Cheap Renters

A recent Sunday-afternoon hike to Bill Falls (a.k.a. Hippie Hole) reminded me once again of how much ownership people think they have over these places that don’t belong to anyone, yet belong to everyone. As the sounds of loud music and profanity-laced conversation reverberated through the canyon near the Falls, I moved downstream, away from the chaos. It is truly amazing how many bikinis, beer bottles, and profanities hang out at Big Falls when the weather is nice enough for swimming. One reason my favorite time to go is winter. No one else is there.
IMG_4055eWhen I go deeper into God’s country, I want to see God’s order, not man’s chaos. I want to hear the silences and sounds of solitude. I want to smell the freshness of the wilderness, not beer and chlorine (yes, Big Falls actually smelled like chlorine…). I want to hear the music of the creek, not rock music. I don’t want to see garbage clogging up the creek. I don’t want to see broken glass, bottle caps, misplaced sandals, and abandoned pool toys. Essentially, I want to see less of people. More particularly, less of the profanity-spewing, intoxicated, pot-smoking variety. I like going there and seeing people having good, honest fun. But why does “fun” now have to include drugs and alcohol? Honestly, it is no wonder so many of the events for the local search and rescue involve Big Falls. When you combine beer and boulders and deep water, the results are likely to be devastating. As they too often are. We have these beautiful places to enjoy, places that are relatively untouched, and it is a shame that they are overrun during the summer with drugs and alcohol. When I see people with their piles of beer bottles (yes, literally piles), I find myself wondering whether they even care to remember the hike or not.

It is irritating to hike down to arguably one of the most beautiful corners of the Black Hills, with the graceful Falls, the pools of water, the towering granite crags, the mountain goats, the lush foliage in beautiful fall colors…and be greeted with a profane atmosphere that would merge well with a college campus, piles of beer bottles, and exceptionally skimpy swimming suits.

And this dynamic I think we have to blame on locals. Tourists don’t know enough about the area to go there with coolers of beer (the mental image of someone trying to navigate the trail to Big Falls carrying a cooler of beer is hilarious, by the way). So all you local kids who think it is cool to go down there to drink underage and smoke pot, get a life. Leave the Falls alone, so those not into drinking and pot smoking actually feel welcome there. And, just a thought, it might save you a fine or jail time. Sarah and I went to Big Falls much earlier this year, probably in May, and pretty much decided never to go there by ourselves again, at least not without taking a gun with us. The feeling of vulnerability is intimidating, when as females by ourselves we realized that the guys up on the rocks were smoking pot and watching us. At least I had my hefty lens with me. I knew I could do at least a little damage with that.

So please excuse my rant. But these Hills, these scenic spots, do not belong to us. They are on loan to us for a little while. I wish people would quit acting like cheap renters.

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Canada/Alaska Adventure | Entry #10

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. IMG_0035eIMG_0026eIMG_0045eIMG_0053eJenny 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. IMG_0081eIMG_0127eIMG_0118eIMG_0114eIMG_0002eIMG_0014eIMG_0097eSo much history, and so recent. A step back in time.

 

 

 

Canada/Alaska Adventure | Entry #9

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.
IMG_9724eAn 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!

IMG_9698eIMG_9577eMost 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. IMG_9604eIMG_9573eOnce 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. IMG_9574e IMG_9611eIMG_9595eIMG_9582eIMG_9596eIMG_9701eThere 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.IMG_9669e 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!

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Canada/Alaska Adventure | Entry #6

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.IMG_9421eIMG_9476eIMG_9452eIMG_9444eAfter 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. IMG_9493eWhat a day. So much to marvel at.

 

Hiking | The Meeker Ranch

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.IMG_6640e 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.IMG_6655eIMG_6844eIMG_6696eIMG_6733eIMG_6685eIMG_6693eIMG_6721eIMG_6740eIMG_6759eAround 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.
IMG_6794eIMG_6781eIMG_6855eFrogs 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! IMG_6873eTo 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.

 

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.