Friday, July 31, 2009

Black Hills Tourist Day

Since we had purchased our Custer State Park passes yesterday, we decided to use them and explore Custer State Park a little bit. We drove back into the state park on Highway 87. Our first stop was Mt. Coolidge. We drove up the road to the fire lookout on top.
The view was pretty good from up there.
However, it would be a lot better if there weren’t so many towers up there with guy wires to hold them upright. From Mt. Coolidge we drive further north on 87 to the Needles Highway section. The drive along the Needles Highway was pleasant if unexciting. From there we stopped at Sylvan Lake where we walked around the lake and part of the Sunday Gulch Trail. From there we would move on to Hill City and the Prairie Berry winery.

Prairie Berry was interesting. I’m not a big wind connoisseur, but I did enjoy some of the wines that I sampled. Noelle and I both liked the Red Ass Rhubarb. After sampling the wines we got some lunch there. Lunch was very good. Noelle and I both had paninis, she the buffalo salami, I the roasted pork. We bought a bottle of the Red Ass Rhubarb before leaving.

Our final stop for the day was Rapid City where we played some disc golf
and went food shopping. Disc golf was interesting in the wind, but we had a good time nonetheless.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Custer State Park: French Creek

In all the years that we’ve lived and worked at Wind Cave National Park we have hiked most of the trails in the area. However, there had always been one area of the map that we’d neglected to explore. Until today that is. Today Noelle and I packed up our day packs grabbed our boots and sandals and headed north into Custer State Park. Our plan was to park one car at the east end of the French Creek Natural Area and drive together in the other to the west end. From there we would hike back to the car at the east. We each paid the $6 entrance fee then parked as planned. We stopped to get lunch at a Buffalo Cookout stand set up near Blue Bell Lodge, and then drove to the trailhead.

The hike started following a section of the Centennial Trail that followed French Creek. When the Centennial Trail split away from the creek we followed some a user trail that was well worn by horses. We forded the creek pretty much right off the bat. The scenery was amazing. The creek runs through a deep gorge. There were many wildflowers along the banks.
Unfortunately, there was also a lot of poison ivy growing along the trail as well. The poison ivy and frequent creek crossings made the going pretty slow,
but the cool temperatures made hiking extremely pleasant.

Things went well until we got to the Fisherman Flats Trail. At this point there was no trail to follow along French Creek. We could have just bushwhacked through the brush, but were no longer in the mood. We decided instead to hike up to Fisherman Flats and follow a long flat ridge that paralleled the creek gorge.
Well our plan worked even better than could be possible expected. When we got up to Fisherman Flats we found an old logging road. It led us in exactly the direction we wanted to go. We followed it back towards the wildlife loop road and then headed down a hill to the car we had left at the east trailhead.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Last Day in Colorado

Today being our last day in Colorado, I wanted to do some hiking and have some outdoors fun with the family. Noelle, Mom, and I woke up early and headed over to Red Rocks Canyon Open Space to do some hiking.
Our walk there was pleasant and not too strenuous. After the hike we headed over to Bear Creek Nature Center to check it out. It was a nice little nature center with great exhibits and some interesting looking nature trails surrounding it.

We then headed back to the house where we started to pack up and plan the rest of our time together. We decided to head over to Helen Hunt Falls to take a group picture and then go eat lunch.
The drive to the falls was pleasant and we were able to get a good family picture after a little editing on the computer. After the falls we went to eat lunch at a delicious Greek restaurant. Then it was time to finish packing and head home.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pike National Forest: The Barr Trail

Monday night after work, Noelle and I drove south out of the park and down into Colorado for a four day weekend with family. It was long drive, but we arrived after one o’clock in Colorado Springs. I had made plans with my brother Kris to ascend Pike’s Peak at some point over the holiday and so last night he drove down and we made plans to awake at 3:00 to make our summit bid. It was tough waking up so early, but the excitement of the climb helped propel us out of our sleeping bags.

We made the drive over to Manitou Springs and after a wrong turn found the trailhead. From the trailhead we found a trail and started heading up the mountain. The “trail” was steep, very steep and the going was slow. After about 10 minutes we came to a sign that said “No trespassing, dangerous conditions ahead.” It looked like we were on the wrong trail and so we retraced our steps back to the trailhead. At the trailhead we quickly noticed our mistake; we had not been on the trail. The sign for the Barr Trail, our route up the mountain, was on the other side of the parking lot. We later discovered we had been hiking up the Manitou Incline.

Once we were on the actual trail the hiking was a bit easier and we were able to talk a little bit as we ascended. It was still quite dark for the first two hours of hiking. Around 5:30 the sun started to illuminate our surroundings
and it now became clear that we were hiking above a layer of clouds that blanketed Colorado Springs down below. The views were starting to become really amazing as we ventured higher. Eventually we made it the 6.5 miles to Barr Camp
where we took our first short break of the climb and watched some hummingbirds attack the feeders.

Shortly after leaving Barr Camp we climbed to tree-line
and the A-frame Timberline Shelter.
After a bathroom and snack break
Kris Eating
we were back to climbing and the views really opened up. While the views were great, we were beginning to experience a definite lack of oxygen in the air and the difficulty of climbing increased quite a bit.
Kris Treeline
Uphill Hike

Soon we were ascending the final stretch to the summit where throngs of people who had driven up or taken the Cog Railway awaited. We took pictures of ourselves at the summit sign
kris Summit
and then headed inside the gift shop/restaurant where I ate a hot dog and Kris ate some bread he had packed in true John Muir fashion. We had made it up in really good time, about 6 hours.

The hike down was pretty uneventful.
We detoured back to the Manitou Incline to see it in daylight.
Looking Up Incline
We were really tired by the time we had made it back to the trailhead.
Barr Trail
The whole trip had taken 11 hours, including a pretty long stop at Barr Camp on the way back down. We were pleased with our journey and hungry as well. We stopped at Wendy’s before heading back to Noelle’s brother’s house. We had a great time up there and are now starting to talk about an attempt on Long’s Peak in August.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Out of the Wild

Soldier Creek Wilderness

Noelle and I woke up this morning, ate a granola bar for breakfast, and then packed up camp. When we hit the trail around 8 am it was obvious that the day was already hotter than yesterday had been. The hiking went by pretty quickly and by 8:45 we officially exited the Soldier Creek Wilderness. We still, however, had about 3 miles of hiking before we would return to the car. It was hot and uneventful, other than the many creek crossings. We made it back to the car by 11 and hit the road. We stopped at a gas station for sodas and snacks and then headed back north into South Dakota. When we got to Cascade Falls I had to use the bathroom there. It made a good excuse to stop and jump in the water. The water felt great. I jumped in and swam around for a while.
Later on Noelle got into the water as well. It felt extremely refreshing! After drying off in the sun for a little bit, we got back into the car and headed to Hot Springs for lunch, the library, and a little bit of grocery shopping.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nebraska National Forest: Soldier Creek Wilderness

Having exhausted a bit of energy in completing the Jewel Cave caving tour last night, Noelle and I just weren’t in the mood for a long road trip. Instead of heading over to the Cave Hills like we had originally planned, we instead opted to stay a little closer to home and head down to Nebraska and the Soldier Creek Wilderness. The drive down was uneventful and to be honest, a little bit boring. We made it into Crawford by a little after 11. We walked around town before settling on the Frontier Restaurant (and bar) for lunch. After a delicious lunch we drove through Fort Robinson State Park through a surprisingly deep creek, and into Nebraska National Forest where we found the trailhead for the Trooper Trail and Soldier Creek Wilderness.

The hiking was pleasant. In the beginning we crossed Soldier Creek several times,
and then headed up into higher ground where the views were great.
on trail
noelle ridge
Noelle hiking
Fortunately, the weather was cool. There’s not a whole lot of shade in the wilderness due to a major fire in 1989.
noelle tall tree
We could imagine it gets rather hot on a really warm day. We followed the Trooper Trail to its junction with the Boots and Saddle Trail, then descended to Middle Fork of Soldier Creek where we found a decent spot next to the creek to camp for the night.
After filtering some water from the least muddy section of creek and making dinner, we retired for an early night of sleep.   

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Jewel Cave Adventure

This evening after work Noelle, myself, and two co-workers headed over to Jewel Cave to check out their Spelunking Tour. It’s about time we checked it out. We had often wondered what the tour was like and had heard that it’s more difficult than Wind Cave’s. When we arrived we crawled through “the brick” to make sure we were all small enough to fit through the smallest part of the route, the “Brain Drain”. After making it through and signing the required paperwork we went into the cave with Lydia, our guide.

The tour turned out to be a lot of fun. Indeed, it is more difficult than Wind Cave’s caving tour. However, the Brain Drain was hardly the most difficult part of the route. As a matter of fact, the Brain Drain turned out to be quite easy.
The difficult part of the route was the climbing and chimneying. We all made it through though. In fact we covered the route pretty quickly, in just over two hours.
I now feel like a veritable Herb Conn.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wind Cave National Park: East Bison Flats Trail

I had the evening program tonight, so I decided to go for a hike in the park this morning. I walked out the door and hiked into Wind Cave Canyon and then up the East Bison Flats Trail.
The weather was pleasant and there were a lot of wildflowers to look at.
I soon started to see some wildlife as well. I saw prairie dogs, a coyote, pronghorn, about 100 elk, and a big lonesome bull bison. Another great day in the park.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Wind Cave National Park: Reaves Gulch

Today, Noelle and I had decided, was reserved for hiking in Wind Cave National Park. We had looked at the map and tried to agree on an area that we wanted to explore. Reaves Gulch looked like an interesting spot on the map. It contains a deep canyon and is heavily wooded.
We decided that this would be our spot for exploration. Unfortunately, Noelle was not feeling well today, so I went exploring without her. Reaves Gulch ended up being quite interesting like we had figured. I saw lots of elk down and around there.
Besides the elk being bountiful there was also a lot of poison ivy. In this respect it was probably better that Noelle did not come along. After a while of tromping through poison ivy I came to a game trail that led out of the gulch. I followed it up to a grassy forest edge where I saw about 30 elk, females with calves. I watched and listened to the elk for quite a while and then moved up a bit. When I crested a hill three elk calves nearly ran into me!

From there I walked back to the game trail and followed it back down into the gulch and then up the other side. I followed the gulch rim for a while and then followed a drainage east. This drainage ended up being part of Curly Canyon. The canyon made for some interesting, but difficult walking. There were lots of downed trees and poison ivy. Eventually I got tired of trudging through the stuff and made my way up some ridges. At the last ridge before I returned to the Centennial Trail there was a dead tree with a walnut shell necklace draped from it.
I then hiked down the ridge and back to the car to drive home and take a shower, After my shower and a delicious dinner I headed out for a short evening stroll. I ended up walking to Alvin McDonald’s grave and then over to Bison Flats. At Bison Flats I didn’t see any bison, but instead a large prairie rattlesnake.
It rattled at me and was very close to a dead prairie dog. Had it killed this prairie dog for its dinner? I don’t know but it was interesting to observe for a while.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Black Hills National Forest: Harney Peak

It was a beautiful morning and so Noelle and I decided to hike up the tallest peak in South Dakota, Harney Peak. We packed up our gear and hit the road bound for the less traveled Willow Creek Trailhead. Our plan was to hike up Harney from the north. The trails on this side of the peak see much less traffic. So after getting stuck behind gas-guzzling RVs headed for Mount Rushmore we made it to the trailhead. We hit the manure covered trail and at first it was a real slog along dusty trails within earshot of the highway. About 2 miles into the hike the conditions started to improve.

There was less evidence of horse use and the trail entered into the Black Elk Wilderness.
Upon entering into the wilderness the scenery improved vastly as well. There were lots of granite rock formations and viewpoints to gaze at.

 When we got to the junction with the Harney Summit Trail the scene included a lot less solitude. There were tons of people up there; many of them looking like they had never hiked a mile in their lives. Several people carried water and snacks up in plastic grocery bags. The summit area was also an interesting place to listen to conversations.
Several people upon seeing and hearing one of the sightseeing helicopters would say something like “that helicopter must be here for our ride down”, after which the others in their group would chuckle. One young boy claimed to be able to see his house in Mitchell, SD (about 350 miles away). Another gentleman claimed that the mountain receives a “ton of snow in the winter because it is above 7,000 feet just like Mount Mitchell and 7,000 is the magic number”, whatever that means.
We were able to bear about 5 minutes up on the summit with the hordes. We then headed down into relative solitude on the trail. The hike down went quick and before we knew it we were back to the car. It was a good way to spend a beautiful Black Hills day.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Hot Springs, South Dakota

With rain in the forecast again Noelle and I decided to play it safe and stay really close to home. We went into Hot Springs and ran a few errands: paid the phone bill, cashed our deposit check rebate from the old apartment, and went to Pamida to grab a few things that we need. After our chores we had some time to play. We decided to hike up Battle Mountain. It was a nice little hike up an old road. The top is interesting, but cluttered. It offers a great view of town.
We then hiked down and back to the car.

After our hike we were hungry and so decided to stop by the Flatiron for a little bit of lunch. After a delicious lunch we walked through town stopping at the Wild Burro and the Kidney Springs Gazebo
to fill up a water bottle.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Black Hills 7,000 Foot Peaks: Crow's Nest, Crook's Tower, & Terry Peak

There was a good chance of rain in the forecast for today so Noelle and I opted to stay close to home. We packed up some snacks, water, and rain gear and hit the road. Our destinations for the day would be the three peaks above 7,000 feet in the Black Hills that I had not ascended yet. We drove north through Custer and Hill City, and then veered west to Deerfield Lake. From there we left pavement and headed towards Crow’s Nest Peak. The forest travel map was a bit confusing. We spent a bit of time trying to find the right road to get us to Crow’s Nest. We finally decided that a grassy, old road was the correct one and hiked it, bushwhacked across an aspen clone to another road that led us to the summit and a benchmark.

From Crow’s Nest we headed north to Crook’s Tower. Once again the correct route was not as obvious as the map would have you believe.
We first ascended a small limestone bluff to what we originally thought was the summit. Upon hiking down we found a small limestone arch.
From there we started to drive back out when we noticed a road that more closely resembled what the map showed. We hiked this road to another limestone bluff. This, I believe is the actual summit of Crook’s Tower.

After Crook’s Tower we headed into Deadwood/Lead for lunch at Taco John’s. After lunch we drove over to Terry Peak Ski Area to hike up Terry Peak. We parked at one of the ski lodges and then hiked up the steep ski slopes to the summit.
There’s a large viewing platform up there that offered pretty decent views of the surrounding Black Hills.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of towers up there that tend to ruin the view. We descended the way we had come up and then headed to Rapid City for some grocery shopping. The quest is now officially over!