An early morning drive to enjoy the dawn and to photograph the sunrise in the Park didn’t turn out exactly as planned, but no drive with a camera in hand and eyes to see God’s goodness is ever really wasted. Towards Hermosa, I drove into a large fog bank, completely obscuring the sunrise, and the fog slowly moved west, coming to a stop against the rim of the Hills. The Wildlife Loop was bright and clear, though banks of fog could be seen hanging in the trees towards the east. The beautiful Wolf Moon, waning now, hung in the western sky like a pearl. There was an element of sadness driving through the Park and seeing the destruction left in the wake of the Legion Lake Fire. The snow whitewashed over much of the evidence of the fire, but the blackened hillsides, the charred or browned trees, and the smell of ash gave it away. I have to admit, it was worse than I thought it would be. Parts of the Park will look very different, with the standing dead, charred and blackened, scarring the landscape. Once the needles fall off the dead trees, it will be even more striking. The torched trees, blackened from root to crown and completely denuded, were grotesque against the snow, with yellowed trees on this side and that, somehow having escaped being torched. In places, the fire had eaten through fence rails like acid, though other stretches of fenceline were untouched. Lots of manpower will go into repairing those fences.How amazing: fire, while destructive on the one hand, is one of the means of renewal that God has put in place for the maintaining and flourishing of this world. Change is just a part of life. While everyone is fond of Custer State Park and we’re used to it looking a certain way, that just isn’t how nature works. It isn’t meant to stay the same. Change is one of the ways in which equilibrium is maintained. There is a natural ebb and flow, a cycle of life and death and life again, a cycle of destruction and renewal, which occurs on the micro scale, as well as with large-scale natural disasters. I know that the forest will renew itself or will change, and life will go on. I also know that come springtime the Park is going to be greener and more vibrant than it has been in years, with all the old grass and underbrush burned away. It will be a sight to behold!And even now, in the meantime, life goes on. The buffalo were mostly in the corrals, feeding on hay, since their food supply was drastically affected and they will require hay for the rest of the season. A handful of youngsters frisked and played, chasing one another, though the solemn buffalo look never left their faces. Buffalo are such serious-looking critters. A few prairie dogs popped out of their little holes in the ground, and a sassy squirrel raced up and down a dead tree. The tiniest of creatures, happily going about their little lives in the wake of a deadly fire. Don’t under estimate the sheer resilience of God’s Creation. He has equipped it well.
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.
The 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.We 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.
It 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.
Once 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!
Keep 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.
Just as we were all starting to wonder when we’d get some summer weather, a heat wave roared in and plunged the region into temperatures in the upper 80s and 90s. And yes, that is considered hot here! We’ve hardly had any rain in the last couple of weeks and the moisture is quickly drying up. It is almost as uncomfortable to walk barefoot across the lawn as to walk barefoot across our gravel driveway.
Yesterday, a bunch of us went over to Little Falls to cool off – Well, the kids were going to cool off. I prefer to watch from the shade. I take forever to get used to water temperatures so generally I just opt out of swimming, although the water yesterday would have been perfect, if I’d been dressed for swimming.
Little Falls used to be only a local haunt, but news of it has spread far and wide, and it is rare to drive past the turn off and see the parking lot empty. But we got down there and had the whole swimming hole to ourselves. The kids splashed and swam, caught fish in buckets, did cannonballs off the rocks, and had a ruckus of a good time.
A passel of butterflies was flittering around the little cove, and finally obliged by posing for a picture. They weren’t bothered by the heat! What color and life in such a tiny creature. We’d been there an hour when the sky clouded over a bit and the temperatures cooled – It looked like a storm was brewing, but other than a small rumble of thunder, nothing materialized.
What a great way to beat the heat – With a little bit of country fun.
The cool weather was perfect for hiking the 3-mile Prairie Trail loop in Custer State Park. I knew immediately that I wouldn’t want to hike it on a day with temperatures in the 90s! Although there is some tree cover, it is mostly prairie and open sky, with a couple of steep ups and downs to warrant a “moderate” rating. The trail is a loop, so it can be hiked two directions. Taking the left hand fork is preferable, since it allows the steepest slope to be climbed down, instead of up.
The wildflowers were blooming plentifully, and the spiderwort in particular caught my eye. I’ll have to hike this loop again later in the summer, to see what other wildflowers are gracing the trail. Some wonderful open views looked down on the Wildlife Loop Road and part of the buffalo herd along one of the fence lines. This trail is open to the buffalo, so be aware of that. We didn’t come across any on this hike, but according to Hannah the buffalo tend to congregate in the area of the trail in the fall. Standing partway up a good long slope, breathing hard and sweating, Hannah and I extolled the benefits of hiking. I’ve never been a runner, she has never been a runner, and unless there is some weird drive a person has to go running, why run? A good hike is just as good exercise, without ending up needing knee replacements at the age of 60. There are a couple of creek crossings, and plenty of poison ivy, so long pants (or caution) are recommended. Sunscreen also recommended, because of how exposed the trail is! Pack water and a picnic lunch – There is a beautiful picnicking spot at about the halfway point, under a small stand of trees, shortly after a steep downward slope and just before the trail emerges again onto the open prairie. A good place for a picnic. This is a great hike if you’re not wanting to spend all day hiking – I believe this took us about an hour and a half.
It is so good to be able to get away from the distractions of everyday life, and into God’s glorious Creation!
After such a good drive through the Wildlife Loop on Monday, I couldn’t resist and I drove it again (yes, I burned a lot of fuel this week!). The buffalo weren’t much in sight of the road, and the burros had made themselves scarce. However, these photos made it all worth it.
I caught sight of this mama and baby antelope over an embankment, close to the road but almost sheltered from view by the slope and the guardrail. Fortunately, there were no other vehicles behind me to scare them away. Mama antelope was as contented as can be, cleaning her little kiddo’s bum while he nursed. When my little sister saw that picture, her response was: “That’s just wrong.” No, it isn’t! That’s mama antelope taking good care of her little one!
What a darling pair.