Hiking | Crow Peak Trail

We live right on the edge of the Black Hills National Forest, with our own property to hike on, as well as many other gorgeous hikes within a (relatively) short drive from our house. It is pretty easy to get stuck around here and the southern Hills for our excursions, and not venture too far from north. So I was glad to finally make it up towards Spearfish to hike the Crow Peak Trail, a roughly 6 mile out-and-back trail to the top of a beautiful little mountain, with gorgeous views of the surrounding area, including Bear Butte.
Crow PeakCrow PeakCrow PeakThe trail is well maintained and pretty much impossible to lose sight of. It is a steady uphill climb, steeper towards the top, with a handful of switchbacks and sprawling views from open areas on the way up. In the lower elevations of the trail, there are some good unobstructed views of Crow Peak, which I always enjoy. It is fun to be able to glimpse the destination. In a few places, the trail traverses steep, rock-covered slopes, and standing dead are evidence of not-so-long-ago fire activity. As a proper destination hike should, it boasts incredible views from the summit.Crow PeakCrow PeakCrow PeakWe brought a picnic and our hammocks, and enjoyed an uncharacteristically leisurely lunch on the edge of a cliff, with Bear Butte visible in the distance. It was a bit chilly, but so beautiful, and hard to make ourselves head back down to “the real world.” Amazing how excursions into God’s glorious Creation help to put life into perspective, as worries and cares fade into the distance. Crow PeakIt is a good thing I have a sense of personal responsibility, otherwise I would just quit everything I’m doing and live in the woods with my hammock.

Hiking | Boulder Hill

One of the fantastic things about living in an area like the Black Hills is just how accessible the hiking is. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the Black Hills more this year, with my free-er schedule and ability to really set some time aside to simply enjoy the outdoors. I feel very blessed to have been able to do that this year!IMG_20181020_144007841_HDReBoulder Hill is a short spur off the Flume Trail #50, and makes a great short afternoon hike, with an easily accessible trailhead to the spur, or, if you feel like cheating, an even shorter route up a logging road. It is rated as hard, due to some steep scrambling. If you have a fear of heights, this may not be the trail for you. Some of the steep places are pretty exposed, and made me a little giddy! Be advised that the parking lot for Boulder Hill trailhead is on the other side of the road from the actual trailhead. And what looks like the trailhead sign board is not at the trailhead. Look for this sign:
IMG_20181020_135614712_HDReThat’s the trail.

We lost the trail part way up and ended up walking up an old logging road, which for us was actually the long way around. But that whole area is beautiful, so what did it matter?IMG_20181020_144944783_HDReRemnants of an old fire tower prove what a great lookout this peak actually is. The views from the top are spectacular. The Black Hills are known as an island in the prairie, and Boulder Hill is close to the foothills of the Black Hills, providing excellent views down into the surrounding prairies as far off as the Badlands. There is a beautiful view of Harney Peak, and I could see Lakota Peak as well, a landmark in my neck of the woods, just a few miles from my house.IMG_20181020_150548711_HDReIt was fun to look down from the peak and see, way in the distance, Axel’s car in the trailhead parking lot. I’m not a “vista person,” when it comes to hiking. I love good views, but what motivates me is the enchantment and challenge of a beautiful, long hike, not so much getting somewhere specific but getting away from anywhere specific. That said, what is thrilling about a “vista hike” is getting to look down on everywhere I just hiked. It really puts things in perspective – huge perspective. When hiking in the lowlands, there is absolutely no sense of distance, as far as how far is how far you hiked. What does a mile or six miles or thirteen miles look like, winding through the Hills? But looking down from a peak and seeing the trailhead in the distance is a pretty neat feeling. And, since this is a spur off the Flume Trail, which we had hiked just a few weeks earlier, we sat there trying to orient ourselves to where we’d hiked and where the trail must have been. We could make a pretty educated guess, and the vastness was thrilling.

What a glorious place we live in.


Hiking | Little Elk Creek Trail

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.
IMG_20181020_095501451_HDRIMG_20181020_092419204_HDReIMG_20181020_112105059_HDRLittle 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.IMG_20181020_092719462_HDRIMG_20181020_101247761_HDRThe 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.
IMG_3448eIMG_3442eAnd 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.

Hiking | Flume Trail #50

Sometimes I realize just how unvaried my choice of “fun” is. If someone asked me what I do for fun, I’d have to say, “Well, I go hiking.” “Anything else?” “….Not really.”

And I like it that way.

Actually, I love it that way.

Winter came early for a lot of the Black Hills on Friday, with as much as 6 inches of snow falling in Custer, SD. We got no snow where I live, just miserable, cold drizzle, but as we drove down Calumet Road on the way to Sheridan Lake yesterday morning, there was snow in patches under the trees, evidence that fall is already marching towards winter. I wondered if I had brought warm enough layers for this hike, and was very glad I had remembered to grab a pair of lightweight gloves. It was a crisp morning, a beautiful day to hike the length of the Flume Trail #50. All four of us had been on parts of the Flume Trail, but none of us had done the whole thing, end to end.IMG_20180929_110635209_HDR42829137_244059916249169_5769549802031284224_nThe Flume Trail begins at Sheridan Lake at the Calumet Trailhead and terminates at the Coon Hollow Trailhead just west of Rockerville.  Officially said to be 12.8 miles, we clocked it at 13.6 miles. Definitely a less challenging hike as far as terrain, with a good majority of the trail on the level, but the length made it a good workout. The starting elevation at Calumet Trailhead is 4635 feet, and it ends at 4492 feet at Coon Hollow Trailhead. The number of trailheads along its length would make this a great trail to hike in segments, if you didn’t want to do the whole thing, and there are also a couple options for scenic spurs or loops for those who want a longer or more challenging hike, including the Spring Creek Loop, the scenic Boulder Hill Loop, and the Boulder Hill Trail. Spring Creek Loop and Boulder Hill are both hikes which can be done by themselves. We parked a car at each trailhead, which is a good way to get the whole length of the hike in, unless you want to do an overnight. We did take the Boulder Hill Loop, instead of taking the shortcut, which had beautiful views of Silver Mountain and Boulder Hill and lovely, open meadows.
IMG_20180929_123011962_HDRIMG_20180929_144535113_HDRThe Flume Trail follows a segment of the flume (a wooden trough used to carry water) used in the mining days. It is amazing to think of the sheer amount of physical labor the miners did to construct this flume, first to level out the channel, sometimes carving deep into granite to make a downhill path for the water, and then to build the wooden flume itself. The wooden parts are gone, but the channel remains, in some places clearer than others. Flume remnants crisscross the Hills, including my family’s property. A neat bit of evidence of all the work that went into working the Hills in the early days.IMG_20180929_162759132_HDREarly on in the hike, we passed a number of older individuals who were part of a Volksmarch society and were hiking a segment of the Flume Trail (they were planning to do the Crazy Horse Volksmarch today) and later on we encountered another couple of hikers and a trail runner or two. I like how versatile this trail is, and accessible by a lot of people!IMG_20180929_164824720_HDRThe hike features flume tunnels, as well as gorgeous granite formations, boulder-strewn slopes, beautiful hardwood thickets, a couple of minor creek crossings, and other lovely Black Hills scenery. This time of year is particularly gorgeous, when the aspens and other hardwoods light up the ponderosa forest with autumn color.IMG_20180929_110139253_HDRIMG_20180929_164217860_HDR
IMG_20180929_162450226_HDRIMG_20180929_124948562_HDRThe trail intersects with rural ranch roads and forest service roads a number of times, sometimes following a two track for a ways before branching off into official trail again. The trail generally is clearly marked with blazes on trees or brown trail markers, but occasionally the trail would branch and we’d have to search a little to find which branch we were supposed to take. So be aware of that. If you choose not to carry a map or GPS, give yourself extra time in case you get off on the wrong branch of trail, or miss the trail altogether.IMG_20180929_160603116_HDRIMG_20180929_173134668_HDRIMG_20180929_161809309_HDRTowards the southern end of the trail, past Boulder Hill, the trail descends into Rockerville Gulch, which was a blaze of autumn yellows. The trail narrowed for a ways, winding through forest of oak and aspen and ironwood. Really a beautiful part of the trail.IMG_20180929_160801689_HDRNew hikes are always fun, and this is such a great time of year for it. I love the dirt and pine needles and fallen leaves underfoot, and the quietness of the wind in the tree tops. I love getting out into the silent parts of the Black Hills, where I can’t hear cars and traffic, where I don’t see tourist helicopters, far enough in that I’m tired when we get to the end, enjoying that precious time with friends, talking about Jesus and enjoying the beauty of our Creator’s creation. What a gift.



Joyful Girl

One of the things I love most about Sarah is her joy. She is blessed by physical beauty, yes, but Sarah’s joy is a bright and infectious energy that just bubbles and sparkles. She has her down days, like the rest of us, but more than most she has a native delight and sense of optimism. Sometimes we tease her for her endless optimism (think Jane from Pride and Prejudice), but it really shouldn’t be made fun of – As a Christian, optimism should be a given. As redeemed children of God, saved by the blood of Christ, we have absolutely no excuse for anything but optimism! IMG_3363Sarah is blessed with a delightful sense of humor – What a gift. Life is often difficult and frustrating, but the gift of humor is a beautiful thing. Often does our time spent together involve reveling in the joy of laughter and humor, laughing at ourselves and at one another, laughing at humorous or awkward experiences we’ve had, laughing until we cry and are breathless with giggling. IMG_3325If you’ve never been blessed by the sound of her laugh, I’m sorry for you. Some people attempt to exercise self-control when they laugh, which really is kind of a bummer. Laughter isn’t supposed to be something that is constrained or put through a filter. That strips all the fun out of it! And there is nothing more fun or infectious than Sarah’s laugh when she’s not thinking about it – It really comes from the heart, or straight from her funny bone.
IMG_3240And behind her joyful and often publicly quiet exterior, there is a heart of gold. I receive so much encouragement from our conversations, as we delve into life’s issues and struggles. She is endlessly encouraging. Her spiritual maturity is beyond her years. She has the wisdom to be able to take struggles in stride, the creativity to think outside the box, the faith to be unconventional, and the humility to think nothing of it.
IMG_3222I’m so blessed by my sisters. Every once in awhile, when Sarah is performing her rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” I wonder what it would be like to be an only child, but overall, having sisters is a wonderful thing. A gift from God.

Laura Elizabeth


Mine Explorations

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.
IMG_0463The 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.
IMG_0479The 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.
IMG_0417We 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.IMG_0517IMG_0409IMG_0425The 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.
IMG_0434IMG_0560Little 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.IMG_0507Sarah 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.
IMG_0587 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.

Laura Elizabeth