Ahhh....Devils Bathtub. The trail that made me break two of my cardinal rules: 1. Don't go to a popular place on a Saturday, and 2. Get an early start.
|First of many creek crossings|
But it was my last day in South Dakota. I really wanted to spend time with my sister and my high school friend Nancy, both who only had weekends free. And it'd been years since I'd visited Devils Bathtub. So, against my better judgement, that Saturday I arranged for us to meet in the nearby town of Spearfish at the late-for-me hour of 12 noon (practically hiker midnight!)
|Tall limestone cliffs|
Devils Bathtub is an eroded rock formation located in Spearfish Canyon. A small stream meanders through an area of tall limestone cliffs. Over time, this creeklet has worn a channel through the rock, creating several small pools and waterfalls. It's an incredibly beautiful spot, and a great place to escape the summer's heat.
|My sis finds a huge tree burl|
Devils Bathtub's location used to be secret, known only to a few locals. It didn't show up on any maps. The only way to find it's trail was through word of mouth. The last time I'd visited, way back in the mid 80s, Devils Bathtub was still relatively unknown.
|Walking over a rocky ledge|
Well, boy was I in for a surprise! After meeting up with Nancy, my sister drove us down the scenic road that winds through beautiful Spearfish Canyon. Nearing the unofficial trailhead, I was shocked to find the highway lined with parked cars. As there was no hope of scoring a spot at the tiny trailhead parking area, my sis maneuvered her SUV onto the shoulder, joining the fast-growing line of vehicles.
|The canyon narrows|
We girls crossed the highway and hopped over rocks to the other side of gorgeous Spearfish Creek. A smaller stream converged with this creek, leading up a small side canyon. We noticed other people following a well-worn footpath through the trees. This must be the way!
Nancy, my sister, and I ducked through the thick brush. There were several user trails, and at first it was difficult to determine which one to follow. But another hiker coming the opposite direction assured us they all ended up at the same place.
|Little bat trying to hide|
So picking a path, off we went! The canyon walls began to get taller, and the creek banks narrower. Several times the three of us had to jump over the creek, only to recross several steps upstream. Hopping over downed trees, balancing on rocks over the creek, scrambling up a rocky ledge - choosing our route became a fun challenge.
|The place was swarming with people!|
To say we weren't alone would be an understatement - I've never seen so many people on a trail in South Dakota! The crowds rivaled those of the Columbia River Gorge on a sunny summer's day. The warm weekend had brought people out in droves.
|Nancy and I - high school friends reunited!|
About a mile upstream, the banks narrowed until they were merely rocky shelves above the creek. Instead of hiking, my friend, sister, and I climbed and hopped our way over these ledges.
|My sister is having fun|
We came upon the first pools, a series of small waterfalls separating them. It was incredibly lovely, but the place was swarming with people. Lots of little kids in swimsuits were having a ball sliding down smooth rocky chutes carved by the creek.
|Nancy squeezes between rocks|
My friend Nancy studied wildlife biology in college, so she was the first to spot a small bat flying around the pools. It zipped right in front of one lady, and gave her quite a fright. The tiny bat ended up attaching himself to a nearby canyon wall and sliding into a crevice. I was able to get a couple of good photos before the little creature disappeared entirely.
Finally reaching the large pool, known as Devils Bathtub, Nancy and I stood on the edge and watched a parade of people splashing around in it's waters.
|Another tall cliff|
But there was way too many folks for our taste, and the three of us agreed we'd had enough. Time to turn around, my sis led us back down the canyon, away from that mass of humanity.
|Walking on the eroded rock|
Still, it was a splendid trek back. I enjoyed the views, especially all the terraced rock formations created by flowing water. Although the sun/shade combination made photography difficult, I tried to capture the scenery anyway.
|More rock channels|
Back at the trailhead, I admired the fall colors starting to show on some poison ivy plants (but was smart enough not to touch!)
|Poison ivy leaves wearing fall colors|
Back at the trailhead, we met several more groups of people heading towards the canyon. No longer a secret, the internet and social media have revealed the location of this special place. I felt a pang of regret that hidden spots such as these have vanished in this age of information. (Although I suppose bloggers like me don't help the situation either.....)
Later, going through an old photo album, I found some photos from a mid 80s hike into Devils Bathtub. As you can see, my husband and I had the place to ourselves back then. Sadly, it seems those days are now long gone.
|Devils Bathtub in a quieter time|
Despite the crowds, it was fun to revisit an old favorite trail from my past and reconnect with both my sister and old high school friend. Hopefully we can hike again when I'm back next year (although I'm choosing a less popular trail!)