Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bear Butte State Park

We finished our drive through the northern Black Hills by 3pm. My next destination was Bear Butte State Park, a sacred place for both Lakota and Cheyenne. Dogs are not allowed on the Summit Trail to this 4242' peak so to get Sadie some exercise we walked the Bear Butte Lake first, a three-plus loop hike around a small lake.

Signs warning that "Buffalo can be dangerous, do not approach" signs adorned the park. But all I saw were happy black cows grazing on prairie grasses.

"It shouldn't take but an hour" said the park ranger. It took us 1:20 hours because we walked the entire route and finished off on the highway back to the trailhead as the eastern side has no official trail. The "official" trail ends at the southern part of the lake. We continued on a smaller trail that lead to the camp grounds on the northern side.

And what a pretty trail this was. The winds had picked up, refreshing us both and giving the prairie grasses a nice "wave." Sadie was off leash for once and took liberty to help herself to lake water. She minded the water fowl along the shore. And there were plenty! I spotted a sandhill crane, mallards, coots, seagulls, geese, killdeer, red-tailed hawk, plenty of red-winged blackbirds and wrens. By the time we neared the end Sadie went into the lake up to her belly and splashed around. She clearly had fun.

This brought us to 5pm when we got done and it was still 78F outside. Sadie didn't look hot today but I didn't take any chances. I drove into Sturgis, three miles away for a dinner at Burger King. I had my usual Spicy chicken sandwiches and Sadie had her Whopper Junior plain.

I contemplated going back to Bear Butte to hike the summit now. I am glad I did.
I started the climb at 6:26, met a young couple hiking back down near the top. The woman was carrying a small child and was wearing flip-flops, shoes that clearly are not meant for this rocky and narrow trail. (I wore my Keens, which were slightly better)

The 1.85 mile hike to the top took me 40 minutes. I was expecting this hike to take longer since the ranger said it was a strenuous hike. "Give yourself three hours to do this" he said before leaving for the day. The rangers do not encourange night hikes but will not stop anyone from attempting one. This butte would be awesome as a full-moon hike. The views in all directions are spectacular. The High Plains live up to their name from this vantage point. Only the Black Hills show any mountainous features. I think I saw Devil's Tower from the summit, toward the northeast.

I rested for ten minutes before descending. I missed the rush hour, as there were four groups of three to four people in each group heading uphill for a sunset view. I'm sure the views are worth it, but I had plans to head into Wyoming tomorrow. And Sadie was patiently waiting for me in the van.

A fire in August 1996 scorched the top pines along the summit. The dead trees were still there and nothing new had grown over. What pines did remain contained prayer clothes from Natives who had come here to pray. I was also on alert for rattle snakes but saw only a few birds along the hike.

A sundance was going on in a remote section of the park closed off for these intimate ceremonies. I could hear the drum beat and four tipis were facing the mountain. People meandered around the tipis but that is all I could see. I did not stay to watch.

(The one drawback to this pretty hike were the ticks. I found my first tick embedded in my lower left facial cheek while still descending the butte. In the van I discovered two more on my shoulders, both also embedded. By midnight I had counted twelve total ticks all over my body that it got so bad I pulled into the first RV site I could find just to shower.)

I got back to the van at 8pm and together we drove toward Spearfish, our destination for tonight. My van reads 2030 miles. This was the shortest drive yet on this trip, a mere 170 miles, of which 30 were back and forth around Sturgis and the state park.

Tomorrow morning we will explore Spearfish Canyon, perhaps do a hike there to Crow
peak, weather permitting, and then head to Sundance, Wyoming by the afternoon. That will be our lay-over for tomorrow night.

And Wednesday we will hit Montana!

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...Put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time...

(R. Meisner, D. Henley, G. Frey)


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