Since my sister lives in South Dakota and I in Oregon, we don't see much of each other. My once a year trip home is the only time we get together. But when we do, there's always an adventure to be had.
|The hiking sisters|
During this trip there were two Black Hills trails I'd hoped to hike - Cathedral Spires and Sunday Gulch. I'd attempted to hike Sunday Gulch earlier in the week, but it proved to be a little much for my parents, and we ended up turning around.
|Heading to Cathedral Spires|
But my sis was game for a hike. Early Saturday morning, we headed back in to Custer State Park (yes, I'd been seeing a lot of that place lately!)
Our first stop was the Cathedral Spires Trailhead. There's two places to access this trail, and we chose to start near Sylvan Lake. It was another bright, sunny South Dakota day, the morning chill beginning to give way to today's heat.
|A busy bee|
The trail began following a tiny creek, lined by a few late-blooming summer flowers. After passing through a slight boggy area, we began climbing through a pine forest that gradually opened up to views of nearby granite formations.
|A tiny bit of rock climbing!|
About a mile in, a trail to Little Devil's Tower branched off. Another quarter mile or so brought us to the beginning of some tall granite spires. A good sign - we must be getting close! But first our trail routed through a narrow opening in the granite walls. No problem, my sis and I actually had fun doing a little impromptu rock climbing.
On the other side, a large group of pointy granite pinnacles rose high into the sky. We assumed these must be the famed Cathedral Spires.
It was quite a sight to stand at the base of these formations, rising sharply up from the forest. My sister and I marveled at the view while we enjoyed a quick snack. Then, it was time to retrace our steps back to the trailhead.
|Top of Sunday Gulch|
Barely lunchtime when we reached the car, the day was still young. My urge to explore not yet satisfied, I asked my sis if she was interested in adding another hike to our day. When I suggested Sunday Gulch, she was all for it. Even though my sister has lived in the area most of her life, this was one trail she had never hiked.
|Follow the handrails|
So we drove to Sylvan Lake and secured one of the last parking spots in a very crowded lot. Then my sis and I followed the lake's shoreline trail until we reached the start of Sunday Gulch, directly behind the dam.
A familiar sight from earlier this week, I again followed the steep "trail" - really just a series of handrails driven into large boulders, as it dived steeply into the narrow gulch. My sister and I actually had fun climbing over the rock faces. The scenery was nothing short of spectacular.
As we descended deeper into Sunday Gulch, tall granite walls began to rise on both sides. A charming little creek burbled down the very middle. I don't know how they survived, but trees and other green vegetation were sprouting from the canyon's rocky bottom.
|Down a steep set of stairs|
We kept climbing down, down, and ever further down. Although I was really enjoying the unique landscape, one thought kept nagging in the back of my mind. Eventually we'd have to gain all this elevation back.
|Last of the summer flowers|
But in the meantime, we were enjoying all the lovely scenery. Our trail crossed the creek several times, giving opportunities to admire the clear water and deep pools (home to a population of brown trout, I'm told). Looking down one gap in the rock, we spied a tiny waterfall gurgling from a hidden spring.
|Time to climb back up!|
The canyon walls produced lots of shady spots and the mixed sun/shade made photography challenging. Of course this didn't stop me from taking a bazillion photos anyway!
|The views begin to open up|
Finally it appeared we'd hit the canyon's very bottom. After zig-zagging through a ponderosa pine forest, the landscape opened up to nice views of the surrounding granite towers.
|A touch of fall color|
Now came the climb back up! My sis and I grunted and sweated in the afternoon sun. Although this trail wasn't overly steep, it still kept a constant uphill grade.
|Looking back towards the main road|
At one point, the forest cleared away to reveal wide-open views of the winding road into Sylvan Lake and the surrounding forested hills. (All this fantastic scenery was sort of spoiled by a big powerline running right through the middle though)
|Getting closer to the end|
No matter, soon our path turned and we were treated to more unobstructed vistas of trees and tall granite spires.
|Outstanding views of the granite formations|
Hiking uphill in this hot sun started to wear on my sister and I. Although my trail guide gave the round-trip distance as 3.5 miles, we were second guessing this claim. It sure seemed like we'd hiked much further!
|Tall spires for rock climbers|
Finally, we descended through an area of large granite outcrops. A few hardy rock climbers could be seen perched on these rocks, high above the forest floor. But glimpsing a nearby road to the resort, I knew trail's end wasn't far now.
|A happy hiker|
A successful day, I'd completed two hikes that had been on my 2015 trip bucket list. And I got to spend some quality time with my sister. My sis had such a good time, I think I've got her hooked on hiking! Now she needs to visit Oregon and try some of my favorite trails. :)
This concludes my South Dakota trip recaps. If you've missed any, here are the links:
Custer State Park - Hike, Lake and Tunnel
Where the Buffalo Roam
Sharing with: Scenic Weekends