Monday, September 25, 2017

The Black Hills and Badlands National Park, South Dakota - Hiking

Stephen planned his annual highpointing trip to South Dakota this year, and invited several of his friends, along with me, to join for a weekend of hiking and exploring.  After a quick afternoon flight from Salt Lake City, we made our way to the rental house in Rapid City on Thursday afternoon.  With the weather expected to deteriorate throughout the weekend, we decided to hike Black Elk Peak on Friday and explore Badlands National Park on Saturday.  I was able to get my local beer fix that evening by suggesting pizza at Independent Ale House, and we walked around the downtown area for a bit before calling it a night.  We awoke to low clouds and a cold wind on Friday morning, a surprise, given the forecast looked fairly good for our peak hike. Nevertheless, we dressed in warm layers and drove off to the trail head at Sylvan Lake.  Despite the grey conditions, the drive was scenic with many beautiful granite rock spires along the way.

The South Dakota highpoint group
Sylvan Lake

We began our hike to Black Elk Peak, formerly known as Harney Peak, using Trail 4 from Sylvan Lake.  Low clouds and mist limited our views, but  patches of autumn foliage broke up the otherwise monochromatic scene.  A spur trail took us to Little Devil's Tower, but aside from a shroud of fog, we could see little else.

Trail 4 to Black Elk Peak
Misty views on the way to Black Elk Peak

Little Devil's Tower

Foggy views on the way to Black Elk Peak

As we descended down to an area called Cathedral Spires, we were rewarded with a sudden clearing of the mist and fog.  Sunlight began to break through, providing absolutely stunning views of the surrounding granite spires.  Sunbeams and fog filtered through the spires, giving the place a magical feel.

Fog clearing at the Cathedral Spires
Fog clearing at the Cathedral Spires
Cathedral Spires
Cathedral Spires

Roger at Cathedral Spires

Under suddenly clear skies and warm sunshine, we made our way to the summit of Black Elk Peak, the highest point in South Dakota with an elevation of 7,242 feet.  A stone fire lookout tower, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938, marked the summit.  The views of the surrounding Black Hills and granite spires were spectacular.  After enjoying lunch at the lookout tower, we descended back to the trail head on Trail 9.

Trail 4 to Black Elk Peak summit
Roger hiking to Black Elk Peak
Black Elk Peak stone fire lookout tower
Roger on Black Elk Peak
Enjoying a beautiful day with Roger on Black Elk Peak
Trail 9 descending from Black Elk Peak

No trip to South Dakota is complete without a visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  This iconic piece of American history is spectacular to view, and the story of its construction is fascinating to learn.

Mount  Rushmore National Memorial
Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Although it was late in the afternoon, we decided to make a stop at the Crazy Horse Memorial to view the progress of what is billed as the world's largest mountain carving.  The museum at the memorial was extensive, but we were all a bit tired from a long day to fully enjoy the amount of material presented.

Crazy Horse Memorial
Depiction of the Crazy Horse Memorial when complete

Saturday was the stormy day that we expected, so we headed over to Badlands National Park to do a driving tour of the park with some small hikes as the weather permitted.  There were numerous scenic viewpoints along the Badlands Loop Road, and several short hikes that we were able to complete despite the wind and rain.  Even with the grey skies, the rock formations within the park were beautiful!

Badlands National Park
Roger trying to keep warm
Stormy fun in the Badlands

With Stephen in Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park

We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Tally's Silver Spoon in Rapid City as we closed out our trip on Saturday night.  Stephen did a great job planning a weekend of hiking and sightseeing, and South Dakota was much more impressive and beautiful than I had expected.  With so much to see and do in both the Black Hills and the Badlands, I may need a second trip.