely breathtaking if you take the trouble to get to them. This Lord of the Rings fairyland is practically in my backyard. What a joy.

 

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Favorite Photos of 2018

My, how the time flies. And how sweet it is to look back over the last year and see how God has provided through everything and in ways that were absolutely not His obligation, but His gracious bounty. Pictures are a way for me to remember God’s graciousness, through the beautiful and challenging experiences of life. My photography almost always springs out of joy-giving experiences, so this collection of images from 2018 is essentially a series of joy snapshots, things that jog my memory about the goodness of the LORD over the last year, those experiences and memories that are lodged in my mind, triggered by pictures I’ve taken. Enjoy!

IMG_0204eA beautiful drive to Lusk, Wyoming, to pick up a friend on January 2, 2018. The blowing snow was mesmerizing.
IMG_0226eA foggy morning south of Hermosa.
IMG_0347eeDriving the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park, mere weeks after the Legion Lake Fire. The snow covered over the black of the burn, but the corral fence was a shambles.
IMG_0469ePrairie dogs in Custer State Park after Legion Lake Fire.
IMG_1665eGeese in Battle Creek on a cold winter morning.
IMG_2820eTimber in Winter Storm Oliver.
IMG_3538eMy silly dog, Trixie. She’s a snow puppy!
IMG_3626eChickadee during a snow storm, up at Grandma’s house.
IMG_0128eMy beautiful cat, Ember. Such a sweetie.
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IMG_4735ePasque flowers – the first signs of spring!
IMG_4731eCuster State Park Wildlife Loop, greening up in the spring after Legion Lake Fire.
IMG_4785eWind Cave National Park, greening up after Legion Lake Fire. This photo and the above were taken on a sunrise drive with my dad.
IMG_4967eKinnikinnik. Also known as bearberry. Found on an April hike up Mt. Baldy, near Mt. Rushmore.
IMG_6389eWind Cave National Park – the grass came back like velvet in the burn areas!
IMG_6415eWildflowers in Wind Cave National Park.
IMG_7028eBlue columbine, a rare find on a hike in Hell Canyon.
IMG_7094ePrairie phlox, found while agate hunting near Fairburn.
IMG_7195eHoney bee on dame’s rocket, on a walk with my sister and our dogs down by Battle Creek. We had gotten a lot of rain, and went to check how high the creek had gotten. Evening walks and hikes are such a highlight. IMG_8716eA wild rose along the trail up to the Bear Mountain fire lookout, on an afternoon with my sisters.
IMG_8792eeSego lilies are always fun to find. I found this one along Iron Mountain Road on a picnic with my family.
IMG_0211eEven walking the half mile down the driveway from my Grandma’s adds a little spark of joy to my day.
IMG_1133eBighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, on our way home from a Biblical Counseling Conference in Bozeman, MT.
IMG_2903eMy cat, Cinders, another kitten gifted to me by Anna. IMG_3008eOne of many fleabanes, on a hike on the Iron Mountain Loop Trail. 
IMG_3044eA signpost on the Iron Mountain Loop Trail. This picture speaks to me, somehow.
IMG_20181005_180420446_HDRA beautiful fall sunset along the Rockerville Road. 
IMG_5890eThe golden beauty of the autumn.
IMG_3066eA favorite shot of Spearfish Falls. 
IMG_3156eHiking boots and hiking pants. Kind of a summary of the highlights of my year!
Crow Peak
Crow Peak, one of the best views in the Black Hills!

IMG_5822eAn attempted still life project turned into a cat photoshoot. Silly critter!
IMG_20181013_153043989_HDRTrying to hike Mount Baldy turned into a comical misadventure when a freak snowstorm blew in! 
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Subtle winter beauty. The old year leaves and the new year comes in the time of the quietest beauty. 

With the new year already well on its way (three weeks into January?!), I’m excited to see what God has in store for this year. And what joy snapshots will impress themselves on my heart and mind.

Hiking | Sunday Gulch Trail

Wow, already this has been a great year for hiking. I’m pretty excited to see where all we end up exploring this year! IMG_6735eOn January 5, we took a trip up to Sylvan Lake to hike one of the Black Hills’ legendary hikes, Sunday Gulch. Apparently this trail is closed in the winter. Oh, well. We weren’t the first to shrug our way around the gate…Sunday GulchThis hike was gorgeous when we did it in the late summer. It was even more amazing drifted over in snow! The higher elevations of the Hills, including around Sylvan Lake, get more snow and less of it melts off, so it piles up pretty fast. In places, drifts were well above the knee!Sunday GulchCleats were a must for this hike. We only went down the creekbed to the gulch and came back the same way, rather than doing the whole loop. The downward part was the most fun. The trail winds its way through a steep boulder field and is marked by a pair of parallel metal handrails, making descent exceptionally easy. Simply place a hand on each rail and jump, if your gloves are slick enough. You sail down sections quite effortlessly, and I’m sure we looked ridiculous.
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The gulch itself was enchanting, with the creek frozen and still flowing beneath the ice, and snow mounded up in soft contours out of the way of wind. It was beautiful. It looked so different with the snow cover, and the late afternoon light was gentle and cold.Sunday Gulch
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Nothing like some brisk, strenuous hiking on a chilly January day!

Poetry | Winter’s Song

A poem written in February 2017.IMG_1911There is a silvery song that sighs
When snowflakes fall from leaden skies.
Through frigid air to frozen earth
The melody of silence flies.

Winter’s song like silver bells
Rings cold and diamond bright,
Echoing clear from glorious dawn
And murmuring into radiant night.

It is the song of silence
Of snowfall thick and deep,
Of whispers soft in waiting woods
Where summer’s memory sleeps.

It is the song of reckless joy
When skies are crystal blue above,
When jaunty breezes laughing free
Shake bursts of snow from frozen tree.

It is the song of artistry:
Of paintings in the drifts…
And windowpanes, like crystal fine,
Are etched with ice and etched with time.

There is a silvery song that sighs
When snowflakes fall from leaden skies.
Through frigid air to frozen earth
The melody of winter flies.IMG_3791e

Poetry is far from being my main form of artistic expression, and I admire those poets of the past who left such a gorgeous legacy of verse. It is something I enjoy dabbling in from time to time, but hardly a written form I’m particularly comfortable in. Maybe that will change.

Let It Ring in Your Hearts

Today is New Year’s Eve. Christmas was 6 days ago. Every year, Christmas approaches with much anticipation. And every year it leaves with a sigh, ho-hum, and back we go to finish out the year. In truth, we’re probably glad when Christmas is over and done with. Sure, it was fun, we have some sweet family memories, less money in our checking account, a gift or two we were probably excited to receive, and it is just time to get on with what remains of the year.IMG_6149eWhat a loss. What a loss that we don’t carry with us for the rest of the year, or the whole year, the joy and excitement and awe of the Christmas season. Or is it because we fail to see and experience the joy and excitement and awe that Christmas should bring?

I’m not sure how to properly express the magnitude of all the Christmas means. I suppose I can’t express all, but when I think about our simplistic ways of talking about Christmas, it strikes me how far we miss the mark in understanding, or at least expressing understanding of, any of what Christmas means. Now, I’m not saying we don’t truly understand the implications, if we sit down and think about it, as much as our human minds can understand something so vast, but I wonder if our cute and heartwarming expressions of Christmas, and all the fun we try to cram into the season, affect our reverence and awe. I say “I wonder” more as a way to be tactful. Because in all honesty, I know it does. I know that the cuteness and sweetness and heart-warming-ness can leave our thoughts regarding Christmas devoid of holy reverence, devoid of a true appreciation for what it meant for the God of the Universe to enter into time and space as a man, with the end goal of being the Lamb of Sacrifice to pardon His people for all eternity, with the end end goal of coming back in glory at an unknown-to-us date and time, when He will once again enter into time and space to catch up His people to Himself, perfectly restored spiritually and physically, wiping out sin and evil altogether, and to finally – finally! – bring about a new Kingdom on earth where human beings enjoy perfect fellowship with God and each other. Wow.

We talk about Christmas as a celebration of “Jesus’s birthday,” as if it is simply some heavenly party. Such an understatement. This isn’t just a celestial birthday party. This is a miracle so vast even the angels were awed by it. A Heavenly army joined together to announce the birth of Christ to the frightened shepherds – what glory!

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:13-14)

How much more glorious is the Child they announced! For the whole host of Heaven to come together, it took more than cuteness and sweetness and warm feelings. This story of Salvation, according to Peter, was something “into which the angels long to look.” (1 Peter 1:12) Think about that. Angels – beings who spend their existence in the presence of God Almighty, in the presence of the Godhead, of the entire Trinity together, who witnessed all of the Old Testament and everything leading up to and anticipating God’s descension to us – they were in awe and celebrated. This was a Story they watched unfold with great eagerness. That should be instructive to us.

I think about all the sweet Christmas songs and Christmas characters we want to relate to. Then I think of the innkeeper, whose only role in the Christmas story is to turn away the earthly parents of the Living God, a man who was so close to the miracle of the Birth of Christ and missed it altogether. We are so close to the Christmas story at Christmas time. And yet we can let the day go by and miss the true Story, or forget about it as soon as December 26th rolls around.

Heaven forbid that characterize us, especially at this time of the year.

Christmas marks a new era of human history, something the secular textbooks acknowledge, even though they’ve changed B.C. and A.D. to other words excluding Christ. They can’t get away from that turning point in history. The centuries and millennia leading up to Christ’s birth were centuries and millennia of distance from God, in a sense. God in His holiness spoke through prophets, and the Holy of Holies in His temple could only be entered by one priest, the High Priest, on one appointed day per year, to offer atonement for his own sins and the sins of the whole nation of Israel. There was a barrier of sacrifices and requirements and holiness and laws, past which there was no hope of approaching God perfectly whole. The Law was meant to bring light to sin, to demonstrate God’s standard and how unreachable it is for fallen mankind. God in His holiness was showing His holiness to a people who, though saved by faith, were bound by an unkeepable Law.

But our celebration of Christmas remembers the dawning of a new era in human history. Christ’s birth marks the era of God’s nearness to humanity. Immanuel. God with us.  Christ came, not as a spirit, but as a human person, tangible, visible. He came as the fulfillment of all the prophesies concerning Him, and He came as a prophet, but a prophet the likes of which this world had never seen. He came as the Greater David, a Shepherd-King of the lineage of David, the shepherd-king of Israel, but far surpassing David. He came as the Greater Moses, a Leader who would lead His People out of darkness into the light of God’s eternal kingdom, far surpassing Moses’s temporary deliverance of the Israelites from their Egyptian slavemasters. Jesus came as the Second Adam, the Father of a new family of Heavenly proportions and Heavenly lineage, to restore that fellowship with God that Adam through his sin had lost. Jesus came as the Greater Aaron, a High Priest able to approach God freely, not only once a year, but at all times, to make intersession on our behalf. Jesus came as the Greatest Sacrifice, fulfilling all the centuries of sacrificed lambs and bulls and doves, satisfying with a single act the needed sacrifice to atone for our Cosmic Treason, our innate rebellion against the God and Creator of the Universe.

The Christmas story isn’t just a story of God’s love and redemptive plan to save His people, or a story of His mercy and compassion. The Christmas story – the plan of redemption – is necessary because of mankind’s radical sin, because of our rebellion against our Creator.

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

The story of the birth in a stable is one piece of the story of judgement, and how God must act to satisfy justice, because He is righteous and good. But because He is loving, He came as a willing substitution to pay the price for our fallenness, our sin, our Cosmic Treason. The birth in the stable isn’t just the mercy part of the story. This is about a fallenness of humanity so profound that it required a miracle as crazy and appalling as a good, righteous, perfect, glorious God to step into our broken world and save us by His own initiative, His own perfect sacrifice. Because it should be appalling. Our need for God should break us, humble us, cause us to love Him even more for the love and patience He has shown to us. This is God willingly coming to willingly die to satisfy the need for payment for sin, thirty-three years after the miraculous birth in Bethlehem, and to satisfy our greatest need, which is to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father.

Why all of this? Because He loves us. “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16) Demonstrating His love to us so radically is so immensely glorifying to Him, we can’t even come close to comprehending it. So yes, this is a story of love. But this isn’t a heartwarming story of love. This is a soul-shaking, earth-shattering, sin-destroying, history-making, life-giving love. And to limit the story in our hearts and minds to being another quip on a greeting card does a severe injustice to the Story of all stories, and robs us of the joy of awe.

How appropriate that we celebrate Christmas in the darkest, coldest time of the year, right before the New Year. How poignant. Don’t let the New Year come and go without wrestling with the magnitude of the Christmas season. The joy of this season should be ours the entire year, if we are in Christ and a member of His family, forgiven and regenerated. The joy of this season should strike us to the heart. Our sweet manger scenes and cute decorations of little feathered-winged baby angels and heartwarming Christmas flicks don’t even come close to communicating the magnitude of the earthquake that shook the world when God entered into time and space in the form of a tiny, vulnerable, helpless infant, a story that climaxed in a bloody Man hanging on a Cross, an instrument of torture, bearing the sins of the world on His shoulders, God the Son separated from fellowship with God the Father. This isn’t a story meant to make us feel warm and pleasant and comfortable. This is a story meant to shake us to the core by this radical demonstration of God’s mercy in response to required justice. This is a story meant to change us.

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is from Revelation 21. It always brings a lump to my throat.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

The former things. Sin and death and rebellion, sorrow, pain, loss, worry, fear. All of that, conquered and defeated. God Himself wiping our tears from our eyes. What an image. How about that as the Glory we see in the Manger at Christmastime! Let that ring in your hearts as you ring in the New Year!

Hiking | Spring Creek Loop Trail

Nothing like a brisk hike on a winter day! The sun was out, though tucked behind hills much of the hike, and the creek, partly frozen, chattered and chuckled comfortably along the trail.IMG_20181229_133720310_HDRSpring Creek Loop is a spur off the Centennial and Flume Trails, and can be hiked from Sheridan Lake for a 4 mile hike, or from Spring Creek Trailhead for a 2.5 mile hike. A beautiful option for a quick excursion! The trail is relatively level for the most part, with a few creek crossings over narrow footbridges. A couple of years ago, the footbridges were a disaster and crossing them was a comical chore.IMG_6420eSheridan Lake was at the halfway point on this hike, more or less. The ice on the lake was thick and black and clear, and we skated cautiously out onto it, listening to the ice singing and chattering to itself, scurrying off again when we stood too close together and started a crack which followed us back to shore. Ice fisherman way across the lake had their fourwheelers out, taking advantage of the sunshine. Snow whispered across the gleaming surface of the lake, ghostly and gentle. It was so beautiful and blue under the clear sky.
IMG_20181229_150529005_HDRIMG_20181229_144913132 So many beautiful sights. Hops vines still had their little golden cones hanging from them like Christmas ornaments, and frosty jewels studded the frozen creek, feathery and delicate. IMG_6483eIMG_6630eIMG_6610eIMG_20181229_155134239_HDRWhat a beautiful afternoon. And what a way to (almost) welcome in the New Year.