Hiking | Big Falls

Another favorite destination for Black Hills locals is Big Falls, also known as Hippie Hole. We’ve hiked it a number of times from the Foster Gulch trailhead off of Rockerville Road, but Sarah, William, and I decided to try it from the Highway 40 trailhead, and it was well worth it! The trailhead is about halfway between Rockerville Road and Hayward, on the north side of the highway. I would say that it is a more strenuous hike, but given that there is no easy way down to Big Falls, that is somewhat hard to estimate.
IMG_0661The views were beautiful – Sunlight sifted through the pines in the higher elevations of the trail, then through an emerald canopy of deciduous trees as the trail dropped into the canyon. Birch trees and huge granite boulders lined the trail. Splashes of wildflower color sparkled here and there, and there must have been roses earlier this year, since there were rosehips! Little gems of the wildflower world.IMG_0673We saw a mama and baby mountain goat pair down closer to the creek, and seeing them so close was quite the surprise! We’ve seen them near Big Falls at a distance that nearly required binoculars, but this darling pair was no more than 20 yards away! God has designed His creatures so beautifully. It was amazing to see the little baby scrambling around like a pro with his mama.
IMG_0645IMG_0642IMG_0628It was rather quiet at Big Falls when we went, which was a nice change from the usual. Weekends are not recommended for Big Falls, since that is when the younger, rowdy, bikini-clad, beer-drinking, smoking crowd tends to show up. But there were only a  family or two and a young couple there, and it was fun to watch them deliberate and try to get up the courage to jump off the Falls into the pool below. Sarah and William climbed up to a good vantage point for watching the deliberations.
IMG_0664Once again, Trixie came with us for the hike and she loved it – When she is better trained and we can trust her to come when called, we’ll be able to let her swim and run around by the creek. She was great on the trail, though, where the distractions were fewer. She is becoming quite the hiking buddy!
IMG_0671Keep an eye out for garnets along the trail – I read in a book on gemstone hunting that the Big Falls/ Battle Creek canyon area is a great place for garnet hunting, and this proved true. The girls and I are seasoned garnet hunters, and the best garnets we have found have been in the vicinity of Big Falls! Yesterday did not disappoint!

One warning: there is a lot of poison ivy on this trail. Wear protective clothing and wash afterwards! Trixie was very much into the poison ivy, so even she got a bath – She hated it.

Laura Elizabeth


Botanical | Harebells

Back in the early 1900s, there was a watercolor artist named Cicely Mary Barker, a contemporary of Beatrix Potter and published by the same publishers who worked with Miss Potter, who wrote poetry and painted pictures of “flower fairies.” I remember poring over a volume of her poetry and exquisite paintings in my piano teacher’s house, during my sister Jessica’s piano lessons. Each of Cicely’s fairies personified a specific flower, and the Harebell Fairy comes to mind with clarity: standing on tip-toe, dressed in a gown that resembles the cup of the harebell, holding a slender stem in her hand with the blossom swaying over her head.Perhaps that book of Flower Fairies is where some of my love of wildflowers comes from. About six years ago, I found a bargain priced set of Cicely’s books (the complete poetry and paintings, I believe), hard-bound and beautifully printed. It took about two minutes to decide to add them to my library.HarebellThe harebell has to be one of my favorite summer flowers. I found this little cluster up in a meadow on the eastern side of the property.

Laura Elizabeth


Hiking | Hell Canyon

Armed with plenty of water, bug spray, and a dog, Hannah and I set off up the steep initial climb of the Hell Canyon trail. There was only one other vehicle at the trail head parking lot, so it would be a quiet hike.
Hwy. 16 from Hell's Canyon TrailThe Hell Canyon loop is a little under 6 miles and we took it at an enjoyable pace, stopping aplenty to revel in the beauty of the trail.  Within ten minutes of setting out, I spotted a cutleaf anemone, which I had never seen before except in pictures, and a little further ahead we started seeing rock clematis, another new one for me. A cluster of pasqueflowers caught the light, blooming later in the higher elevations west of Custer.
Cutleaf anemoneI pointed our a few more flowers, thrilled to be seeing such different flowers from my hikes on our ranch. “Those are some great flower names you’re making up,” Hannah teased. So the next new flower I saw, I asked, “Do you want to know what this one is called?”
Rock ClematisThe remoteness of Hell Canyon is exhilarating. Hiking along the rim, we enjoyed the soaring vistas and plummeting slopes into the canyon’s center, the towering rock formations and the narrow trail, the silence and tranquility of the middle of nowhere. Remnants of once-great ponderosa pine trees evidenced the former thriving forest of Hell Canyon, stripped and desolate from past fires.
Hell CanyonThe dead and denuded ponderosa trunks still towered high, and the hillsides and canyon walls were covered with deadfall. Stumps were still black with soot. But Hannah pointed out an old burned-out tree stump, where last year there had been a black-eyed Susan growing out of the center. Deep and steep ravines were growing back full of of aspens, their pale green leaves bright in the sunlight. The wildflowers thrived, bearberry and phlox and prairie goldenpea, rock clematis and anemone and longspur violets, Nuttall’s violets and white milkwort and prairie smoke, and a single early stem of wild blue flax. Life from death.
Wild blue flaxEzekiel 36:26 says: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” God takes our hearts of corruption and death and He renews them, breathes life into them. He takes our souls destined for the fires of Hell and cleanses them, purifies them, sanctifies us. Life from death.
White milkwortThe trail traced along the rim of Hell Canyon, and then gradually dropped down into the greenness of the canyon itself. Down in the cool and shade, with carpets of longspur violets and Canada violets and rich, tall grass, it was hard to believe a fire had ever desolated the canyon. The ability God gives to His wonderful Creation to rejuvenate and regrow is astounding.
Longspur VioletChokecherry trees, larger than I had ever seen, lined a portion of the trail. A spring-fed ephemeral stream crisscrossed the trail a handful of times, eventually disappearing underground. The peace was sweet. It was like walking through a garden where God alone is the caretaker, undisturbed except for the faint foot-worn trail. Seeing the untouched, undefiled reaches of Creation, the sorrow and turmoil and suspense and violence of the world fade into the background – It is just about impossible to worry when deep in the woods, with trees and cliffs and blue sky soaring overhead, with the silence and joy bursts of birdsong, the chuckle of the creek, a soft breeze, and the companionship of a sister in Christ. Perhaps it is because I’m constantly being reminded of Someone far greater than myself, and being drawn out of my own selfish thoughts into the light of God’s goodness and majesty, revealed in His Creation.
Rocky Mountain IrisIn Luke 12:25-28, Jesus exhorted His disciples: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!”

Laura Elizabeth

Blue Flag

My uncle stopped by while I was weeding in the garden, and informed me that there were wild irises in a little hollow a few minutes walk away. I had found a bunch at Buzzard’s Roost a couple of weeks ago, but I had only seen a few on our property, mostly wilted. Sure enough, following a familiar draw, unbelievably lush this time of year, there were a few dozen wild irises, scattered here and there like gems.Rocky Mountain iris / Western Blue FlagAlthough I’m somewhat better able to control myself when other people are hiking or walking with me, when I’m by myself I have this uncontrollable compulsion to look at every single flower I catch a glimpse of. So I zigzagged my way along a faint trail, where my uncle had driven to check fencing and do other ranch maintenance.IMG_2778Irises, also known as western blue flag, are complicated-looking flowers, with an exotic structure and beautiful patterns on the petals that look like watercolor painting. Other irises I had found this spring were somewhat washed-out or faded in appearance, which perhaps they were. These ones, though, had no shortage of vivid color. Rocky Mountain iris / Western Blue FlagThere were other wildflowers beginning to be in abundance, wallflowers and fleabane, and a false dandelion which was an exciting find – But the blue flags were the highlight.

Laura Elizabeth

No Place I’d Rather Be

The first day of my week off was spent almost entirely outside – The way I like it! Gardening, yard work, and other activities this morning, mowing until dark this evening, and a hike this afternoon to see if any water was still running in Battle Creek. Boy, was it! It roared pleasantly through the canyon and the deep-cut creekbed, a chocolatey, muddy brown. Wildflowers are blooming even more now, and the brush and forest were alive with bird life. My cellphone battery died on my hike, so I walked very carefully on the way home. I’ve never seen a rattlesnake on the Hole-in-the-Wall trail, but I didn’t want to find my first one and not have cell access in case of an emergency!
Sleeping BumblebeeAfternoon AspensBlue-Eyed GrassWhat a wonderful day to be spent outside, enjoying the quiet and serenity of the Black Hills, the wind in the pines and the tall grasses, the vivid sunlight, the flashes of wildflower color, the shimmering green of the aspens. No place I’d rather be.

Laura Elizabeth

Almost Overlooked

When I went for a walk this morning, two things almost didn’t catch my eye. But they did.
Fleabane budFlameAn unopen fleabane bud. And the flame in the heart of a dewdrop. Beauty can be so wonderfully manifest in the simplest of things – Only from the hand of God.

Laura Elizabeth