Hiking | Spring Creek Loop Trail

Nothing like a brisk hike on a winter day! The sun was out, though tucked behind hills much of the hike, and the creek, partly frozen, chattered and chuckled comfortably along the trail.IMG_20181229_133720310_HDRSpring Creek Loop is a spur off the Centennial and Flume Trails, and can be hiked from Sheridan Lake for a 4 mile hike, or from Spring Creek Trailhead for a 2.5 mile hike. A beautiful option for a quick excursion! The trail is relatively level for the most part, with a few creek crossings over narrow footbridges. A couple of years ago, the footbridges were a disaster and crossing them was a comical chore.IMG_6420eSheridan Lake was at the halfway point on this hike, more or less. The ice on the lake was thick and black and clear, and we skated cautiously out onto it, listening to the ice singing and chattering to itself, scurrying off again when we stood too close together and started a crack which followed us back to shore. Ice fisherman way across the lake had their fourwheelers out, taking advantage of the sunshine. Snow whispered across the gleaming surface of the lake, ghostly and gentle. It was so beautiful and blue under the clear sky.
IMG_20181229_150529005_HDRIMG_20181229_144913132 So many beautiful sights. Hops vines still had their little golden cones hanging from them like Christmas ornaments, and frosty jewels studded the frozen creek, feathery and delicate. IMG_6483eIMG_6630eIMG_6610eIMG_20181229_155134239_HDRWhat a beautiful afternoon. And what a way to (almost) welcome in the New Year.

 

Winter Could Last Forever

Something about winter’s subtle beauty always tugs at my heart. There is a beauty present that is otherworldly, and almost invisible, often somehow entirely other from the object being admired. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, and maybe it is the very fact that it doesn’t that makes it so alluring to me.

Delicately-striped fungus on a decaying log. Sunlight filtering through the paper-thin sepals of a dried seed-pod or flower head. Ripples in dunes of snow. A cat’s warm fur when the thermometer is reading about 15 degrees. Sunlight. The sunlight itself is different.IMG_6258eIMG_6399eIMG_6376eIMG_6344eIMG_6310eIMG_6288eWinter is a wonderful time of year. There is a peace, yet an anticipation. There is a rest and a sleep, a slumbering, and yet the cold brings out a quiet energy that everything seems ready to burst into peals of laughter at any moment. There is the warmth, strange warmth, of sunlight on my face, and yet the chattering of my wet-now-frozen hair rattling against itself. There is the frigid cold of face and too-warm warmth of body that comes from overzealous layering. There are the billows of steam when our front door opens, tiny cat prints in the snow, sleeping cats in the cabin, reluctant to go outside. There’s the sparkle of fresh snow, the hush of falling snow, the crunch of snow underfoot. Flowers of frost on windows, glassy lakes, and white-drifted roads.

On beautiful days like today, winter could last forever.

Another Rush of Winter

After several days of tantalizingly springlike weather, winter decided it wasn’t moving out just yet. Which is just fine with me. “No travel” advisories were issued, and I hunkered down at home to read, edit pictures, and play in the snow. It was a beautiful, still, gentle snowstorm, with areas in the Hills receiving a foot or more of snow. We received a delightful 7 or 8 inches. And it was a wet snow! Wildflower season is coming up!
IMG_3598eIMG_3554eAs always, Trixie, our snowdog, was positively invigorated and raced around insanely, with a giant goofy grin on her funny little face. I walked up to Grandma’s to get vanilla for snow ice cream, and along the way Trixie found herself a treasure – a deer leg, perfectly intact. She carried it around and gnawed on the nasty thing. She tried to avoid me, since she doesn’t trust us not to take her treasures away, apparently, and finally resorted to burying it.
IMG_3468eIMG_3538eIMG_3590eIMG_3659eOver the last few weeks, the birds have really started to sing again, and the birdfeeder up at Grandma’s house is routinely covered with a host of the feathered things. Little bird footprints mark the snow beneath the feeder. The tiny creatures hardly seem to feel the cold. IMG_3633eIMG_3626eSpring is just around the corner. But for now, I’ll enjoy another rush of winter.

Hiking | The Needles Highway

The Needles Highway, one of the famous scenic routes in the Black Hills, takes on a new character in its winter isolation. The gates close late in the fall, not to open again until spring, but a handful of hikers, skiers, and snowshoers take to the highway to enjoy the beauty of the spires and sprawling landscape. Sarah and I decided to add ourselves to that number and hike the Needles Highway, gate to gate. IMG_3378eWe set off after church. Our mom dropped us off at Sylvan Lake, and we would then hike to our truck, which our loving family left for us at the other end of the highway on their way home.IMG_3381eWe were set. We had plenty of water, food, an extra layer, and a whole bunch of enthusiasm. I was only too excited to get to try out my brand new Osprey Sirrus 24 backpack, which I had bought with Christmas money from my Uncle Jim. An 8 mile hike in springlike weather would be heavenly. And it sure was, to start with. The blue sky was overwhelming, the sunlight was almost too warm and the trail was a gradual uphill climb to the Needles Eye lookout and tunnel. Stunning. Pristine. We chatted and laughed and walked quickly, making pretty good time, stopping occasionally for pictures and enjoying the views.IMG_3421eIMG_3433eThen we got past the Needles Eye. For about another mile, things went swimmingly. But we had made a handful of miscalculations and we were starting to realize it.IMG_3448eFirst (Call us ignorant. Or naive. Either works.), since we hadn’t had any snow in two weeks, we made the mistake of assuming that there wouldn’t be “that much” snow on the highway. I mean, look at this pictures of the spires! It sure doesn’t look like there’d be “that much.” Well, there was. However much we imagined “that much” to be, there was that, and more.  Starting about a mile past the Needles Eye, the real snow began. At times, we hiked in just a few inches, but other times we stumbled into almost knee-high drifts that continued on for way too long. Eight miles had seemed easy. But 8 miles in heavy and sometimes deep snow? Talk about a workout. By mile 2 or so, our tracks were the only tracks on the highway (all the smart people had turned around), except for a very faint, lonely set of ski tracks. Another fresher set of ski tracks showed up around mile 5.5 and we accompanied those the rest of the way out.
IMG_3454eSecond, we had assumed a hiking time based on little snow. Let’s just say it is a good thing we headed out on the trail when we did, and didn’t dawdle at church any longer.

Third, we assumed weather based on Custer’s weather. But the problem is, when your hike takes you over a mountain range to the other side of said mountains, even modest mountains like the Black Hills, even a relatively short hike, weather patterns change. Not because the weather actually changed, but because you leave one hemisphere and enter another hemisphere. At about mile 5.5, we left all the beautiful sun and blue sky behind us on the other side of the Hills and entered into a damp, dark, cheerless fog bank. It was great fun.

By mile 6, our boots had soaked through, the sun was gone behind the hills, the fog was eerily clinging to the trees, our protein bars were frozen, my hip was aching, we were constantly in snow up over the top of our hiking boots, and our hiking time was suffering. Sunset and our exit time were starting to overlap in our minds to an uncomfortable degree. We had lights, but still…Then we started to see very large mountain lion tracks. Our hiking time magically improved. Amazing. Although I’m by no means a mountain lion expert, I’ve seen mountain lion tracks on a number of occasions, and these absolutely dwarfed the others I’ve seen. The spread of that cat’s toes was impressive. Since we were getting a little jumpy in the fog and the failing sunlight, we failed to get a comparison shot, with our hand or something next to the paw print for reference. So for all you know, our brains blew up the size of the print in our minds and what you’re looking at is really a little old bobcat print, or even a wandering house cat. Meow.  IMG_3456eIn summary – A lot of things could have gone wrong in those 8 miles, but they didn’t. In spite of some lack of planning, the hike was fantastic, the views were beautiful, and the memory is a fun one. The Sirrus backpack was fantastic – I never even felt it on my shoulders. Snowshoes would have been nice. Winterized hiking boots would have been nice as well. Wool socks are amazing. My socks were damp probably by mile 2.5 (to the point of leaving wet prints on the occasional patches of dry asphalt when I stopped to shake snow out of my boots), but my feet felt dry until about mile 5 or 6. But even then my feet never actually felt cold. Sloshy, yes. Cold, no. The sight of our truck at the end of the highway was a welcome sight, I have to say.IMG_3458eWhat a hike. A great start to the hiking season!

 

 

Winter Perks

One of the occasional perks to having a long drive to town is the inability to get to town at all. Snow days, for instance. In this particular case, there wasn’t even that much snow, but the road was glazed. It was fantastic. When I get to Hwy. 79 and my truck is sliding as soon as I so much as tap the brakes, it’s a subtle clue to cancel lessons and mosey on home. And, since my camera is always with me, to admire the scenery through my viewfinder.
IMG_2448eI pulled off to the side of the road to snap some pictures around Battle Creek. The scenery that is so familiar, and so enchanting in inclement weather. The textures and colors draw me in whenever I drive past.IMG_2443eTwo kind people who saw me walking along the highway in the bitter cold and wind stopped to make sure I was alright. I love South Dakota. The lady who stopped looked like she thought I was crazy. “Are you okay?!?!” (Translation, “Are you insane?!?!”) The sleet and snow and wind were burning and freezing my face, and I grinned as big as my frozen face would grin. “Just taking pictures!” Teeth chattered. My fingers hurt. Wonderful.IMG_2461eWinter perks.

Winter Bluebird Day

Here are some more photos from that bluebird day drive. A little behind on posting, but I thought these were worth sharing! Winter has definitely become my favorite season. All that’s needed is a camera and four wheel drive.

IMG_1574There’s that needed four wheel drive.
IMG_1495eA view from Hwy. 244 near Mount Rushmore.
IMG_1500eA sleepy mountain goat, enjoying a sun bath.
IMG_1587eThese beautiful horses matched their surroundings!
IMG_1676eAnother favorite of the Canada geese in Battle Creek.
IMG_1692eCattails on Battle Creek in the sunlight. Look at their little snowy caps!
IMG_1723eDo some people really not like winter?