|Time to hike!|
Pam lives in Wisconsin, and blogs about hiking, travel, and photography - basically the same stuff as me (minus the skiing).
So of course we had to get together for a hiking, photography extravaganza!
|Havin' fun with Pam at the first overlook|
After meeting up in Rapid City at the Chubby Chipmunk (our love of their fabulous truffles yet another common interest) Pam and I decided to tackle the trek up Harney Peak.
|Granite spires of the Black Hills|
Hands-down my favorite Black Hills hike, this 3.5-mile trail takes one to the very top of 7,242 foot high Harney Peak - the highest point in South Dakota. An iconic fire lookout tower, built with native rock by the CCC, graces this scenic summit.
|Lovely forest path|
Early morning light is best for photography, so I convinced Pam to meet me in the nearby town of Custer at sunrise. After waiting for the coffee shop to open, we made the short drive to Custer State Park's Sylvan Lake trailhead, and were hiking by 8 am.
|Pam admires the scenery|
Although the trail starts out fairly mellow, it soon begins climbing through grassy clearings and Ponderosa woods. A few straggler aster blooms lined our path. The low level morning light filtered through the forest, making for some great photography conditions.
|Little Devils Tower|
That's the great thing about hiking with other photographers - they understand the frequent need to stop and capture something interesting!
After a half mile or so, we arrived at the first overlook, atop a granite outcrop. The views were marvelous - forested vistas spreading out below punctuated by granite spires. A wall of granite towers rose before us, Harney Peak's stone lookout a tiny bump atop the tallest one.
A perfect place for a few group photos! After setting up my tripod, Pam and I mugged for the camera.
|Berry picking time|
Beyond the overlook, we wound through the forest, passing frequent clearings where more views awaited.
|"Are we there yet?"|
An unexpected surprise - Pam discovered a few wild raspberry bushes with still-ripe berries. Ummm.....delicious!
|View through the Ponderosa Pines|
We were by no means alone on the trail. First were were passed by a couple of men planning to do repairs on the lookout tower, and later we met up with a group of Forest Service workers on their way to do trail maintenance.
|Women at work|
We came upon the Forest Service staff again, just a mile from the summit, as they were clearing downed trees from the trail. Pam and I were proud to watch the all female crew making short work of a fallen log. Women power!
|One of the many photo breaks|
Now the real climbing began. The trail gets steep here, on the way up to Harney Peak's very summit. But the frequent panoramic views provide some instant rewards (not to mention photo opportunities).
|A little floral color|
Although Pam later admitted in her blog post she was dying about then, I had no idea. Pam was a trooper and followed me up the final steep climb.
|The lookout tower is in sight!|
A first glimpse of the lookout tower was a great motivator!
|The views are getting even better|
Winding through a set of stairs (with more fabulous views) we finally rounded a corner, and there was the famous stone tower!
|Another photo break!|
As many times as I've climbed Harney Peak over the years, it's still a breathtaking sight.
|Harney Peak lookout|
Completed in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), this tower replaced an older structure. All the building materials, stone, cement, and sand, had to be hauled up the mountain by 2-wheeled carts pulled by horses and mules. The tower served as a fire lookout until 1967. Now it's only used by hikers as a shelter and viewpoint.
|Love the tower's stonework|
Pam and I ducked inside the tower, only to be met by a volunteer crew hard at work on a restoration project.
|The sign gives all the stats|
Years of harsh weather and abuse from clueless hikers have resulted in lots of reconstructive efforts over the years. I'm glad there's people who are taking care of this historic treasure.
|Granite peaks as far as the eye can see|
Pam and I walked out onto the observation area and soaked in the spectacular views. The Black Hills stretched out before us in all directions. I'm told you can see four states on a clear day, but not knowing landmarks, I remarked to Pam there's no way to know which state you're looking at.
|We made it!|
A rocky plateau stretched out below the lookout tower, and we could see people walking around it. Pam wanted to explore further, so we climbed down another staircase to check it out.
|Checking out the rocky plateau|
More grand panoramas awaited! Cameras clicked, and oohs and aahs were uttered.
|Views are incredible|
Pam noticed tiny colorful fabric strips tied to some nearby trees. We discovered they were prayer ties left behind by local Native Americans. The peak is sacred to many Native tribes, and they often hold religious ceremonies here.
|Prayer ties left by Native Americans|
Although Pam and I did take photographs, we were careful not to disturb these colorful ribbons.
|Back to the tower|
After wandering around the rocky outcrop for the better part of half an hour, Pam and I decided it was time to head back down. As we passed back through the lookout tower, it was swarming with workers, and we exited just as they were closing it to the public. Lucky us!
Our high point of the trip down, we encountered a mule train bringing construction supplies to the tower, which was exciting to see.
Otherwise, our trip back to the car was a mostly uneventful trudge back through the woods (the trail seemed so much longer this time around!) We met lots of people heading up the mountain, and I was thankful for our early start.
|Girls just wanna have fun!|
So much fun to finally meet Pam and share a hike to one of my favorite places! From reading her blog I suspected Pam and I would hit it off, and we did. Too bad we live so far apart.....guess it's time to scheme a plan to meet up again (wink, wink!).
Check out Pam's blog, Nomadic Newfies.
(A side note.....About a month before my trip home, the U.S.Board of Geographic names officially changed the name of Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak. However, as an ex-South Dakotan with many fond memories, I choose to continue calling it Harney Peak)