Hiking | Flume Trail #50

Winter came early for a lot of the Black Hills on Friday, with as much as 6 inches of snow falling in Custer, SD. We got no snow where I live, just miserable, cold drizzle, but as we drove down Calumet Road on the way to Sheridan Lake yesterday morning, there was snow in patches under the trees, evidence that fall is already marching towards winter. I wondered if I had brought warm enough layers for this hike, and was very glad I had remembered to grab a pair of lightweight gloves. It was a crisp morning, a beautiful day to hike the length of the Flume Trail #50. All four of us had been on parts of the Flume Trail, but none of us had done the whole thing, end to end.IMG_20180929_110635209_HDR42829137_244059916249169_5769549802031284224_nThe Flume Trail begins at Sheridan Lake at the Calumet Trailhead and terminates at the Coon Hollow Trailhead just west of Rockerville.  Officially said to be 12.8 miles, we clocked it at 13.6 miles. Definitely a less challenging hike as far as terrain, with a good majority of the trail on the level, but the length made it a good workout. The starting elevation at Calumet Trailhead is 4635 feet, and it ends at 4492 feet at Coon Hollow Trailhead. The number of trailheads along its length would make this a great trail to hike in segments, if you didn’t want to do the whole thing, and there are also a couple options for scenic spurs or loops for those who want a longer or more challenging hike, including the Spring Creek Loop, the scenic Boulder Hill Loop, and the Boulder Hill Trail. Spring Creek Loop and Boulder Hill are both hikes which can be done by themselves. We parked a car at each trailhead, which is a good way to get the whole length of the hike in, unless you want to do an overnight. We did take the Boulder Hill Loop, instead of taking the shortcut, which had beautiful views of Silver Mountain and Boulder Hill and lovely, open meadows.
IMG_20180929_123011962_HDRIMG_20180929_144535113_HDRThe Flume Trail follows a segment of the flume (a wooden trough used to carry water) used in the mining days. It is amazing to think of the sheer amount of physical labor the miners did to construct this flume, first to level out the channel, sometimes carving deep into granite to make a downhill path for the water, and then to build the wooden flume itself. The wooden parts are gone, but the channel remains, in some places clearer than others. Flume remnants crisscross the Hills, including my family’s property. A neat bit of evidence of all the work that went into working the Hills in the early days.IMG_20180929_162759132_HDREarly on in the hike, we passed a number of older individuals who were part of a Volksmarch society and were hiking a segment of the Flume Trail (they were planning to do the Crazy Horse Volksmarch today) and later on we encountered another couple of hikers and a trail runner or two. I like how versatile this trail is, and accessible by a lot of people!IMG_20180929_164824720_HDRThe hike features flume tunnels, as well as gorgeous granite formations, boulder-strewn slopes, beautiful hardwood thickets, a couple of minor creek crossings, and other lovely Black Hills scenery. This time of year is particularly gorgeous, when the aspens and other hardwoods light up the ponderosa forest with autumn color.IMG_20180929_110139253_HDRIMG_20180929_164217860_HDR
IMG_20180929_162450226_HDRIMG_20180929_124948562_HDRThe trail intersects with rural ranch roads and forest service roads a number of times, sometimes following a two track for a ways before branching off into official trail again. The trail generally is clearly marked with blazes on trees or brown trail markers, but occasionally the trail would branch and we’d have to search a little to find which branch we were supposed to take. So be aware of that. If you choose not to carry a map or GPS, give yourself extra time in case you get off on the wrong branch of trail, or miss the trail altogether.IMG_20180929_160603116_HDRIMG_20180929_173134668_HDRIMG_20180929_161809309_HDRTowards the southern end of the trail, past Boulder Hill, the trail descends into Rockerville Gulch, which was a blaze of autumn yellows. The trail narrowed for a ways, winding through forest of oak and aspen and ironwood. Really a beautiful part of the trail.IMG_20180929_160801689_HDRNew hikes are always fun, and this is such a great time of year for it. I love the dirt and pine needles and fallen leaves underfoot, and the quietness of the wind in the tree tops. I love getting out into the silent parts of the Black Hills, where I can’t hear cars and traffic, where I don’t see tourist helicopters, far enough in that I’m tired when we get to the end, enjoying that precious time with friends, talking about Jesus and enjoying the beauty of our Creator’s creation. What a gift.




Joyful Girl

One of the things I love most about Sarah is her joy. She is blessed by physical beauty, yes, but Sarah’s joy is a bright and infectious energy that just bubbles and sparkles. She has her down days, like the rest of us, but more than most she has a native delight and sense of optimism. Sometimes we tease her for her endless optimism (think Jane from Pride and Prejudice), but it really shouldn’t be made fun of – As a Christian, optimism should be a given. As redeemed children of God, saved by the blood of Christ, we have absolutely no excuse for anything but optimism! IMG_3363Sarah is blessed with a delightful sense of humor – What a gift. Life is often difficult and frustrating, but the gift of humor is a beautiful thing. Often does our time spent together involve reveling in the joy of laughter and humor, laughing at ourselves and at one another, laughing at humorous or awkward experiences we’ve had, laughing until we cry and are breathless with giggling. IMG_3325If you’ve never been blessed by the sound of her laugh, I’m sorry for you. Some people attempt to exercise self-control when they laugh, which really is kind of a bummer. Laughter isn’t supposed to be something that is constrained or put through a filter. That strips all the fun out of it! And there is nothing more fun or infectious than Sarah’s laugh when she’s not thinking about it – It really comes from the heart, or straight from her funny bone.
IMG_3240And behind her joyful and often publicly quiet exterior, there is a heart of gold. I receive so much encouragement from our conversations, as we delve into life’s issues and struggles. She is endlessly encouraging. Her spiritual maturity is beyond her years. She has the wisdom to be able to take struggles in stride, the creativity to think outside the box, the faith to be unconventional, and the humility to think nothing of it.
IMG_3222I’m so blessed by my sisters. Every once in awhile, when Sarah is performing her rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” I wonder what it would be like to be an only child, but overall, having sisters is a wonderful thing. A gift from God.

Laura Elizabeth


Mine Explorations

The brightest gems of the Black Hills are the little-known ones, the ones that are tucked back off the beaten trail, that take a little more work to get to. After church on Sunday, I and two friends, Hannah and Jacob, along with three dogs, Angie, Cleo, and Trixie, explored an abandoned mine and its many shafts scattered across the hillside above the towering and rusty old mill.
IMG_0463The hike to the mill itself was one long gentle slope up – About 30 minutes from the trailhead. It was hot out, and the shade around the mill was welcome. The old mill still stands tall and erect against the side of a taller hill. The sheet metal siding has come off in places, or swings loose in the wind. Rickety flights of stairs still span floor to floor.
IMG_0479The hike to the mines was another climb, boasting beautiful views of Harney Peak in the distance, over a rolling sea of pine trees. Such wonderful country – I still have to pinch myself.
IMG_0417We could smell the mines before we could see the tunnels. The musty, earthy damp mixed with the warm, resiny perfume of the pines, and we could feel the seep of cool mine air as we approached the entrances to the mine, which loomed black in the steep, rough walls of rock. The sheer size of some of the digs was astounding, from the towering walls of open cuts and gaping mouths of air shafts, to the vaulting and cavernous ceilings inside the mine, to places where the ceiling had caved in years ago, leaving just enough space to crouch and scramble through.IMG_0517IMG_0409IMG_0425The meager glow of our flashlights and lanterns seemed swallowed up in the dark of the tunnels, glistening on damp walls, sparkling dully in pools and trickles of water, occasionally revealing old pieces of machinery from the bygone mining days. Cart track still spanned some of the tunnels, and rotted support beams tottered in the openings.
IMG_0434IMG_0560Little ferns grew at the mouths of a couple of the mine tunnels, transparent green against the bright sunlight outside. Pigeons nested in the sheltering cliffs above one of the open cuts.IMG_0507Sarah and William and I went back yesterday, and picnicked in the shade of the cliffs. Trixie came along again – She is becoming quite the hiking buddy! When we stopped for lunch, she begged pieces of our lunch and bites of apple, then fell sound asleep while we sat and talked and poked around in the piles of mica.
IMG_0587 The Hills conceal a treasure trove of history, history that is as tangible and real as the damp of stone beneath my fingers, or the rough, rotting wood of an ancient structure. The remnants of bygone days are scattered liberally throughout the Black Hills – If you know where to look.

Laura Elizabeth

Independence Day 2016

The Fourth of July is always one of my favorite festive days! We have so much to be thankful for, and it is good to remember and reflect on the blessings our nation has enjoyed since the first colonies were established 400 years ago.IMG_7749In 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 men, Separatists and Strangers,  declaring their resolution to work together in the New World.  The Strangers were adventurers and soldiers, but the Separatists were Protestant men and women and children who were seeking a greater degree of religious freedom, out from under the authority and tyranny of the state-run Anglican church. Their agreement read:

“Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia…”

For the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith! And we are still reaping the rewards of that charter today. Independence Day isn’t just about the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. Independence Day is about our heritage of freedom, particularly our heritage of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, our heritage of heroism and bravery and virtue. Independence Day is about the Pilgrims and their blood, sweat, and tears, shed for “for the Glory of God”. Independence Day is about the glories and tragedies of the American Revolution, which was successful following national submission and repentance and fasting before God.  Independence Day is about “In God We Trust,” and “one Nation under God.” Independence Day is about love for a nation that was founded by men who adhered to the principles that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Independence Day is about Samuel Adams’ words on the day the Declaration was signed: “We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.” Independence Day is about men like George Washington, who believed that “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” Independence Day is about John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Independence Day is about the freedom to teach that to our children, to proclaim the truth of freedom in Christ to our families and friends and to total strangers.
Stockade LakeSo what better way to spend Independence Day than with family and friends, enjoying the freedom to assemble with our brothers and sisters of the faith?
Stockade LakeStockade Lake was bustling activity yesterday afternoon, tourists and locals camping and boating and enjoying the beauty of the Black Hills. The beaches were overrun with festive crowds, but our friends had managed to snag a pavilion earlier in the day, so we had a corner of the lake to ourselves.
Osprey over Stockade LakeWe enjoyed osprey and herons and ducks, and very few bothersome insects since it has been so dry. Trixie came with us, of course, and I think she met her match for energy in our friends’ youngest two. Calvin and Laurel couldn’t get enough of her, and I think she liked the attention. After all, they were just about her size!
Stockade LakeIMG_7578The kids swam in the lake, and Sarah brought her kayaks, much to the delight of the boys, so after dinner they hauled the kayaks down to the lake and were pretty much gone for a couple of hours. We all visited and shared good food and fellowship, and were showered on by a little thunderburst that came our way briefly. The storm didn’t last long, and the cool evening wound down to dusk.
IMG_7770Those of us who didn’t mind getting home late headed over to our pastor’s house to watch the Custer fireworks from his family’s backyard. They have a great view of the show, and it seemed like about half our church converged on their home for the evening! Our church is pretty geographically separated, many of us traveling 45 minutes or more to get to church. So those opportunities we have midweek to see one another, to see our brothers and sisters, are cherished dearly. We were treated not only to the fireworks, but also to beautiful lightning from another storm that slowly closed in. We were close enough to still feel the resonating explosions, the far enough away to be able to keep up our conversations. It was fun to hear the burst of applause from the whole town of Custer after the last flares of the finale. Custer’s fireworks are simple in comparison with what other larger towns can afford, but they are no less enjoyed.
IMG_7786We watched the traffic streaming out of town, and then it slowed to a trickle. The noises of the crowd down in Custer quieted. The lightning was flickering and flashing, closer now. Then the rain started gently. It was a good day. We have so much to be thankful for.

Laura Elizabeth





Photoshoot | Family is a wonderful thing

Friendship and fellowship are two of God’s greatest blessings, and they go hand in hand with the command to love. Over and over throughout the New Testament, the church is commanded to love. Christians are called to love everyone – Friends and enemies, widows and orphans, rich and poor, old and young. But special attention is given to command Christians to love their brethren, those with whom they share the bond of faith. The bond of faith is a blood relationship of a different sort – We weren’t all born to the same parents, but we were washed in the blood of Christ, cleansed by His sacrifice, and the bond of Christian faith is a bond that is eternal. If we aren’t able to love our Christian brethren with genuine love, then whom will we be able to love?
IMG_7239 - BoardwalkWhat a delight it was, then, to spend the evening with my pastor’s family, fellowshipping over a meal and then heading over to Stockade Lake as the sun was setting. They had graciously agreed to let me practice family portraits on them, muddling through posing and lighting and everything else that comes with a photo shoot. And it was a joy!
IMG_7397 - SageIMG_7378 - BoardwalkIMG_7412 -- ClydeIMG_7442 - ClydeThis family is truly characterized by their love of their Savior, which manifests itself in their love for each other and their love for others. J.O. and Dana have a beautiful, Christ-centered marriage, and they love and honor one another so wholly. And their children are a testament to that, thriving and growing as children in their parents’ Gospel-driven home. IMG_7387 - Focus/Blur with ArizonaAfter finishing up by Stockade Lake and enjoying the pleasure of God’s Creation, we went back to their place for hot chocolate and tea and more good conversation.

Family is a wonderful thing.

Laura Elizabeth


Saturday Adventures

The Pringle PlaceThe winds sound different in the pines. They hum and murmur and sing in the needles and in the sun-warmed grass, sweeping clouds from horizon to horizon, drying the earth and warming the earth and waking up all the little messengers of springtime. The earth feels different in the springtime, ready to burst with life, like a person holding back mirth, or like someone with a delightful secret. Tiny plants push through the red soil, little barrel cacti and the elusive pasque flower and star lilies not yet bloomed.

IMG_8921Any excuse to get down to the Pringle place is a good one for me, and today’s excuse was that my cousin Ben was down in Pringle with my aunt and uncle, and I was already going to be in Custer this morning, which is more than halfway there. So after cleaning the church, Roy and I drove down to Pringle – I, armed with my camera, Roy armed with various muskets and pistols – and picked up Ben for a hike.  We couldn’t have picked a better day than the one our Heavenly Father had picked for us.

IMG_8909Our hiking took us along Box Canyon, and down west of the old stage stop, through red gullies and golden meadows, in and out of deep-cut ravines, over and under barbed wire fencing, looking at the favorite places and searching out new. We stumbled across the remains of an ancient log cabin from the homesteading days, found a piece of a rusty old license plate from 1922 and an old stove lid, and picked up a rusted steel trap that must have washed down the gully, or been dragged there.

All the little early wildflowers are beginning to bloom, giving me fresh subjects to capture and identify, from little phlox-like flowers growing low to the red earth, to scrubby yellow complex flowers with foliage that smelled like celery, to a yellow succulent-like flower growing all by itself on a little hillside.
IMG_8897And yes, we found the pasque flowers today! A week ago down on the Pringle place, the little wind flowers were waking up, though were not yet awake, but today they were in beautiful bloom, tucked beneath scrubby pines, nestled down deep in last summer’s grasses.  Whimsical nodding blossoms of palest purple, covered with their coats of silver fur, blending in and almost invisible, but unmistakable. Pasque flowerGrasshoppers chirruped. Mountain bluebirds flickered like blue flames as they lighted on fence posts and fence wire and darted here and there. The junipers and pines were spicy in the warm air, the sky was brilliant and dappled with clouds, the wind was sweet and restless, and the rocks were cool to the touch. Lichens crusted the red stone, quartz sparkled dazzlingly, and the day was perfect.

IMG_8931We picnicked on the tailgate of Roy’s pickup, and when we were done hiking, we did some target shooting. “Shooting makes a bad day good and a good day better,” Roy said. Though, it hardly needed improving – Friends and family, God’s good and glorious creation, a sturdy camera, a picnic in the open air, and the sight of a small herd of antelope hightailing it across the prairie – And, yes, firing a few rounds at some makeshift targets.

A good day. A very good day.

Laura Elizabeth