Keeping Cool

Nothing like a hike to the local swimming hole on a hot day! It is a little too well known now, but it is still fun. And with all the rain we’ve had, there is a lot of water gushing over the falls right now! Lots of wildflowers, very few ticks, LOTS of poison ivy. And by the time we got down to Big Falls, the canyon was in the shade, so for those of us not inclined to swim, we could still cool off. Hah. It was fun watching/heckling Anna as she tried to get up the nerve to cliff jump, and jump she did! Katie, Sarah, and Jess were adventurous enough to swim against the current and get right up next to Big Falls. That’s a lot of water!
IMG_8469eIMG_8473eIMG_8492eIMG_8509eIMG_8531eIMG_8521eIMG_8466eOh, the fun we have in the summertime.

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.

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

Muddy Boots, Fresh Soul

IMG_8376When the temperatures soar into the 50s and 60s in February, the only thing I want is to be outside! On Wednesday, after getting some mundane duties done in the morning and running an errand to Mt. Rushmore, Sarah and I took off for Big Falls, the site of some old mining operations from the early part of last century. Battle Creek roars through a deep ravine, and pours over a falls into a deep pool some twenty feet below. In the hot summer months, it is a popular swimming destination, but I think I prefer it in the off season.

IMG_8352The sun, which had shone so brightly in the morning, was obscured by cloud-cover, but it was still a beautiful day, balmy, fresh, and quiet. The road to Big Falls is forest service access, which means not a lot of road maintenance, particularly this time of year. But the old orange Jeep can take just about anything, including the mud from the snowmelt, and the washed-out places.

IMG_8371The hike down from the trailhead is short, steep, and beautiful. The creek was frozen thickly over in places, but the clear, clean mountain water still rushed and chuckled over the rocks and under the ice. The last quarter mile follows Battle Creek, so we poked around on the sandbars looking for garnets, picking up odd rocks and chunks of quartz, snapped some pictures, scrambled around on boulders, enjoying the damp and the balmy winter air. And the quiet. We stayed on the upstream side of the Falls and ate a little picnic of apples. We tossed the apple cores into the stream and watched them eddy around until they were caught in the current and shot over the edge into the pool below. In the middle of a busy week, how pleasant it was to simply sit and enjoy the beauty in the depth of the Hills!

IMG_8427On our way back out, almost to the top, we dawdled in a clearing at the edge of the canyon, and caught a glimpse of something a half mile down the canyon and across. I grabbed my camera and my 300mm lens and sure enough, there was a mountain goat standing on the edge of a precipice. He was barely distinguishable in the picture, in the right upper quadrant of the photo, but clearly a mountain goat.

IMG_8432We took a few pictures of the far away goat before realizing that directly across the canyon from us, there were two more! One of them just lay there, looking calmly at us, unbothered. I wonder how long he had been keeping an eye on us. I don’t see mountain goats very often – Sometimes they can be seen around Mt. Rushmore, and I’ve seen them while hiking Harney Peak, but this is the first time I’d seen them by Big Falls.

IMG_8444After soaking up the freshness of February, the peace of the wilderness, the cool damp of the Battle Creek air, we headed home reluctantly. We were a little muddy, a little leg sore, and a lot refreshed. It was one of those days when I was even more thankful than usual for where I live, this beautiful place I’ve always loved.

Laura Elizabeth