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.



The kittens were very intrigued, particularly the most timid of the three, Boomerang, when Katie and I began setting the hammocks up Sunday night. I mean, we were in their trees. It was clear that was going through their little fuzzy heads. HammockingThis was my first venture into hammock camping (yes, in my front yard). Once I finally got up at 6am and went to the bathroom, got a snack, and an extra blanket, I slept wonderfully for the next two hours! Somehow I didn’t really realize I was cold all night, but the extra blanket to go under the sleeping bag and actually climbing into the sleeping bag rather than using it simply to line the hammock really made the difference. I slept great.

It was so cozy sleeping (or trying to sleep) under the stars, even though without my contacts in they look like little faint fuzzy blobs. Kittens periodically came and checked us out. We heard the cows occasionally. The coyotes sang a little at first. There wasn’t a single bug. Once we woke up, we brought out tea and coffee, huddled in our blankets, laughed at the kittens and their shenanigans, chatted, and watched the morning roll in. It was delightful.

Golden Afternoon

Everything was golden. The honeyed air was rich and fragrant, sweet with pine and warm earth. The afternoon sunlight filtering through the trees had that mystic quality of springtime, painting everything in vivid color, gilding the greens, the reds, the pinks, the browns, glinting from the gravel and garnets along the jeep trail, sparkling in spiders’ webs, shimmering on the wings of the swallowtails and bees and moths busy drinking the flowers of the golden currant.
Swallowtail on Golden CurrantThe busyness and life of these industrious pollinators was mesmerizing – In and out and around and about they went, back and forth through the golden glow of the currant bush. Moths, like tiny hummingbirds, sipped daintily. Bees bumbled from flower to flower. Swallowtails hung like jeweled pendants from the drooping branches. The lazy droning of the bees blended with the chirruping of crickets and the whir and whiz of grasshoppers in their haphazard flight. Birds twiddled their tunes, trying to keep out of sight in the thick trees and undergrowth.
Wild ColumbineThe path was abundantly scattered with wildflowers. Hardy larkspur violets and longspur violets and low larkspur and wild strawberry, and finally the columbine, the belle of the flowering woods. Fleabane, like an innocent child with smiling face, grew saucily in the sunny trail.
FleabaneAround one of my favorite bends in the trail stands a grove of aspen and birch, tall and pale under the shadow of a steep pine- and moss-covered hillside. As I came down the hill into that hollow, the trees were a brilliant, luminous green, the smooth leaves winking and twinkling a golden green.

It was a golden afternoon.

Laura Elizabeth

Gifts of Pasque Flowers

Prairie crocus. Wind flower. Pasque flower. Meadow anemone. The many names of our state flower are almost as exquisite as the diminutive tundra flower itself. Springing up in the earliest weeks of the spring, or even the latest weeks of winter, sometimes emerging to a world still covered in snow, these hardy little plants survive both blight of frost and chilling wind, covered in their silvery protective coat of fur.
IMG_8775They’re hardly worth remarking on before they blossom – They have no glorious foliage of glistening green, or beautiful petaled buds waiting to burst open. They cling close to the earth, almost invisible in their beds of pine needles and dead grasses. Yet there is beauty there, a strange, unearthly sort of beauty, and they hold in their heart the purple bud, waiting for the sun and the little bit of warmth. Pasque flowerFinally the color is revealed, like opening one’s hands to glimpse the treasure held inside. Hunting for pasque flowers yesterday, the barely-waking ones nearly drove me crazy in anticipation of finding a fully-open, wide awake one. As enchanting as the unopen flowers are, how much better to find one in the prime of its blooming! IMG_8857We stumbled across a single patch of the wind flowers yesterday, in a little grassy area beneath some low-growing pines and junipers, near the rim of the Box Canyon. We saw a few there a week ago, without open blossoms, but something must have happened in the air in the last week. Some spell of springtime must have been cast.
Pasque flowerTheir dainty cups of lavender, velvety on the outside but dark-veined and satin smooth on the inside, opened cheerily to the sunshine. Although there were no spreading patches of the flowers, they did seem to like this one area. We had walked a long ways without seeing any – What was special about this one little grove of trees? As soon as one was found, it seemed the flowers were springing up all over, every time we turned around. Beneath this bush, and that tree, and hidden in the clump of grass over there. 
Pasque and beeEarly pollinators were already hard at work, burying themselves in the yellow centers, going from flower to flower, busy and industrious, ignoring the human interruption.
Pasque flowerAnd even fading, even when a few of their petals had fallen, there was still a loveliness, subtle and understated.

These flowers are one of the many treasures of nature that God has so carefully placed on this earth for our enjoyment and His glory – And I truly believe He means for us to enjoy them. Yet they are also some of the flowers most able to be overlooked, springing up in the still-wintry or too-early springtime, springing up and fading fast, or nibbled away by wildlife, or crushed underfoot. Unless one is looking for them, they won’t be noticed. And it makes me think that oftentimes that is how God’s personal gifts to us are, those things He does specifically in our lives to bless us and draw us to Himself. We don’t notice them in time, or we don’t notice them at all. They get choked out by the cares of life, trampled in the busyness, they wilt in the withering glare of our own selfish worries, they die unnoticed and unappreciated. We take those blessings for granted, and miss out on the greater blessing of recognizing them as being from the hand of God.

Laura Elizabeth

Findings | Mule Deer Doe

Now that the weather is beginning to feel the touch of springtime, I’m trying to fit in a walk before I head to work. Just a quick one, 20 minutes or so rambling about, and the light isn’t always great for photography. But this lovely little sight caught my eye a few mornings ago.


What a great way to start the day.

Laura Elizabeth

Snow Magic

IMG_6041.1lowrez  Snow changes everything. A drab, brown, winter landscape becomes a fairy world. A moonlit night becomes silver bright. A windy gale becomes a cozy blizzard. Tufts of grass and the tiny life of plants stands out with  new poignancy in the chill of winter when snow is heavy on the ground. Little sounds are magnified, like the rustle of snow falling from a burdened branch and landing with a soft sigh in the snow below. Little bird feet that hardly bend the grass in summer leave bewildering prints in the snow. Cold never seems as cold when snow is falling.

There must be magic in the snow.

We had just enough snow onIMG_6044.1lowrez Friday night to count, in my books at least, as a White Christmas, and Sarah and I made a point yesterday to get out and enjoy it thoroughly. With the goal of ending up with Remington and Dove, we set out at 3:45, bundled up and armed with our cameras.

IMG_6051.1lowrezLittle things kept catching my eye, in ways that are different from the summer months. Winter is the season of shifting lights and shadows, and the life of winter is in the play of light and dark, the sparkle of frost in the moonlight, or the blue shadows in the snow beneath the trees. It was fitting, then, that what ended up tugging at my mind about this little family of coneflowers wasn’t even the flower stalks and heads themselves, but what stretched behind them. The magic of snow and the enchantment of light.

IMG_6079.1lowrezWith the sinking sunlight in the west, the smoke from my uncle’s burnpiles a few hilltops over rose up like a fog and drifted north. The farthest hills and Harney Peak were nearly obscured, with their easterly slopes no longer lit by the sun. Shadowed hillsides shimmered blue, while sunlit little bluestem glowed golden, sparkling warmly in the chill winter air. Even the air seems to sparkle as the temperatures drop.

IMG_6067.1lowrezTiny footprints of rabbits and delicate hoof prints of deer leave dimples in the snow. The snow doesn’t keep secrets. Gently-worn tire tracks, leftover from summer and not even deep enough to call a trail, were filled with snow and stretched on until they disappeared over the hill or into the trees. When spring comes and the grass grows back green and tall, the tire tracks will disappear, blending back into the landscape, overtaken by springtime. But winter remembers.

IMG_6086.1lowrezEven after a hard frost and inches of snow and months of winter weather, remnants of life still remain in the plants. Green leaves at the base of a taller plant, or tiny patches of woodsorrel or thistle, or these little leaves, unbitten by the frost. It amazes me to see how well God equips His Creation, and how hardy even the most delicate-seeming things really are. What wonderful capacity for survival God lavished on these, the works of His hands.

IMG_6142.1lowrezWhen we clambered out of a little hollow and up into the meadow where the horses are, the sky was a clear, pure  blue, the snow a clean, pure white, and Harney Peak was visible in the distance. The horses saw us and came nearer to socialize. Dove was shy as usual, but I expected the snow to have put some spunk and spice into Remington. Instead of spunk and spice, he was mellow and affectionate, almost like a big dog. Each breath puffed a cloud of fog, and his hooves kicked up sparkling snow. Little Dove stood a ways off, content to watch from a distance.

IMG_6225.1lowrezThe most mundane things take on new life in the snow. These little plants, brown at first sight, turned out to be red, when I crouched down to look closer at them. They seemed like tiny berries. The twiggy plants covered a hillside, catching the last of the light of the afternoon.

IMG_6240.1lowrezShadows lengthened. When we finally got back to the top of our ridge and looked down at our cabin and the Miner’s Cabin, the sun had been behind the hills for awhile. Home looked cozy. Turkish coffee sounded good. No matter the season, I enjoy a good hike around our place. But in the snow, everything just looks different. New things are highlighted. Normally overlooked things stand out. There’s whimsy. A different sort of beauty. A touch of magic.

Laura Elizabeth