Hiking | Spearfish Falls

On a recent drive up to Spearfish Canyon, we hiked the short trail down to Spearfish Falls, which was a sight to behold. This is another of those destinations in the Canyon that I somehow had never seen, and it is well worth seeing. The trail is very well maintained, and only about a mile total, there and back. Definitely a kid-friendly trail. The afternoon light was beautiful, in spite of it being overcast, and I couldn’t pick a favorite shot of this beautiful location!IMG_3062eIMG_3060eeIMG_3066eIMG_3052eI know autumn is the waning of the year, but there is a glorious freshness about everything in the fall.

Hiking | Devil’s Bathtub

I’m honestly not sure how I made it this long without hiking Devil’s Bathtub. It’s a quick, beautiful hike to possibly one of the prettiest places in the Hills, and very unlike much of the terrain in the rest of the Hills. The hike is roughly 1.5 miles there and back, with approximately 12 creek crossings one way. The trail crosses private property at the beginning of the hike, but please be respectful of the trail and other hikers regardless of it being public or private land.
IMG_3114eIMG_3127eThis time of year, the creek was pretty low, but I’ve heard that during wetter times, the creek crossings can likewise be much wetter. After our French Creek Adventure I have a whole new perspective on creek crossings, so these were exceptionally mild. But if the creek is higher and you don’t want to get your hiking boots wet, wear water shoes! The destination is the Bathtub, where a swim would sure be refreshing in the hotter months. It is a pretty well established trail, definitely kid-friendly, but sometime next year they’ll be tearing it up and making it even more established, which is rather disappointing. From what I’ve heard, it gets enough traffic already – why make it even more accessible?
IMG_3131eThe trail follows the creek the whole way, through some stunning and massive rock formations and boasting beautiful views up and down stream. This is a hike where you’ll definitely want your camera! Find the people in the above picture to get a sense of the scale of the rock formations along this hike!
IMG_3191eIMG_3153eIMG_3156eA freak tornado earlier this year ripped through huge areas of Spearfish Canyon, including parts of Devil’s Bathtub, so there was quite a bit of debris and fallen trees, but it gave the hike a wilder feel. The beautiful, towering cliff faces and weird, layered rock formations sure made this a memorable hike. And then this beautiful spot as payoff at the end: IMG_3178eIMG_3174eI’d like to go back in the summer, when its hot and the water would be refreshing!

Another beautiful hike in the books.

A Day Off

Fall is here at last! The chill of coming winter has started to nip at the nose and the fingers and the toes, and our first frosts happened days or weeks ago. It is the time of year that particularly beckons for me to be outdoors. I took advantage of my new schedule with empty Tuesdays and drove the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway yesterday. Trixie was my little driving buddy, getting thoroughly in the way, sitting on my camera bag, and sharing a bag of pretzels with me. Dogs are such good company. Although I shorted myself on time a little bit and didn’t have as much good daylight left as I had hoped, it was sufficient. The golden leaves and the autumn glow make for wonderful picture taking. The drive home was a later than I had expected, so we got to Pactola right past sunset. So much beauty.
IMG_4926eIMG_4976eIMG_4969eIMG_5029eIMG_5038eThe change of seasons is invigorating. So much anticipation of wonderful things to come.

 

Hiking | Roughlock Trail

After our adventure with the Community Caves, we ended up in Savoy at the Roughlock Trail trailhead. Roughlock Trail is only a mile long, and it borders Little Spearfish Creek on one side, while the road winds its way on the other side. The road is closed to “wheeled vehicles” (not snow machines) during winter months, so we hiked in on the road, which was a slushy, muddy mess.
IMG_2987IMG_2989The road in is an easy hike, without any steep grades and many gorgeous vistas of the soaring rock formations. So much beauty to marvel at! The greenest water plants were thriving in the frigid water, and little gems of rosehips still glimmered on their thorny stems, intermingled with the red bark of dogwood.  And what a cloudless, blue sky! Jake insisted it was a Colorado blue sky, but Sarah pointed out that this is indeed South Dakota, making it, of course, a South Dakota blue sky! In the summer, the trail would be preferable to the road, but without vehicles the road was a beautiful, open walk.
IMG_3000Then of course there is the destination: Roughlock Falls is one of the more famous of the waterfalls in Spearfish Canyon, and possibly the most spectacular, with the tiered waterfall and lush greenery, even in the winter. Walking paths and boardwalks around the waterfall make for very easy access, and picnicking areas create a great destination spot. Of course, in the summer, this means lots of tourist traffic, but the Falls are most definitely worth a little traffic. There are no natural lakes in the Black Hills, but we have some awe-inspiring waterfalls. IMG_3013eWe came back on the Roughlock Trail, which we think was actually quicker than taking the road, in spite of the layer of ice on the top. We slid most of the way back, occasionally losing control and having to hurtle ourselves into snowdrifts or grab onto trees to keep from face planting. YakTrax would have been fantastic. The trail itself (without ice) is well maintained and a nice level grade overall with a few ups and downs, and a couple of benches along the way if you need to sit and rest. It isn’t at all strenuous. The trail is more enclosed than the road, so if picture-taking is your aim, you might find those landscape shots a little harder to get. I imagine in the spring and summer there are abundant wildflowers! That is certainly the case up around the falls, so I’m sure the trail boasts plenty of little jewels of that sort.

A worthwhile short hike.

Laura Elizabeth

Hiking | Community Caves

The hike today to the well-kept secret of the Community Caves in Spearfish Canyon just took its place as the most exciting hike I’ve ever done. Sarah, Jake and I were discussing this on our way back down, and “foolhardy” was the choice word we selected for this hike. In all fairness, none of us had tried this hike before so we didn’t have a perspective on what it would be like in the winter and (just to be sure, I googled Community Caves while writing this review) other hiking reviews don’t say much about winter conditions, other than that it is beautiful and crampons are recommended. So this hiking review comes with some serious conditions applied to it. Please read to the end.
IMG_2960eThe Community Caves are located off the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, 2.7 miles south of Spearfish. In the winter, the ice formations can be seen from the road and look deceptively small. Parking is at a pullout just after mile marker 13. The trailhead is across the road from the pullout and crosses Spearfish Creek.IMG_2900eThe hike is short, no more than a half mile from the trailhead to the caves, but if anyone tells you it is an easy hike, they are pulling your leg or haven’t ever hiked it before. Granted, it would be a lot easier in the summer without a sheet of ice for a trail, but this still is a strenuous, though short, hike in. The brunt of the trail is up what appeared to be a gravel and boulder slide, a very steep creekbed, and the last 20 feet or so is even steeper and muddy. It isn’t a hike. It is a scramble. Even in the summer, this would not be recommended for children. Some reviews suggest hesitantly that it might not be good for children, but unless you have hiked it already and know your kids can handle it, do not try it. Or be prepared to turn around. I also wouldn’t recommend you try taking a dog on this hike, for that matter.IMG_2905ePerhaps the sheet of ice for a trail should have deterred us, but one doesn’t drive 2 hours to get to a trailhead only to turn back because of ice. I mean, its winter – What do you expect? The trail got steeper and slicker, but the ice formations loomed above us and there were other climbers ahead of us, so it couldn’t be too bad, right?IMG_2906e Fortunately, the little tops of rocks sticking above the ice actually made decent footholds, but one wrong step and it would have been a bumpy slide to the bottom…So we plowed on ahead and made it to within 20 feet of the top before we were stopped by the ice. The patch where Jake is standing in the above picture is the furthest we could get going straight up. Jake’s handy rope got us across the icy stretch and we scrambled up the muddy slope into the shadow of the Cave chamber. It was incredible. IMG_2919eI had heard that it was beautiful, but pictures don’t do it justice. That much ice really does appear blue in the shadows! Pigeons chortled to themselves in the recesses of the cave, and ice pillars fed by trickles of water grew on the back wall of the cave. There were remnants of a campfire. A massive wall of ice enclosed one end of the cave, forming a dim, blue chamber. It really was stunning. IMG_2937eAlthough the entire hike is slick, the main danger issue isn’t the ice on the ground – That just requires caution, careful footing, and being very deliberate about where you put your feet. The main issue was the ice up in the air, supposedly attached to the canyon wall. The hike back down went pretty well until we heard a giant crack and basketball-sized clumps of ice came flying right at us. There was a whole ravine of area that the clumps could have flown at, but of course they flew right at our three selves, and we were in enough of a precarious position that we couldn’t duck or move. I took one on the leg and another square between my shoulder blades, and Sarah spent the next five minutes fishing a clump of mud out of her eye. Miraculously, no one was hurt! We quit dawdling (if we even had been at that point) and got down as quickly as we safely (?) could.

Lessons learned from today’s hike:

1) Do not hike this after a period of thaw. While this seems rather obvious in hindsight, it wasn’t so obvious going in, but melting giant pillars of ice  become crashing boulders of ice when the temperatures rise. Who would’a thought…

2) Take some rope. Jake actually left his rope tied to a tree, and there was already another one there, so we were able to get back down the worst part. But do yourself a favor and take some rope anyway, just in case.

3) Take gloves, even if the weather is nice (but refer back to #1. If it is nice enough to go without gloves in the winter, it is too nice to do the hike anyway). Gloves, because of #2.

4) Seriously, wear good shoes. There were some other young people up there today in completely inappropriate footwear. Even in the summer, wear good hiking boots. In the winter, take crampons or YakTrax or something. We didn’t.

5) Don’t hike alone. Although generally not recommended to hike solo, for this it really would be foolish to hike it alone.IMG_2959eIn spite of the foolhardy nature of this hike, we made it out alive and have great pictures to show for it. Coming down was (surprisingly) the easy part, given how slick it was. We all were picturing sliding the whole way on our rear ends. We made it down without incident and very relieved. No broken bones or heads. It is worth the scramble to see it. Just please don’t do it after a thaw.

Laura Elizabeth

Sister date

DSCN0015.1I know the Fourth of July came and went almost two weeks ago, but I wanted to share some pictures from my family’s Independence Day. Mom and Dad were on their way back home from Illinois, unfortunately, and Anna had to work during the day, but Sarah and I took full advantage of our day off and drove through the beautiful Spearfish Canyon.

DSCN0108.1We’ve already started planning another drive sometime this fall, both to see the leaves change and to drive it when there are fewer tourists, but it was still a lovely trip. The wonder of God’s creation is truly amazing. And what is amazing is that God has not only left His fingerprints so clearly impressed in this world, but He has also allowed for there to be beauty in the results of something so devastating as a global flood. Not only did He give us the rainbow after the flood to remind us both of His judgement and His goodness in preserving a remnant, but He has left memories of the flood in places like the Black Hills, the Grand Canyon, and countless other places that were the result of the judgement of God on a wicked world. But I digress.

DSCN0023.1Sarah and I drove up to Spearfish, made a hasty stop at Walmart to get cold kombucha to drink (we were both getting drowsy–It was hot out!), and then drove down the canyon. We stopped here and there along the way to take pictures, and I added a few photographs to my growing botany portfolio.

DSCN0042.1Bridal Veil Falls was beautiful, but about fifty other people thought the same thing. Tourists. Bless their hearts. They stood around on the deck not even looking at the Falls, but just taking up space. Not many pictures happened this time around. So we’ll take another drive.

DSCN0092.1Roughlock Falls, however, was even more spectacular. It isn’t as tall as Bridal Veil, but it is tiered and simply gushes water. It is about a mile off the main road, plus a little walk to see the full beauty of the Falls, and it was well worth it. Fewer people were flocking Roughlock, since it was so far off the beaten path, and the walking paths were lined with wild roses, geranium, thimbleberry, violets, and countless other greenery. What a beautiful trail!

In the evening, we picked up Anna and headed to Custer to see the fireworks, and met a friend there. It was a quiet, simple Independence Day. Glad to spend it with friends and family.

Laura Elizabeth