When the temperatures soar into the 50s and 60s in February, the only thing I want is to be outside! On Wednesday, after getting some mundane duties done in the morning and running an errand to Mt. Rushmore, Sarah and I took off for Big Falls, the site of some old mining operations from the early part of last century. Battle Creek roars through a deep ravine, and pours over a falls into a deep pool some twenty feet below. In the hot summer months, it is a popular swimming destination, but I think I prefer it in the off season.
The sun, which had shone so brightly in the morning, was obscured by cloud-cover, but it was still a beautiful day, balmy, fresh, and quiet. The road to Big Falls is forest service access, which means not a lot of road maintenance, particularly this time of year. But the old orange Jeep can take just about anything, including the mud from the snowmelt, and the washed-out places.
The hike down from the trailhead is short, steep, and beautiful. The creek was frozen thickly over in places, but the clear, clean mountain water still rushed and chuckled over the rocks and under the ice. The last quarter mile follows Battle Creek, so we poked around on the sandbars looking for garnets, picking up odd rocks and chunks of quartz, snapped some pictures, scrambled around on boulders, enjoying the damp and the balmy winter air. And the quiet. We stayed on the upstream side of the Falls and ate a little picnic of apples. We tossed the apple cores into the stream and watched them eddy around until they were caught in the current and shot over the edge into the pool below. In the middle of a busy week, how pleasant it was to simply sit and enjoy the beauty in the depth of the Hills!
On our way back out, almost to the top, we dawdled in a clearing at the edge of the canyon, and caught a glimpse of something a half mile down the canyon and across. I grabbed my camera and my 300mm lens and sure enough, there was a mountain goat standing on the edge of a precipice. He was barely distinguishable in the picture, in the right upper quadrant of the photo, but clearly a mountain goat.
We took a few pictures of the far away goat before realizing that directly across the canyon from us, there were two more! One of them just lay there, looking calmly at us, unbothered. I wonder how long he had been keeping an eye on us. I don’t see mountain goats very often – Sometimes they can be seen around Mt. Rushmore, and I’ve seen them while hiking Harney Peak, but this is the first time I’d seen them by Big Falls.
After soaking up the freshness of February, the peace of the wilderness, the cool damp of the Battle Creek air, we headed home reluctantly. We were a little muddy, a little leg sore, and a lot refreshed. It was one of those days when I was even more thankful than usual for where I live, this beautiful place I’ve always loved.