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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Bloggers on Black Elk Peak

So here I sit in the 1881 Bank Coffee House in downtown Custer, using a "lure" to attract Pokemon to me while I sip a delicious soy latte, take advantage of free wifi and count all the achy spots on my body from my hike with Linda yesterday.

1881 Bank Coffee House 

Linda and I have wanted to meet for a long time, but there is just a little bit of distance between my home and her home in Portland, just a smidge over 2,000 miles, but who's counting?

Clever idea for tabletops- check out those "Buffalo" nickels!

When Wayne and I changed our plans for our fall trip the timing was finally right as I remembered that she usually makes a trip to South Dakota to visit her parents.  We met for lunch in Rapid City on Monday, but yesterday we got together for that long awaited photographer's hike and it was such a great day that I want to post about it first!

Linda hadn't done the Harney Peak Trail in a few years and I was up for the 7 mile roundtrip challenge to the top.  Starting at about 6,200 feet, the Harney Peak trail gains 1,100 feet in elevation over the 3.5 mile hike to the summit.

With a glimpse of Sylvan Lake at the starting point and then an easy stroll through some forest this trail was stunning even before the ascent really began.

Linda and I had lots to talk about, though she had more oxygen and more experience with hiking uphill at elevation so I let her lead the way both verbally and as a trail guide.

We both agreed the light and the weather couldn't be beat and that it was great hiking with a fellow photographer who knew when to get out of your light and how to be patient with lollygagging!

Pretty asters, perfect light

Wildflowers are a little scarce this late in the season but we enjoyed the asters, and I enjoyed hearing Linda talk about her life growing up in this area and her memories of hiking this trail over the years.

There were a lot of ladies besides us on the trail, not just hikers but also workers from the Forest Service who were clearing trees to make way for a mule team carrying supplies up the mountain.  These ladies were proof women can do anything men can do, just look at them making short work of that tree after a 3 mile hike up toting equipment!

We thanked them for their service (or rather Linda did, I was too out of breath!) and moved on to the final leg of the ascent toward the fire tower...and the beginning of the views that make this hike worth the effort.

Cathedral Spires

Harney Peak actually was just renamed Black Elk Peak a few weeks ago.  The Federal Board of Geographic Names made the decision and the public was a bit surprised by the swift and unexpected change.

From the Rapid City Journal: "In this case, the board felt that the name was derogatory or offensive being that it was on a holy site of the Native Americans," Yost said, adding that the change applies to federal usage on new maps or other products.

Army Gen. William S. Harney's men massacred Native American women and children during a battle in September 1855, according to historic records.

The controversy lies in the fact that the name change went against public opinion and the recommendation of state officials.  I am sure that there is a complicated history between the local Native Americans and the Americans who are descendants of the men who conquered their people.

My heart goes out to the Oglala Lakota as they continue their struggle for reparations.  Hopefully time and mutual effort will continue to repair these old wounds.

Black Elk Peak is the highest point in South Dakota at 7,242 feet.  It was here that the Harney Peak Fire Tower was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1935 to 1938.

 Stones gathered from French Creek were used to construct the tower. All of the building materials were hauled by man and mule along the trail to the summit of Harney Peak, just as the materials the workers were using during our visit were being transported.

The lookout tower, dam, pump house and stairway were constructed upon the highpoint. The reservoir created by the dam supplied water to the living quarters which were located in the lower level of the Harney Peak Fire Tower. The comforts of electricity, flush toilets, and a central heating system were incorporated into the remote Harney Peak Fire Lookout Tower.

Preservation work on the tower has been underway for a few years now, focusing on repairing masonry work and replacing windows and doors.

Once up in the tower we had expansive views and I spotted Lakota prayer ties out on the surrounding rock.  After checking online and verifying that is wasn't disrespectful to photograph them I was eager to learn more about them and their significance to the local Native Americans.

The cloth is usually wrapped around tobacco, a sacred plant to the tribe, and are brought to sacred sites to aid in prayer or meditation.  They are left at the site in hopes that the intentions of the maker will be absorbed into the surroundings and act as a blessing for those who come in contact with it.  I know that I felt blessed as I pondered the lives of the people who have for centuries called this place home.

The rock in South Dakota never disappoints, and I made an effort to bask in its marvelous complexity.  I was grateful for Linda's knowledge of geology and tried to connect names as she pointed them out to me, but I was weary and the only feldspar and mica "stuck".  When visiting keep your eyes open for the veins of quartz running through the rock, I've been noticing it everywhere we go!

Unfortunately what goes up must also come down, so I stumbled my way along behind Linda.  Just when my energy was at its lowest we finally ran across the mule train on their way up with supplies.  How lucky we were to be there on a day to see and learn so much about the preservation efforts!

After dragging my exhausted self to Linda's car we ended our time together with a lunch at Baker's Bakey and Cafe in downtown Custer where I picked up the most amazing donuts to take home.  I did not feel one bit guilty when I ate two of them...after my two hour nap!

Now I just have to figure out how and when I'm going to get to Oregon so we can hike together again!  Here's a short movie of our hike:


  1. You are speedy with your post! :) Great photos and movie. It's weird to see myself in so many photos! Great to meet you and share a photo jaunt to one of my favorite spots in the Black Hills. Safe travels home and hope we can connect again real soon.

  2. God, the fire tower is beautiful! A really nice pose, Pam. You found the perfect hiking companion in Lens Linda, so much in common :). And the donuts? Don't worry about it :)
    Box Canyon Mark

  3. Glad you two were able to get together!

  4. I thought I recognised the lady, I also follow her blog, Linda visits some amazing places. This week you surpassed yourself with this one show all those wonderful views. No wonder you ate two doughnuts at the end.

  5. Hello, I just read Linda's post on this hike. it was great the two of you could meet and go hiking together. Beautiful views from your hikes and wonderful photos. Happy Monday, enjoy your new week!

  6. I'm so happy you got to meet Linda. I've been following her blog for years. She's on my list of "must meet" bloggers. :-)