Something about winter’s subtle beauty always tugs at my heart. There is a beauty present that is otherworldly, and almost invisible, often somehow entirely other from the object being admired. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, and maybe it is the very fact that it doesn’t that makes it so alluring to me.
Delicately-striped fungus on a decaying log. Sunlight filtering through the paper-thin sepals of a dried seed-pod or flower head. Ripples in dunes of snow. A cat’s warm fur when the thermometer is reading about 15 degrees. Sunlight. The sunlight itself is different.Winter is a wonderful time of year. There is a peace, yet an anticipation. There is a rest and a sleep, a slumbering, and yet the cold brings out a quiet energy that everything seems ready to burst into peals of laughter at any moment. There is the warmth, strange warmth, of sunlight on my face, and yet the chattering of my wet-now-frozen hair rattling against itself. There is the frigid cold of face and too-warm warmth of body that comes from overzealous layering. There are the billows of steam when our front door opens, tiny cat prints in the snow, sleeping cats in the cabin, reluctant to go outside. There’s the sparkle of fresh snow, the hush of falling snow, the crunch of snow underfoot. Flowers of frost on windows, glassy lakes, and white-drifted roads.
On beautiful days like today, winter could last forever.
After nearly four years of writing this blog, I’ve accumulated a number of “hiking review” type articles. I thought it would be nice to consolidate those, so here’s the “Adventures” page! Any suggestions as to content would be very appreciated, as right now it is in the early stages of development. I intend to flesh out the page itself with additional overview-type info on the hikes, and may perhaps add information to the articles, though for now I have no plans to do so.If there are any hikes I haven’t covered that you’re interested in, comment on the page and let me know! I always love suggestions for new hikes, and there are some I’ve done that for one reason and another never got published as blog articles.
Thanks for reading! Enjoy!
Oh, back when the weather was warmer…However, warmer doesn’t mean warm. On this particular hike, Axel, Katie, and I all were a bit chilly for the first while, having not considered the morning shade in the canyon. We were treated to some of the first glimpses of winter, with persistent ice over parts of Little Elk Creek, beautiful frozen, frosted, filigreed leaves, and the nipping of the crisp, morning air at our cheeks and noses. Autumn was still hanging on by a thread, and not all the trees had dropped their leaves, but the crispness and the frost let us know that winter was on its way.
Little Elk Creek Trail is a well-maintained trail, approximately 5 miles out-and-back, used by hikers, bikers, and trail runners. It is mostly level, with very little elevation gain, and though it is rated as moderate according to All Trails, I would definitely rate it as easy. Perhaps the length is where the moderate rating comes in. I don’t know.The trail follows along or above Little Elk Creek, though some beautiful rock formations and canyon areas, boasting many beautiful views. Across the creek from the trail, shaded north slopes were green with moss, steep and rocky, and very different from the brown, sunlit slopes the trail followed. We met a few other hikers, but it was a quiet trail. It is a ways off the beaten path, and likely not a lively tourist destination, since most tourists would probably hike around Sylvan Lake and Custer State Park, the crown jewels of the Black Hills. But this lovely hike is worth the time to get there.
And as always in the Black Hills, if you can tear your gaze from the soaring beauty of the trees, spires, canyons, and blue, blue sky, there are other things to marvel at as well. Things like friendship, for one. What a gift God gave when He created people, plural. He meant for us to live in community and fellowship with one another, and hiking with my brothers and sisters in Christ is one of my greatest joys at this time of my life. And then there are the tiny, almost-trodden on things, like abandoned bird nests and rushes growing green along the creek. It is so easy to focus so intently on the big picture that a million priceless glimpses of joy are lost.
It has been a few years since I hiked Lover’s Leap, and on a free morning last week we managed to get out there for a beautiful quick hike in our beautiful autumn weather. I love short hikes with some good hill climbing, and Lover’s Leap fits the bill. It is an easy to moderate 4.4 mile loop, best hiked clockwise, with a steady uphill climb for the first mile and a half, and then a gentle downhill or level trail for the rest of the hike. The trail name refers to legend of two Native American lovers who were fleeing from the United States Cavalry and jumped to their deaths from what we now know as Lover’s Leap. The trailhead is located near the Game Lodge in Custer State Park. After about a half mile, maybe less, the trail splits. We took the left hand trail and hiked it clockwise. The trail features diversity of landscape, with beautifully maintained ponderosa pine forest, sweeping views of the Hills glimpsed between the trees, colorful hardwoods along the creek in the lower elevations of the hike, and of course the glorious views from the top of Lover’s Leap. A good part of this area was also burned during the Legion Lake Fire, adding to the diversity of the sights. Stark black tree trunks give evidence to the ferocity of the fire in those areas. Although it may look ugly now, as the trees either naturally fall or are felled over the next years, and the grass and plant life returns, those areas will be transformed and beautiful. A sign at the base of the short scramble to the top of Lover’s Leap reads:
Custer State Park is a place where one can still be an unworried and unregimented individual and wear any old clothes and sit on a log and get his sanity back again.Notice the scratch markings in the bottom left corner of the sign before the word “sanity.” That used to read “his.” What occurs to me as I read this sign with the word “his” scratched out is that whoever it was that defaced this sign clearly hadn’t taken advantage of sitting on a log and getting his–sorry, her (probably, right?) sanity back.
This is the kind of hike I hate to finish. The trail was so peaceful and beautiful, the sunlight filtering through the trees was magical, and the sense of autumn was glorious. Definitely a day for stomping through the woods and getting one’s sanity back again. I guess that’s one of the things I love about hiking. Cares of the world tumble away and cease to matter, and worries cease to plague me, the craziness of our current culture and politics and worldview battles disappear for a time, and a sense of perspective returns in the vastness and beauty of God’s creation, in the rhythm of footfall and breath.
I’m honestly not sure how I made it this long without hiking Devil’s Bathtub. It’s a quick, beautiful hike to possibly one of the prettiest places in the Hills, and very unlike much of the terrain in the rest of the Hills. The hike is roughly 1.5 miles there and back, with approximately 12 creek crossings one way. The trail crosses private property at the beginning of the hike, but please be respectful of the trail and other hikers regardless of it being public or private land.
This time of year, the creek was pretty low, but I’ve heard that during wetter times, the creek crossings can likewise be much wetter. After our French Creek Adventure I have a whole new perspective on creek crossings, so these were exceptionally mild. But if the creek is higher and you don’t want to get your hiking boots wet, wear water shoes! The destination is the Bathtub, where a swim would sure be refreshing in the hotter months. It is a pretty well established trail, definitely kid-friendly, but sometime next year they’ll be tearing it up and making it even more established, which is rather disappointing. From what I’ve heard, it gets enough traffic already – why make it even more accessible?
The trail follows the creek the whole way, through some stunning and massive rock formations and boasting beautiful views up and down stream. This is a hike where you’ll definitely want your camera! Find the people in the above picture to get a sense of the scale of the rock formations along this hike!
A freak tornado earlier this year ripped through huge areas of Spearfish Canyon, including parts of Devil’s Bathtub, so there was quite a bit of debris and fallen trees, but it gave the hike a wilder feel. The beautiful, towering cliff faces and weird, layered rock formations sure made this a memorable hike. And then this beautiful spot as payoff at the end: I’d like to go back in the summer, when its hot and the water would be refreshing!
Another beautiful hike in the books.