It would be impossible to count how many gorgeous photographs I pass by every day. Which is one reason I sometimes intentionally leave my camera at home, to keep myself from being tempted to do nothing but take pictures all day, or be annoyed with myself that I didn’t stop for that picture. Besides, all too often I have my camera with me and never see anything that compels me to stop and capture it. But then again, sometimes I do have my camera and I do feel compelled to stop. And then how glad I am.
I see these landscapes all the time, but found this view captivating.
During and after the Legion Lake Fire, a lot of tears were shed (figuratively and literally) over the devastation wreaked upon the beautiful landscape of Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. Of course wildfire is devastating, and it is terrible and terrifying when it threatens human habitation, but it is a natural process necessary to the health of the wilderness ecosystem. No, the landscape will not be the same. Yes, it will be changed. Yes, the land will bear the scars of that devastation for years to come. And this picture is glorious proof of the renewal that comes from that same devastation, mere months after the fact.
It is a uniquely human desire for things to “never change.” What is there in this life that “never changes?” Nothing. Change is a good thing. Yet we cling to the familiar, and instinctively react to change as if it was an evil, when in reality that change, though painful, may be God’s way of strengthening us, renewing us, shaping us, and making us more like His Son.
The black is greening up. And one thing is certain…the buffalo and other critters eating that tender, young grass are definitely not complaining. So drive through the Parks and make mental note, and then drive them again later this spring, and summer, and next year. God has equipped them to be renewed. So in a strange, haunting way, even the burned areas are beautiful.
Although we’re a good ways outside of town and are, by a lot of people’s standards, “in the middle of nowhere,” you haven’t seen the middle of nowhere until you’ve driven to Lusk, Wyoming. That is truly the middle of nowhere. For miles and miles, there is nothing except for Mule Creek Junction, and on either side of the highway there are miles and miles of beautiful, open, desolate rangeland, low buttes and rock spires, miles and miles of fenceline and windbreaks, dry washes, miles of road with the occasional mailbox and ranch signpost.With not a mountain in sight, Lusk sits at just above 5000 feet above sea level. The beauty of the high plains. And that region is glorious. I’m a forest and mountains person, so I wouldn’t choose to live in the Lusk area over, say, the Buffalo area, but that area is beautiful, breathtaking country. Literally breathtaking, today, with the famous Wyoming wind whipping the snow into a flurry, streaming it across the highway, billowing from drifts and hilltops, working its magic upon the landscape.Even a day drive to Lusk and back to pick up a friend is a wonderful opportunity to marvel at God’s creative powers. I find that they are best viewed in the middle of nowhere.
There is poetry in the aspen trees. They speak it, when the wind whispers through their leaves. The wind in the pines is a mournful sound, but the wind in the aspens is like laughter.
Aspens in summer are a poem of laughter and gaiety. Like stained glass, the leaves glow and glint and glimmer, a misty, vibrant green in a sea of black pines.
In autumn, the aspens are a poem of plenty, a poem of thanksgiving, but with a hint of sadness. A gust of wind showers the leaves like showers of gold, and the bright color is sprinkled liberally on the carpet of the earth.
A change of seasons means loss – But it also means renewing, in God’s time. That is the poem of the aspen trees.
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
22 he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
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.
The 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.We 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.
It 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.
Once 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!
Keep 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.
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.
The 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.
The 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.
We 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.The 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.
Little 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.Sarah 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.
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.