America from the earliest days was built upon tenacity and determination. Each place has its stories of the men and women who were the first-comers, the settlers, the pioneers, those at the front lines of the frontier. Driven by myriad reasons, but driven nonetheless, men and women trekked through the harshest conditions to pursue and fulfill those dreams. It is amazing to what lengths mankind is willing to go, to expand, to explore, to pursue freedoms and wealth and opportunity and stability and adventure. And the further west and north in the United States, the more recent those stories are.
The Independence Mine was a hardrock gold mine, formed by the joining of two mining companies in 1938, and was worked until its closure in 1951. It was the second most productive Alaskan gold mine, producing nearly $18 million by today’s standards. This is an informative article, briefly outlining the history of the mine. Jenny and I, along with a friend of Jenny’s, visited the mine on Friday, after we hiked Hatcher’s Pass. If we hadn’t been starving and a little pressed for time, we could easily have spent more time walking the trails around the park, taking pictures, and taking in the scenery. Run-down and tumble-down buildings, in various stages of dilapidation, hugged the mountainside, giving quiet testimony to a time when the area was alive with industry. It is amazing to think of the men who first came into this area, in spite of – and maybe because of – how remote and rugged it is. The camp buildings in particular were fascinating to me, as someone who loves old buildings, but also because of how out of place they seemed compared with the rest of the mine buildings. The bunkhouses, cookhouse, and other camp buildings, according to the informational signs, were painted with aluminum paint and red trim, “giving the camp a clean, cheerful appearance.” The manager of the mine wanted to keep his miners happy, and the accommodations were known as the best in the area. So much history, and so recent. A step back in time.
What had begun as a beautiful Sunday morning and early afternoon turned to clouds and drizzle by the late afternoon and evening. The closer we got to the Lion’s Head trailhead, the greyer and rainier it became, but we had coats with us and set out hiking in the drizzle.
An online hiking article states that the trail is 1 1/2 miles long, and it definitely is a good scramble, steep, narrow, and slick in the rain. Jenny and my Uncle Dan both are skeptical of the 1 1/2 miles and think it has to be shorter – I’m not. Though, it didn’t feel nearly as long coming back down!
Most of the trail does indeed go straight up, with a few too-short switchbacks and some rocky climbs. The rain had made the trail a muddy mess and the footing somewhat treacherous in places. Lots of easy handholds are to be had, however. About half of the distance is in forest growth, though there are open areas boasting beautiful views of the Matanuska Valley. The rain and clouds and mist gave the landscape a moody, surreal atmosphere at times, with the river and the Glen Highway gleaming dully in the distance, beneath towering clouds and strange sunlight. The scramble includes a stretch of boulder field, which was easy to navigate and was actually a nice break from the raw, muddy scramble. The trail begins to level out towards the top, with a pretty gentle grade over the ridge to the actual peak. Once again, I couldn’t help but exclaim over the strange terrain, with the soft and spongy moss covering pretty much everything in thick, tangled mats. Large lichens added weird pattern and texture. Tiny flowers poked up among the fronds of moss, delicate and seemingly vulnerable, and little ferns grew impossibly in the boulder field. How amazing, that God has equipped these plants with fortitude and tenacity to be able to grow and flourish in such harsh climates. There were glorious views once we reached the top, and the sun began to show itself. There must have been some electrical activity in the storm, since our hair was standing up on end at the peak, in spite of being wet from the rain. Hoards of mosquitoes were also waiting for us, as well as a number of swallows dipping and diving over the cliffs, and beautiful clusters of wildflowers springing up seemingly from the rock itself. The Matanuska Glacier snaked back out of sight, hidden by mountains and mist. A swampy area dotted with little lakes sprawled between us and the glacier. The mountains along the Matanuska Valley were blue with rain, losing themselves in the distance. Breathtaking, truly. We hiked back down the trail, bug-bitten, rain-wet, sweaty, and muddy. What a joy, to be able to spend God’s Day in His glorious Creation, marveling at His handiwork, His Creative powers in having shaped and formed this world we live in!
Happy first day of summer! Here in Glacierview, AK, we are enjoying the last bit of daylight at midnight – We’ll have 19 hours and 21 minutes of daylight today! Honestly, it is the light that is the biggest adjustment for me up here. Sleeping really isn’t an issue, since I can hang a blanket over the window, but energy is the issue! At home, I’d be tired by 11:00pm, particularly if I had just gone on a hike and had a busy day (both of which I did today!), but when it is daylight outside, the energy just doesn’t turn off. The daylight really has wreaked havoc on my sleep, since I’ve been staying up a lot later, and then a few mornings ago I was wide awake at 4:30am! I love it.After dinner this evening, probably around 8:00 or a little later, Jenny and I climbed up to Big Rock, which overlooks the whole valley, with the Matanuska River snaking its way along way below, and the houses and Victory Bible Camp scattered like little models here and there in the trees. We left home in a slight rain, and enjoyed a rainbow on the way to the top, but once we were at Big Rock, it cleared up a bit, and the sun even came out briefly. The clouds were wisping over the mountaintops, and the Matanuska Glacier could be seen further east. What a day. So much to marvel at.
Once again we spent a Sunday afternoon haunting beautiful ruins in beautiful country. The Meeker Ranch is an historic site now owned by the Forest Service, east and north of Custer, SD. It dates back to the 1880s, and was built by Frank Cunningham Meeker, who, according to the Black Hills and Badlands website, was a member of the Pony Express, which ran for a couple of years along the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage line. Frank Meeker named his idyllic 278-acre spread “Willow Creek.” The ranch passed through several ownerships over the years, finally coming into Forest Service possession in 2004. They undertook restoration and preservation of the ranch when acclaimed watercolor artist Jon Crane helped lobby against the slated demolition of the structures. This breathtaking historic site has been the target of some vandalism in the past, but overall is beautifully preserved. Inside the main ranch house, there are still shreds of curtains, canisters of coffee (these people were obviously coffee-drinkers!), hangers in the closet, old newspapers and magazines, and wallpaper on the walls. Glass sparkles in shards on the floor, whole jars littered among the wreckage. It must have been a lovely, fashionable home in its prime, and now just wisps of the memories cling here and there around the walls.Around the homestead, perched on the hillside in among massive boulders and rock outcroppings, other structures cling tenaciously. The barn fittingly presides over the other structures, towering above them in wonderful condition, while the others have fallen into some level of decay. Buildings out here, scattered through the Hills, are so old and rugged that they seem to have sprung from the ground, rather than to have been built upon it. They belong where they are.
Frogs were singing in the little marsh below the house, singing and trilling so loudly it was almost uncomfortable – What a beautiful summery sound! The scent of pine resin was heavy in places, another sign of summer-to-come. Every time I get a breath of resin in the warm sunlight, a wave of nostalgia breaks over my soul, wrapped up in the beautiful memories I’ve treasured since childhood, of this place I now get to call home. Wildflowers were blooming along the short trail, little goldenpeas and pussy toes and even a few long spur violets. Springtime is truly here! To get there, head north out of Custer on Sylvan Lake Road. Take a right on Willow Creek Road. After a couple of miles, the road will become considerably rougher and narrower, so don’t take a vehicle with low clearance. After about a half a mile on this stretch, there is a Forest Service gate and some parking space. The Forest Service access road continues beyond the gate, and is about a half mile hike to the ranch.
A stunning piece of history.
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.We 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.
Starting 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. Climb the crevasse and you will be standing on an open rock face, with a rock table all the way at one side. Pass 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. It 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. 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. If 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.
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.We 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.The 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.The 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. The 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.Time 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. We headed home in a slow drizzle and stopped at Three Forks to get coffee. Beautiful weather. A beautiful day.