Hiking | Poet’s Table

I always love a new hike. Yesterday, I hiked to a hidden gem of the Black Hills – The Poet’s Table. And since it is an unmarked trail, it is pretty easy to keep it somewhat secret. I went with people who had been there before, which really is the best way to go in the case of the hike like this one, since it would be pretty hard to find it without a guide, even with directions.  The hike is a good scramble in places, not an easy hike, in spite of the short distance. From the trailhead to the Table only takes about 20 minutes, but it involves climbing a crevasse or two and some steep inclines.IMG_5723eWe started at Little Devil’s Tower Trailhead, which would be the most direct route. Since Little Devil’s Tower Trail is part of the Harney Peak Trail System, and the Poet’s Table trail is a spur or loop off the main trail, one could easily incorporate Poet’s Table into a longer hike. If you decide to do this, do Poet’s Table at the beginning when you’re fresh. Not at the end when you’re already tired and footsore.
IMG_5661eStarting at Little Devil’s Tower Trailhead, hike about five minutes and a lightly-trodden path will veer to the left of the main trail. This path will then climb a  somewhat steep hill towards rocky outcroppings. The trail will again divide. Take the left-hand trail. When you reach the top of the hill, there will be a large boulder to your right. Walk around the boulder. On your left will then be a sort of crevasse. IMG_5663eClimb the crevasse and you will be standing on an open rock face, with a rock table all the way at one side. IMG_5667ePass to the right of the rock table and climb another crevasse to the right. Poet’s Table is more or less at the end of this crevasse, on the left, tucked underneath an overhanging cliff. The trail actually continues from Poet’s Table, forming a loop which then comes back around to the second fork in the trail. IMG_5689eIt really is a delightful location, well-hidden, sheltered, and quiet. People who argue that the Black Hills aren’t mountains haven’t seen places like this. Soaring rock spires conceal this spot, and mountains fall away in the distance. A table and chairs and a cabinet filled with notebooks furnish the nook. People have signed their names on the walls, painted pictures, written poetry in the notebooks, and someone even left a bottle of Jack Daniels. There were remnants of an old campfire, and other odds and ends of trinkets and oddities left by previous passers-by. IMG_5672e We meant to eat a camping lunch up there, since I had missed out on the camping trip due to being sick, but a thunder storm rolled through just south of us, barely touching where we were. We could hear the thunder, so we debated for roughly twenty minutes about whether or not it was foolhardy to be sitting up on rocky cliffs with a thunder storm going on (the answer being “yes”, of course), until the storm basically blew by. By then, we weren’t really hungry and dinner was getting close anyway. IMG_5697eIf you plan to do this hike, I would recommend consulting other sources as well for trail information. I wasn’t writing down directions, but am simply recalling them. If I do Poet’s Table again, which I plan to do, I’ll be sure to update for inaccuracies!

Pack a picnic lunch. And enjoy the hike and the accompanying pristine views. The Black Hills at their best.

 

Ghost towns

After our short trek to the unnamed ghost town or homestead site on Sunday, and having our visit shortened by rain, we knew we wanted to spend some more time looking around there. We picked Tuesday as the day of choice, little knowing that we would end up enjoying all the variety of Black Hills weather in one day! Not that that would have deterred us, of course! Living in the Hills, one really does get used to very rapid changes in weather, sometimes rapid changes in one area, other times rapid changes due to, for instance, driving over the mountains. IMG_5178Sarah and I took Playhouse Road into Custer, partly for the scenery, partly because it actually is quicker than going over Mt. Rushmore, and the higher the elevation, the snowier it got. Boy, were the trees lovely to see! We met up with a friend in Custer, and drove down towards Pringle, seemingly leaving the snow behind. We poked around in the ruins for an hour or so, turning up pieces of a child’s skate, the top deal of a hand-cranked ice cream maker, the lid of a pressure canner, and lots of blue glass insulators. As much as I would have loved to “collect” them, we dutifully left them behind. I love blue insulators. But a $20,000 fine is a pretty good deterrent. However, it is too bad that cows and elk and weather don’t leave the artifacts alone, evidenced by the shards of glass everywhere. In another ten years of cows, elk, and weather, the artifacts will be all but gone.IMG_5261eWe examined the root cellar more closely, and realized that glass jars and bottles were built into the walls. Some of the bottles were identical to ones I found in our junk piles. Not sure the purpose of building bottles into the walls, but that is something we want to learn about. IMG_5239eWhen rummaging in the remnants of long-gone ghost towns and homes, it can be easy to compartmentalize those locations as being purely “historical.” As if the historical artifacts just planted themselves there, and weren’t put there by a living person. It is so easy to forget that these were places that were bubbling with life. These were homes, busy homes, built by people who knew the meaning of the word “work.” Whether dating to the first gold rush or the homestead and mining years of the early to mid 1900s, these people were true pioneers and adventurers, in ways we can’t even comprehend now.
IMG_5213eWe stayed for about an hour, findings other odds and ends, guessing what the structures might have been, marveling at a giant spreading aspen, so wizened that the bark on the lower trunk looked like an oak or cottonwood. I wonder how much smaller that tree was, when the homestead was being lived on.  The trees down the valley turned grey with approaching snow, and the squall blew in. Rain on Sunday, snow on Tuesday.
IMG_5280eIMG_5282eAs we drove down to our family property south of Pringle, near Argyle, it was still snowing in quite a winterly fashion, but cleared up when we headed west to the property. How variable the weather can be, from place to place and hour to hour! The following two pictures were taken the same afternoon, the first on our hike in to the Box Canyon, and the second on the hike back out, just a couple hours apart.
IMG_5313eIMG_5552eWe enjoyed the scenery, the history, the warm sun, the pasque flowers (well, I did, anyway), and Jake flew his drone over the Box Canyon and Spring-on-Hills Stage Stop. The stage stop dates back to the gold rush days, and was only in use for 2-3 years. IMG_5434eIMG_5336eThis stop would have fallen out of use as a regular stage stop when the entire route was re-routed west of Custer, due to dangerous conditions in this area. It probably continued to be used by immigrants and adventurers who chose to pass this way, but the stage itself was routed further west. All that is left are some foundations and a caving-in dugout. I remember the dugout being intact when I was a kid, but the heavy rain we had a couple of summers ago in particular brought the roof down. There are still old jars inside – Perhaps someone at sometime lived in the dugout, or maybe it was only ever used as a cellar. Who knows.
IMG_5334eThe clouds cleared off and the wind picked up a bit as well, making the drone flying some tricky business. On our hike back out, we saw a herd of antelope in the distance, which for me is always fun, since we don’t have antelope in the Hills. There was also a crazy coyote running around, and lots of bluebirds. I was also fortunate enough to find a patch of Easter daisies, one of the flowers I was hoping to see, since now is their time of year!
IMG_5518eIMG_5573eWe made one last stop on our way back to Custer, to explore some old cabins near the side of the road. We hit the valley right as the sun was getting low in the sky. Furniture and shoes still mouldered in the houses, and swallows had taken up residence. The pump still pumped water. Coat hooks still hung on the walls. A bedframe gleamed in the light from a window. How the past lingers, even as time marches on.
IMG_5595eIMG_5619eIt is rare that we are able to slate a whole day for hiking and exploration. Time marches on. But sometimes you just have to take a whole day to enjoy it.

Slow Rain and Relics

The sun and blue sky of Sunday morning had turned into lowering clouds. The sound of raindrops began to hush around us as we followed an old forest service road towards our destination. Before long at all, everyone else was far ahead and out of sight, while I was hunkered down in the wet grass and pine needles taking pictures of spring’s first flowers. What sweetness! We had temperatures in the 40s, and those of us who had properly layered were plenty warm, even with the gentle rain.IMG_5097eWe were hiking in an area of past burn, south and east of Pringle a couple of miles. Before the trail wove down into a valley, distant hilltops could be seen glowing gently under the grey sky, and even scattered blue sky could be seen off to the south east. We saw ample evidence of elk, but not a glimpse of the majestic creatures themselves. No deer, few birds – It was quiet out in the woods. But in amongst the fallen trees and blackened stumps, the purple of pasque flowers could be seen. Life from death. Beauty from ashes. In areas of previous devastating fire, new life springs up with determination.IMG_5059eThe trail took us to the historical remains we had hoped to find. Old foundations, remnants of walls and chimneys, a water pump, a tumbled-in root cellar, sparkling pieces of colored glass, shards of rusted metal, miscellaneous kitchen items, ancient stoves, door knobs, coffee cans – All relics of the homestead or town site that once stood there and the lives that had previously been lived there. We don’t know its name, or who lived there, or whom they knew, or what they did, or where they came from, but someone had a life in that beautiful little valley. What will I leave behind when I’m gone? It is an interesting thought.IMG_5113eIMG_5105eThe raindrops plinked and pattered on a heap of twisted metal, sounding like the rush of a distant, faraway stream. We poked around in the ruins, and could have spent a lot longer there. We only left reluctantly when we figured we should catch up with the rest of the group, who had already gone back to the truck to keep from getting wetter. IMG_5132eIMG_5129The rain picked up, but that hardly mattered. It is spring, and rain is expected! Sarah pointed out how vivid the colors are in the rain, and she is right. It’s as if the rain washes away a layer of dust, leaving everything clean and fresh with the color plainly seen.IMG_5146eIMG_5173eTime and again we extend our Sunday fellowship through the afternoon with hiking. And time and again, I think how perfect a way that is to end a Sunday. Spending time in God’s glorious creation is refreshing any day of the week, but there is something fitting about it on a Sunday – it seems to me that we are in a way extending the sanctuary of worship into the broader realm of His created handiwork. His handiwork and His attributes are proclaimed in the beauty of the landscape, the intricacies of flowers and plant and animal life, the perfect way this earth holds together and flourishes year after year and century after century. When we marvel at and revel in the natural world, we are marveling at and reveling in the works of God’s hands. What a privilege. IMG_5174eWe headed home in a slow drizzle and stopped at Three Forks to get coffee. Beautiful weather. A beautiful day.

 

The Second Year

March 1st is an exciting day on my calendar, and marks an epoch in my life. Two years ago today we crossed the Missouri River into western South Dakota, for the first time with no departure date in the future. Two years ago today we saw the Rapid City lights flickering in the winter night, welcoming that sight as those coming home after a long journey. Two years ago today we drove south on Hwy. 79, and finally – finally! – saw the familiar flashing light marking the small town of Hermosa, marking now the nearness of home. I watched for that light every time we came to the Hills, and I still get a sense of nostalgia when I am driving home after dark and see that light blinking in the distance. Two years ago today we pulled down the long, red dirt driveway into what had always been home for us. Two years ago today we came “back home,” although no one but Dad had actually ever lived here. Two years ago today. How fast time flies.
IMG_9878Our second year in the Hills felt like our tenth year in the Hills – Nothing about it doesn’t feel like home. We have truly settled in. Our church has  become family, and the closeness hasn’t diminished, but increased. The days and weeks are marked by time spent with family and friends, spent outside in God’s glorious Creation, exciting hikes to new places, teaching piano, fellowship over meals, experiencing a close-knitness with my church family of welcoming and being welcomed into one another’s lives.
IMG_8490The last year hasn’t been without its struggles. There have been plenty. Grandma’s health issues, personal health issues, trials of various kinds, fears, struggles with the general busyness of life and the snug living arrangements. But in all those things, God shows Himself to be faithful. He always provides. And the trials He gives are actually gifts, just like the things we readily perceive to be blessings.

On to Year Three. We will see what God brings!

Laura Elizabeth

Hiking | Community Caves

The hike today to the well-kept secret of the Community Caves in Spearfish Canyon just took its place as the most exciting hike I’ve ever done. Sarah, Jake and I were discussing this on our way back down, and “foolhardy” was the choice word we selected for this hike. In all fairness, none of us had tried this hike before so we didn’t have a perspective on what it would be like in the winter and (just to be sure, I googled Community Caves while writing this review) other hiking reviews don’t say much about winter conditions, other than that it is beautiful and crampons are recommended. So this hiking review comes with some serious conditions applied to it. Please read to the end.
IMG_2960eThe Community Caves are located off the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, 2.7 miles south of Spearfish. In the winter, the ice formations can be seen from the road and look deceptively small. Parking is at a pullout just after mile marker 13. The trailhead is across the road from the pullout and crosses Spearfish Creek.IMG_2900eThe hike is short, no more than a half mile from the trailhead to the caves, but if anyone tells you it is an easy hike, they are pulling your leg or haven’t ever hiked it before. Granted, it would be a lot easier in the summer without a sheet of ice for a trail, but this still is a strenuous, though short, hike in. The brunt of the trail is up what appeared to be a gravel and boulder slide, a very steep creekbed, and the last 20 feet or so is even steeper and muddy. It isn’t a hike. It is a scramble. Even in the summer, this would not be recommended for children. Some reviews suggest hesitantly that it might not be good for children, but unless you have hiked it already and know your kids can handle it, do not try it. Or be prepared to turn around. I also wouldn’t recommend you try taking a dog on this hike, for that matter.IMG_2905ePerhaps the sheet of ice for a trail should have deterred us, but one doesn’t drive 2 hours to get to a trailhead only to turn back because of ice. I mean, its winter – What do you expect? The trail got steeper and slicker, but the ice formations loomed above us and there were other climbers ahead of us, so it couldn’t be too bad, right?IMG_2906e Fortunately, the little tops of rocks sticking above the ice actually made decent footholds, but one wrong step and it would have been a bumpy slide to the bottom…So we plowed on ahead and made it to within 20 feet of the top before we were stopped by the ice. The patch where Jake is standing in the above picture is the furthest we could get going straight up. Jake’s handy rope got us across the icy stretch and we scrambled up the muddy slope into the shadow of the Cave chamber. It was incredible. IMG_2919eI had heard that it was beautiful, but pictures don’t do it justice. That much ice really does appear blue in the shadows! Pigeons chortled to themselves in the recesses of the cave, and ice pillars fed by trickles of water grew on the back wall of the cave. There were remnants of a campfire. A massive wall of ice enclosed one end of the cave, forming a dim, blue chamber. It really was stunning. IMG_2937eAlthough the entire hike is slick, the main danger issue isn’t the ice on the ground – That just requires caution, careful footing, and being very deliberate about where you put your feet. The main issue was the ice up in the air, supposedly attached to the canyon wall. The hike back down went pretty well until we heard a giant crack and basketball-sized clumps of ice came flying right at us. There was a whole ravine of area that the clumps could have flown at, but of course they flew right at our three selves, and we were in enough of a precarious position that we couldn’t duck or move. I took one on the leg and another square between my shoulder blades, and Sarah spent the next five minutes fishing a clump of mud out of her eye. Miraculously, no one was hurt! We quit dawdling (if we even had been at that point) and got down as quickly as we safely (?) could.

Lessons learned from today’s hike:

1) Do not hike this after a period of thaw. While this seems rather obvious in hindsight, it wasn’t so obvious going in, but melting giant pillars of ice  become crashing boulders of ice when the temperatures rise. Who would’a thought…

2) Take some rope. Jake actually left his rope tied to a tree, and there was already another one there, so we were able to get back down the worst part. But do yourself a favor and take some rope anyway, just in case.

3) Take gloves, even if the weather is nice (but refer back to #1. If it is nice enough to go without gloves in the winter, it is too nice to do the hike anyway). Gloves, because of #2.

4) Seriously, wear good shoes. There were some other young people up there today in completely inappropriate footwear. Even in the summer, wear good hiking boots. In the winter, take crampons or YakTrax or something. We didn’t.

5) Don’t hike alone. Although generally not recommended to hike solo, for this it really would be foolish to hike it alone.IMG_2959eIn spite of the foolhardy nature of this hike, we made it out alive and have great pictures to show for it. Coming down was (surprisingly) the easy part, given how slick it was. We all were picturing sliding the whole way on our rear ends. We made it down without incident and very relieved. No broken bones or heads. It is worth the scramble to see it. Just please don’t do it after a thaw.

Laura Elizabeth

Metamorphosis

There is a wonderful transformation that takes place this time of year, changing what is common into what is precious, from emerald and black to crimson and gold. It was the rumor of gold that first brought the white man into the Black Hills in the 1870s, late in the era of the gold rush. But whatever precious metals they found while digging in the ground and panning in the streams, these riches outstrip them all, though they fade in a mere handful of days. It is the metamorphosis of autumn.IMG_2386The miracle of autumn is one which I am firmly convinced is entirely for our joy and God’s glory. God didn’t have to create the bounties of autumn color – The trees could simply turn brown and lose their leaves. But God in His sovereign goodness gave us the tapestry of the seasons, including the fleeting glories of autumn.
IMG_2686The Hole-in-the-Wall trail is festive in gold and green and crimson, the entire trail lined with hardwood trees in a mighty array of autumn colors. The higher hillsides are pine and so never change, but in the ravines the aspens and burr oaks and other hardwood trees and shrubs flourish, and are now painted their various hues of gold and crimson and yellow.
IMG_2763When the evening sun shines from over the mountains, the aspens are lit up like torches, glowing and burning. Rocky hillsides are illuminated with the flaming color of the trees. Driving along our already beautiful highways, my breath is swept away, when around a corner is suddenly revealed a golden hillside, or glowing ravine, or a roadside lined with brilliant color.IMG_2545I took a drive  down Rockerville Road, and explored a couple of side roads. The sights were glorious, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud in delight! Springtime is wonderful, summer is rambunctious, but to catch the leaves in the prime of their autumn color is pure bliss. IMG_2862 Roadside wildflowers are a riot of reds and golds, with a touch of purple here and there. Those, too, will soon fade, and all that will be left is the memory of the color, and the simple elegance of the dried stems and flower heads.IMG_2340Now, I understand that the color we revel in here isn’t the spectacular display of color we used to enjoy in Illinois, or the color that is legendary further east. But the subtlety of the transformation of the Hills is part of the allure. The mystery of autumn is heightened by its very temporariness. We aren’t two days into autumn and the colors are already fading from their peak three days ago. What a gift, to be able to enjoy such beauty, even for so short a time. IMG_2548For soon, and even now, the color will fade, the gold will glimmer away, and the life of summer will become the chill rest of winter.
IMG_3103Medieval alchemists were fascinated by the mythological concept of the transformation of common metals into gold. But what a delight, the alchemy of the seasons, the metamorphosis of the world around us, God’s created order that simply shouts His glory, and the Gospel story itself! What more wonderful metamorphosis, than the transformation of wretched sinners into redeemed Believers in Christ! Not only the tiny parable in the gold of autumn, taking that which is common and making it precious, but the larger parable of death and renewal, of decay and new life, pictured in the metamorphosis of the seasons.

Laura Elizabeth

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