Hiking | The Prairie Trail

The cool weather was perfect for hiking the 3-mile Prairie Trail loop in Custer State Park. I knew immediately that I wouldn’t want to hike it on a day with temperatures in the 90s! Although there is some tree cover, it is mostly prairie and open sky, with a couple of steep ups and downs to warrant a “moderate” rating. The trail is a loop, so it can be hiked two directions. Taking the left hand fork is preferable, since it allows the steepest slope to be climbed down, instead of up.
SpiderwortThe wildflowers were blooming plentifully, and the spiderwort in particular caught my eye. I’ll have to hike this loop again later in the summer, to see what other wildflowers are gracing the trail. Some wonderful open views looked down on the Wildlife Loop Road and part of the buffalo herd along one of the fence lines. This trail is open to the buffalo, so be aware of that. We didn’t come across any on this hike, but according to Hannah the buffalo tend to congregate in the area of the trail in the fall. IMG_3999Standing partway up a good long slope, breathing hard and sweating, Hannah and I extolled the benefits of hiking. I’ve never been a runner, she has never been a runner, and unless there is some weird drive a person has to go running, why run? A good hike is just as good exercise, without ending up needing knee replacements at the age of 60. Painted LadyThere are a couple of creek crossings, and plenty of poison ivy, so long pants (or caution) are recommended. Sunscreen also recommended, because of how exposed the trail is! Pack water and a picnic lunch – There is a beautiful picnicking spot at about the halfway point, under a small stand of trees, shortly after a steep downward slope and just before the trail emerges again onto the open prairie. A good place for a picnic.  This is a great hike if you’re not wanting to spend all day hiking – I believe this took us about an hour and a half.

It is so good to be able to get away from the distractions of everyday life, and into God’s glorious Creation!

Laura Elizabeth

Darling Pair

After such a good drive through the Wildlife Loop on Monday, I couldn’t resist and I drove it again (yes, I burned a lot of fuel this week!). The buffalo weren’t much in sight of the road, and the burros had made themselves scarce. However, these photos made it all worth it.
IMG_3926Mama and baby antelopeI caught sight of this mama and baby antelope over an embankment, close to the road but almost sheltered from view by the slope and the guardrail. Fortunately, there were no other vehicles behind me to scare them away. Mama antelope was as contented as can be, cleaning her little kiddo’s bum while he nursed. When my little sister saw that picture, her response was: “That’s just wrong.” No, it isn’t! That’s mama antelope taking good care of her little one!

What a darling pair.

Laura Elizabeth

Early Morning in Custer State Park

Yesterday, I took an early morning drive through the Park – The girls and I had driven through it Sunday afternoon, on our way home from church, and were amazed at the numbers of tourists. I thought it would be better for picture taking to drive through before the tourists woke up. I had a portion of the bison herd to myself for a good ten minutes, maybe twenty minutes, free to take pictures to my heart’s content! The burros were charming, as usual, and everything had babies. Here are my favorites:
Mama and babyBison herdBuffaloBurro mama and babyBuffalo babyWhat a delight, to live so close to places like Custer State Park. I still pinch myself, to make sure it is real!

Laura Elizabeth

Blue Skies and Dirt Trails

Harney Peak Trail #4What a delight, when winter temperatures soar into the 60s and 70s under blue skies and warm sun! Waking up to 10 degree temperatures and gentle snowfall this morning, it is hard to believe that we enjoyed a summery hike last Saturday. Like many other residents of the Black Hills, Roy, Jessie and I spent the afternoon soaking up the springtime weather beneath Harney Peak. There was still ice on Sylvan Lake and snow in the shadowed places, but there wasn’t a hint of chill in the air.

Harney Peak Trail #4All around Harney Peak, there is a web of trails wending through the Black Elk Wilderness and Custer State Park, beautiful scenic spurs with gorgeous, soaring vistas and haunting hollows. We have all hiked Harney Peak a number of times, but some of the spurs were new to us, or at least new to me. Trail #9 is the most common way to reach the Peak, but Trail #4 is a little more rugged, less up-kept, and affords lovely views of the towering Cathedral Spires, as well as a lively scramble to the top of Little Devil’s Tower.

Harney Peak Trail #4For some of the little climb to Little Devil’s Tower, it was cumbersome having my camera bag slung over my shoulder, but worth it for the views at the top! The Harney Peak fire lookout looked doll-sized, and the dozens of people in and around the fire tower weren’t even visible. We could see Custer, like a map, spread out in the southwest, and we could see Rapid City to the northeast, sprawling and minuscule, with the Badlands barely visible in the distant haze. The hills dropped away, an alluring blue, fading and dimming as the distance grew.

Harney Peak Trail #4On the Cathedral Spires trail, we could see mountain goats sunning on the tops of rocks, far enough away that it just about maxed out my zoom lens. Such awkward looking creatures, yet so graceful and sure-footed! The first time I hiked Trail #4, we saw some up-close goats. It would have been fun to see a few up-close on the trail, but there were enough hikers with their companionable canines, the goats probably were more comfortable high up and out of the way.

Harney Peak Trail #4Such beautiful country to wander, and what clear, fresh air to breath deep of, to drink in, to soak up. Mica glittered dazzlingly in the trail dust, granite spires soared into the sky, pines grew precariously from any cleft of rock, and the aspens shimmered pale and silver in the warm sunshine, in a sea of golden grass.

Winter isn’t over in the Hills just yet. But almost. Spring is just around the corner.

Laura Elizabeth

The Best Day of the Week

IMG_8518Sunday mornings tend to be a little hectic – Five of us on a Sunday morning in a cabin with one bathroom is a recipe for hurry and a few ruffled feathers. But in the midst of the hurry, there can be delightful moments, like catching sight of the deer on the dam as the sun is coming over the rim of our ridge, watching early-morning birds, or laughing at the kittens’ antics. There is the smell of coffee and eggs and oatmeal, and the bustle of activity. We’re all glad when we finally get out the door and miraculously are on time,  and any ruffled feathers have a chance to smooth before getting to church.

IMG_8528I left early this morning, early enough to enjoy a leisurely drive past Mount Rushmore and the scenic vistas along Hwy. 244. So much beauty, and the play of early morning light through the leafless trees was captivating. Sometimes it is hard to be a safe driver when the views are so lovely. The sky was crystal clear, and the profile view of the Monument was postcard-worthy. Couldn’t resist stopping. It is mornings like this that leave me breathless with wonder at a God who is so good that He, in His own good time, brought me to the place I love most on earth. What a trivial matter, on the one hand, and yet He worked it beautifully.

IMG_8689My gratitude is deepened when I think of my church family, and when I spend a morning and a meal in worship and fellowship and teaching – The closeness and intimacy and joy that we each share with one another leaves me filled to overflowing with gratitude. The conversations these brothers and sisters of mine desire to have with one another, the desire for openness, the desire to impact, the desire to bless, to convict and be convicted, to strengthen, to confess, to love…It has given me a beautiful perspective of what Christian relationships should and can be, and what it means to “be Christ” to one another.

IMG_8587Sarah and I took a scenic detour home after church. Since pretty much any route around here is “scenic,” what made this one scenic is that it took about 2 hours longer than normal, since we decided to drive the Custer Wildlife Loop. We stopped at Common Cents, got fuel, coffee, and a box of Saltines to feed the burros, and headed out of town. The prairie dogs were, as always, quite obliging. The fat little rodents squeaked and scurried and scampered, and one little pudgy guy let me get pretty close.

IMG_8671We watched and watched for the burros, and any other creatures of the prairie and foothills. A couple of herds of buffalo were right up by the road, licking salt off of vehicles as they went by. Such majestic creatures. When they are grazing so quietly, it is hard to reconcile their gentle appearance with their intense power and capacity for aggression.

IMG_8677Spending time in the wonder of God’s creation always drives me deeper into the conviction that none of this was an accident, but Divinely ordered. The uniqueness and distinctness, the quirky and delightful personalities of each individual animal, from Luna the Grey Cat who likes to watch the world from his seat on the lawnmower, to this shy doe who stared timidly as we drove past her on the road…Each animal, each plant, each rock and hill, bears the fingerprints of a Creator. I can’t but believe that.

IMG_8741We saw a handful of antelope, which tend to be pretty reserved creatures, but we saw no burros. We looked and looked, and even drove a short ways down a few side roads, but saw nor hide nor hair of the little beasties. It was rather disappointing. So, since there were no burros to eat the package of Saltines, Sarah and I ate them.

We got home as it was just beginning to be evening. A morning spent in worship and fellowship, and an afternoon spent in awe and sisterhood…What could be better?

Hands down, Sunday is the best day of the week.

Laura Elizabeth