|Lovely day for a hike!|
Created nearly 50 years ago, this spot was intended as a secluded retreat for contemplation and creative writing. The founder, a man named John Raeck, who called himself "the Vagabond Poet" placed a heavy wooden table, chairs and cabinet under a group of granite spires off one of the main trails. Through the years hikers that happened to stumble upon this place often left written records in one of several spiral notebooks kept in the wooden cabinet. In order to keep this place secret, directions to Poet's Table were purposely kept vague. Local lore dictated that this special area could only be found if you were guided by someone who had been there before.
Poet's Table existed in relative obscurity for several decades, until the explosion of social media. Numerous Facebook and Instagram posts brought this local secret into the mainstream, spawning a huge increase in visitors. And with this rise in popularity came trouble.
Last spring Poet's Table made the news when two young women sawed the table in half and stole the table, chairs and cabinet. (See the story here) Locals voiced their outrage on social media and the culprits ended up turning themselves in. Because the thieves destroyed the original table, chairs, and cabinet, volunteers eventually built new furniture and placed it back in it's old location.
|Tall granite towers|
My sister learned of Poet's Table from a friend who'd hiked there with her family. Last spring, determined to find it for herself, my sis and one of her daughters snooped around and eventually located the famous table by following another party. Her timing was fortunate, as the furniture thefts took place just two weeks later.
During my annual early September visit, my sister suggested that my parents and I check out the new Poet's Table. She recalled that the trail wasn't very far nor too strenuous. (Although they are both in the "late 70s to early 80s" age range, my folks are in great shape and still enjoy moderate hikes) So early one warm fall day we set out in search of this secret hideaway.
|"Is this the right trail?"|
Following a main trail my parents, sister and I admired the tall, granite towers that lined our path. Autumn leaves were just beginning to turn on some of the trees, and a couple of tiny wilted wildflowers occasionally brightened the grassy forest floor. The sky was a lovely shade of blue, with hardly a cloud. It was a great day to be exploring the Black Hills - now if only my sister could remember where the secret path was located!
|The beginning of fall colors|
We hiked a good half mile before my sister spotted a faint trace parting the grasses up a slope. Was this it? Wanting to scout the route first, my sis and I left our parents at the main trail and bushwhacked steeply uphill. After clambering over large boulders and a few fallen trees the route abruptly ended, and we both decided we'd followed the wrong path.
My Dad thought we'd traveled too far. He advocated for retracing our steps back along the main trail. My sister agreed, so we headed back towards the parking area. A few hundred feet later we passed by a well-worn user path that wound up another steep slope. The trail was pretty defined - could this be it?
|Trying to find our way|
One way to find out! My parents, sister and I started climbing the sketchy path. The going was definitely tough. We had to climb over fallen trees and around large boulders. In some places several faint trails branched away. And the slope was steep. With the temperatures rising, we made sure to take several rest breaks.
|Following a sketchy path|
We came to the base of several tall granite spires. Multiple trails branched out in several directions. My sister decided to scout ahead and see if we were on the right track. My parents and I waited below for several minutes. Just when we were beginning to wonder what happened, my sister reappeared above motioning that she'd found the table.
|Fantastic views of the Black Hills|
Another steep climb over several large boulders brought us to a tiny shelf tucked beneath a huge granite wall. A dreamcatcher dangling from a nearby tree alerted me that we'd reached our destination. Peering behind the tree, I glimpsed a sturdy forest-green table. This was the famous Poet's Table. We'd found it!
|We find the famous table!|
I immediately realized why someone would place a table here. The views were fantastic! The dark green forests of the Black Hills spread out below. In another direction, narrow granite towers rose majestically towards the sky. It was indeed a lovely, serene place.
There was only one chair, so we took turns sitting at the table, gazing out at the blue sky and stunning scenery. I could see why this spot had been chosen. It was definitely an inspirational location. (My nerdy, engineering self even felt like writing some poetry - for a short moment!)
|A beautiful place for contemplation|
But an unfortunate casualty of increased popularity, the place was covered in graffiti. I was disappointed to see colorful scribblings etched all over the adjacent granite wall. And the table, chair, and journal box, although only a couple of months old, were already defaced with hundreds of written names, dates, and anecdotes. There wasn't a blank space to be had.
|Reading the plaque|
I can understand someone wanting to leave their mark - but there are many other ways to do this besides defacing natural objects. Some folks left scraps of paper under rocks, while others placed painted rocks, coins, or other items on top of nearby boulders. And the wooden cabinet was full of various notebooks, many containing poems, stories, or other deep thoughts. The journals appeared to have plenty of paper left for anyone wishing to document their visit.
|Lots of graffiti|
I know posting about Poet's Table on my blog probably isn't helping the cause. But since the theft of the original furniture this place has been all over the news, and people who hadn't heard of Poet's Table probably know about it by now anyway. My message is this: If you visit, enjoy the lovely scenery, take photos, but if you must leave your mark, write in the journals instead of making permanent imprints on the rocks.
|Box of journals|
My parents, sister and I rested, read some of the journals and graffiti, and marveled at the views. We all agreed Poet's Table was indeed a special place.
|Taking in the sights|
But it was approaching noon, and the promise of lunch at our favorite restaurant in nearby Hill City convinced us to leave this peaceful little corner of the Black Hills.
|Heading back down|
It was a slow scramble back down the rocky trail. Not wanting our parents to slip and injure themselves, my sister and I kept a watchful eye, ever ready to lend an extra hand. Luckily my folks did just fine. My sister later admitted the trail was a bit rougher than she remembered and now that we'd taken our parents there, she probably wouldn't do it again.
|Another fabulous day in the Black Hills|
But my family is a hardy bunch. We survived our quest to find Poet's Table just fine and enjoyed a beautiful day in the Black Hills in the process. Now - time for some delicious German Food (and desserts) at Hill City's famous Alpine Inn. We certainly earned it!