Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Sisters Conquer Sunday Gulch

(Continuing the recap of my late August/early September South Dakota trip.....)

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!)

This way!

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.

Cathedral Spires

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.

Heading back

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.

Pretty creek

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.

Rail pose

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:

Devils Tower
Spearfish Canyon
Custer State Park - Hike, Lake and Tunnel
Where the Buffalo Roam
Mt Coolidge

Sharing with:  Scenic Weekends


  1. I'm still blown away by how scenic South Dakota is! This is definitely not the picture I have in my head.

  2. Great post... The rock formations are incredible, and so many of them.
    Thanks for taking us to places out of the ordinary!

  3. I've just been looking back over your Black Hills series. I'd heard of the Black Hills of course, but the name does little to advertise the beauty of the area, does it? Trails in the Alps are often signed in terms of time needed to complete them rather than an arbitrary distance like 3-and-a-half miles. You soon work out how much time to add to these rather optimistic forecasts and you then have something more meaningful to judge your walk by. Not that you would want such wonderful walks to be over too quickly.

  4. I am pleased to see that your toe is no longer giving you problems and your feet are now back to A1 status. I envy you having a sister to share the hiking, that must have been fun although a pity you live so far apart but I suppose that made it even more special. The scenery looks fabulous as did the weather. It is very murky here and it makes photography difficult so I am itching to continue my underground walks but need better light!

  5. Adoro caminhadas em montanha e esta devia de ter sido formidável.
    Um abraço e continuação de uma boa semana.

  6. Hello Linda, it was great you got to cross off two hikes on your bucket list. It was also nice you had quality time with your sister while hiking. The scenes and view are beautiful. Thanks for sharing your day! Have a happy Thursday!

  7. What a wonderful looking place - I bet there is more climbing there than the bit you did! Once upon a time I would have loved to have climbed there I think.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  8. I can see why your parents were happy to turn around. :) It looks a bit challenging! Thanks for taking us along.

  9. Sounds like two awesome hikes, and good company too!

  10. That Sunday Gulch uphill is a grind, I can only imagine how it must have felt with the sun beating down on you! We did it in the opposite direction.

  11. This was a super trip back to South Dakota.

  12. Looks like it runs in the family! Some really beautiful country there, I had no idea!

  13. Beautiful hikes! Looks like you gals had fun! :)

  14. Truly amazing area! I can easily understand how you would love it so much. SO neat to get to share the adventure with your sis too:)

  15. Linda am so glad that you got to go on this hike with your sister, and really glad that your mom and dad didn't do this. that little rock climb looked a bit daunting. Lovely area and glad I got to see your photos

  16. Cathedral Spires! There's a "secret" hike around there that park employees know about...but anywhere in that area is beautiful!

  17. Both hikes look beautiful Linda! Good job to your parents for even attempting it. Glad that you got to spend doing what you love with your sis!

  18. how wonderful to see such beauty with your Sis.

  19. There are so many great places in America we never see in Britain. Great photos and that area looks stunning. Reminds me of the limestone canyons in Saxony in East Germany with pine forests and high spires. Two great hikes and a series of posts that has totally changed my perception of what South Dakota is like as it's usually dry badlands and open desert in any films I've seen set there.

  20. Hello Linda,
    Very nice images of this wonderful area.
    Great rocks and gorges. Good shots, wonderful.

    Many greetings,

  21. I've really enjoyed your trip notes, Linda... It's always so great to see a place through the eyes of a native, and your words and photos certainly confirm that South Dakota has some beautiful scenery. I've only visited one small part of the SW corner of the state, and your images definitely make me want to come back for more exploration.

  22. The world is truly a beautiful place to wander and these sights are just fabulous!

  23. Wow, that looks like an awesome hike. It reminds me of a hike in Maine - the Precipice.

  24. How neat that you and your sister were able to enjoy this together. - What stunning scenery and rock formations.

  25. Another great post Linda. I'd love to do some climbing on those rocks!

    I had the exact same thought when I was in colorado last month - darn power lines ruined a lot of beautiful mountain shots.

  26. The cathedral spires in SD look very much like the red rock cathedral spires in Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs! This was a nice day of hiking with your sister. I love SD--so many beautiful sights to see in that state.

  27. I am so glad y you went back I was disappointed when you turned back!

  28. The rock formations are amazing. Looks like you had a fabulous day with your sister.


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