Hiking | Buckhorn Mountain

Another gorgeous weekend and exhilarating hike in the books. I’ve really never found something I enjoy as much or as thoroughly as I enjoy hiking. We were going to hike Mount Baldy, but on the way home from church made a quick switch decision to hike something new instead. This may have been even better than Baldy…
IMG_20190407_164559265_HDRBuckhorn Mountain is a recognizable granite peak and ridge formation just north of Custer along Hwy. 16/385. What is generally photographed is not actually the highest point, however, so don’t let that throw you. Look at in on a topographical map and it makes sense, but I was confused for awhile when it seemed like we weren’t actually hiking Buckhorn.

There is no trail, so the best access is to hike up the Michelson Trail from town, and after about a mile head off trail east toward the peak. Keep it in view and you can’t get lost. As long as you can still climb higher, you’re not there yet. Round trip, it is a little under 4 miles. We picked what seemed like the most direct route(and the route that would include some boulder scrambling), up the west slope of the mountain, and boy, were we in for a treat! Plenty of scrambling to satisfy that craving, and gorgeous glimpses of views along the way up. We discovered a much easier route on the way down, however, on the south slope.

This peak clearly gets very little attention, and for good reason. There are a lot of snags and deadfall, steep slopes covered with duff, and lots of boulders. But if you feel like braving it, the view from the top is magnificent. The whole way up, we were watching a particular peak, only to get up to a saddle between it and the real peak and realize it was a false summit. This is a beautiful view of the false summit, from an open meadow on the way back down: IMG_20190407_164542021_HDRFrom the top, Crazy Horse, the Harney range, Custer, and everything in between is laid out like a map, clear and pristine and beautiful. I always enjoy getting up high enough that birds are soaring at eye level or lower.IMG_20190407_171725324

IMG_20190407_171209222_HDROn the way down, we found an easier route, which meandered through beautiful, open woods and boulder-strewn hillsides, emerald-green, kinnikinnick-covered slopes, and mossy spring areas. I can’t pinpoint the feeling exactly, but certain areas of the hills, including this hike, kept reminding me of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, or C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. Rugged, wild, and hauntingly beautiful.  Axel also found an intact deer rack, which he didn’t want but I did, so it got a ride back on his pack. IMG_20190407_172351841IMG_20190407_172620580Definitely a hike I recommend, if you like some rock scrambling and off-trail hiking!


Legion Lake Fire

Pray for safety, folks. And snow. There are a lot of people in harm’s way right now, a lot of displaced individuals, and a lot of firefighters battling this blaze. Wind is something we’re used to out here. But we’ve had some abnormally high winds over the last 2 weeks and, combined with the abnormally dry conditions, the Black Hills area is basically a tinder box. Monday morning, a fire started in Custer State Park when likely a falling tree took out a power line. It originated in the Legion Lake area, but has moved south and east, getting into some rough terrain. The winds died down today, for a much-needed reprieve, but picked up again this evening with a vengeance. This afternoon, the report was that the fire has grown to 4000 acres, but within the last few hours the fire blew up and spread rapidly with the increased wind, jumped the Park boundaries, and is headed towards Hwy. 79. There is about 7% containment. Evacuations are in progress and being monitored for specified areas between Hermosa and Maverick Junction. Pray for safety for the firefighting personnel, those forced to evacuate, and favorable firefighting conditions. We took a couple of drives today to watch the fire, and this evening down towards LH Road we watched in stunned amazement as a hilltop erupted in flames, and another a few minutes later. It sure is something, seeing the reaching, grasping flames, the billowing swirls of smoke. The red glow in our sky, even from down in our hollow, is rather eerie, and knowing that evacuations are happening just a few miles away is a little unnerving. Even 15 miles is too close.

Fire is such a paradox. On the one hand, mankind never could survive without it. We need the many things it provides. It is a vital resource. And yet, on the other hand, when out of hand, it is one of the greatest threats to survival.


The Best Day of the Week

IMG_8518Sunday mornings tend to be a little hectic – Five of us on a Sunday morning in a cabin with one bathroom is a recipe for hurry and a few ruffled feathers. But in the midst of the hurry, there can be delightful moments, like catching sight of the deer on the dam as the sun is coming over the rim of our ridge, watching early-morning birds, or laughing at the kittens’ antics. There is the smell of coffee and eggs and oatmeal, and the bustle of activity. We’re all glad when we finally get out the door and miraculously are on time,  and any ruffled feathers have a chance to smooth before getting to church.

IMG_8528I left early this morning, early enough to enjoy a leisurely drive past Mount Rushmore and the scenic vistas along Hwy. 244. So much beauty, and the play of early morning light through the leafless trees was captivating. Sometimes it is hard to be a safe driver when the views are so lovely. The sky was crystal clear, and the profile view of the Monument was postcard-worthy. Couldn’t resist stopping. It is mornings like this that leave me breathless with wonder at a God who is so good that He, in His own good time, brought me to the place I love most on earth. What a trivial matter, on the one hand, and yet He worked it beautifully.

IMG_8689My gratitude is deepened when I think of my church family, and when I spend a morning and a meal in worship and fellowship and teaching – The closeness and intimacy and joy that we each share with one another leaves me filled to overflowing with gratitude. The conversations these brothers and sisters of mine desire to have with one another, the desire for openness, the desire to impact, the desire to bless, to convict and be convicted, to strengthen, to confess, to love…It has given me a beautiful perspective of what Christian relationships should and can be, and what it means to “be Christ” to one another.

IMG_8587Sarah and I took a scenic detour home after church. Since pretty much any route around here is “scenic,” what made this one scenic is that it took about 2 hours longer than normal, since we decided to drive the Custer Wildlife Loop. We stopped at Common Cents, got fuel, coffee, and a box of Saltines to feed the burros, and headed out of town. The prairie dogs were, as always, quite obliging. The fat little rodents squeaked and scurried and scampered, and one little pudgy guy let me get pretty close.

IMG_8671We watched and watched for the burros, and any other creatures of the prairie and foothills. A couple of herds of buffalo were right up by the road, licking salt off of vehicles as they went by. Such majestic creatures. When they are grazing so quietly, it is hard to reconcile their gentle appearance with their intense power and capacity for aggression.

IMG_8677Spending time in the wonder of God’s creation always drives me deeper into the conviction that none of this was an accident, but Divinely ordered. The uniqueness and distinctness, the quirky and delightful personalities of each individual animal, from Luna the Grey Cat who likes to watch the world from his seat on the lawnmower, to this shy doe who stared timidly as we drove past her on the road…Each animal, each plant, each rock and hill, bears the fingerprints of a Creator. I can’t but believe that.

IMG_8741We saw a handful of antelope, which tend to be pretty reserved creatures, but we saw no burros. We looked and looked, and even drove a short ways down a few side roads, but saw nor hide nor hair of the little beasties. It was rather disappointing. So, since there were no burros to eat the package of Saltines, Sarah and I ate them.

We got home as it was just beginning to be evening. A morning spent in worship and fellowship, and an afternoon spent in awe and sisterhood…What could be better?

Hands down, Sunday is the best day of the week.

Laura Elizabeth


DSCN0785.1 Within minutes of scrambling out of the pickup trucks at stage stop Spring-on-Hill, we were suddenly treading very carefully at the sight of a rattlesnake retreating into the old dugout stage stop, and the warning rattle of at least one other in the grass nearby. DSCN0787.1We tread carefully and put a safe distance between ourselves and the hidden snakes, but we also tossed small stones gingerly in their general direction, just to hear the fascinating sound of the rattle. Finally, it was clear that Mr. Rattlesnake inoffensively wanted to be left alone, so we very obligingly left the serpents to their lair. There was more to see.

DSCN0793.1This particular stage stop has its own legend of lost gold, and Custer himself in crossing this land wrote of it as a desolate, barren wasteland. Hardly flattering, but barren as it may be in some regards, it is simply teeming with life in others. While drier than the more northerly Hills, there was still water in the ravines and canyons, and Spring-on-Hill itself, the Spring, was actually feeding a small creek, instead of simply soaking into the dry, thirsty gumbo.

DSCN0813.1We scrambled up the ravine towards the Spring, up and down the bank, over rock ledges, through briars and a stand of juniper, and came to the source, which bubbles up out of a concrete housing. Pipes used to run from the Spring, carrying the water further than it could flow itself, dry as it is out here. Now, it just pours from a crack in the housing, feeding a muddy, mossy pool. Some of the water makes it further down, due to the wet spring and summer we’ve had.

DSCN0927.1The grass, rented by a local rancher woman, is sufficient to support a small herd of cattle. The cattle were skittish and suspicious, but the heifer calves were beautiful. So delicate. When we marched through part of the herd, one of the cows, probably a younger mama, couldn’t get far enough away from us. As we approached, she’d move away, watching us, and move away again as we moved closer. Finally, with a frisk and a snort, she took off, taking with her a couple of calves and a spotted old steer. Off they ran, not content to just move out of our way, but with a need to be once-for-all out of our sight. Never saw them again.

We stopped for a few minutes by a little piece of red, muddy stream and watched the tadpoles. The sun was warm, and the air was quiet. On the other side of the trees and up a bank, we could hear the cows munching on the grass.

DSCN0812.1Out on the Spring-on-Hill ranch, the grass is scrubby and sparse, but the low-growing scrub was fragrant in the warm summer air. From time to time, the heady perfume would make me stand up and look around for the source of the perfume. It was a minty fragrance, and we finally figured out which of the scrubby plants it was coming from. It must be some sort of a sage, but I haven’t yet identified it.

DSCN0848.1Growing fast to the gumbo, lichen clung, flourishing in the barren region. I read once that lichen growth is a sign of a healthy climate or ecosystem. It must be a healthy region out here, then, because lichen grows in subtle abundance. The low-growing, rootless things are almost invisible against the rock and red soil. If you didn’t stop to crouch down and just look, you’d miss them altogether. But they are there, in their reds and greens and whites, defying the harshest of weather.

DSCN0914.2lowerrezAfter our fill of hiking, rock hunting, and exploring, the men brought out the guns and did some target shooting. The women got in on it, too, but it was fun just watching the enthusiasm and expertise of the men in the group. Always eager to learn more, to improve their marksmanship, and to exercise our 2nd Amendment rights. Don’t mess with this crew, I’m tellin’ you!

DSCN0905.1It was hard to leave–Such a beautiful place, so much to marvel at, to wonder at, to revel in, to savor. God is a God of beauty, goodness, and creativity. Who can look at this landscape and think it happened by chance? I can’t. Someone high and wonderful must have thought out this landscape and planned the intricate details. They’re too exquisite to have been a mere accident. And I’m glad He gave us the chance to enjoy and experience His handiwork. He could have landed us in a colorless, shapeless world. He could have made us see in black-and-white. But He didn’t.

Laura Elizabeth