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BLACK

HILLS

Outdoors Guide SPRING 2018

Brought to you by the


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

ADVENTURES AWAITS on every corner of a Black Hills map

Let us be your guide for outdoor activities this year

Hundreds of miles of forests, peaks and valleys wait to be explored in the Black Hills. CHRIS HUBER, JOURNAL STAFF

CHRIS HUBER

U

Journal staff

nfurl a Black Hills National Forest map. Close your eyes. Pick a random point with your finger. Go have an adventure. In the Black Hills, it’s literally that simple. With the right attitude, driving down any bumpy and dusty forest service road in the Black Hills can reveal a brand new set of outdoor possibilities: New places to hike, bike or run until your lungs feel like they are going to pound out of your chest. New secrets waiting to be revealed. New swimming holes and new forested groves. New grand summits and new serene valleys. New places to string up a hammock and just enjoy the view as a time slowly passes by. Getting to these new places couldn’t be more pleasant, either. Literally hundreds of miles of trails spiderweb through thick forest, across deep valleys and crest over peaks. Each trail seems more secluded than the last. Miles and miles of twisty, singletrack just begging to be explored. The perfect way to “get lost” — in the best sense of the phrase. In the Southern Hills, huge gray granite spires jut through

sea of green forest. Just hiking to the base of the monoliths evokes a sense of wonder. Climbing to the top brings a sense of fulfillment that few things can match. In the Northern Hills, time and Spearfish Creek cut a path through massive limestone walls that rival some of the most breathtaking views on the planet. Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright visited the canyon in 1935 and noted

its beauty. “Unique and unparalleled elsewhere in our country,” he said. “Had Spearfish Canyon been on the ’through way’ to westward migration, the canyon would be as significant in public appreciation as JOURNAL FILE the Grand Canyon is today.” Hundreds of miles of single-track bike trails spread through All across the Hills, lakes, the Black Hills for months of enjoyment. ponds and streams dot the landscape. These hideaways can be the perfect spots to So, get out and enjoy. Hike, deur of this magnificent landcast a line, take a dip or go for bike, climb, run, paddle, swim, scape. After all, these are your a paddle. fish or just take in the gran- Black Hills.


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HIKES TO TAKE IN SPEARFISH CANYON

Stroll around one of the gems in South Dakota

CHRIS HUBER

Journal staff

If you’re looking for an alternative way to burn calories, you may as well get the added benefit of some pretty spectacular views. Here are five hikes in the Spearfish Canyon that will take your breath away — some from the views, others from the exercise. Just remember to be cautious while climbing and hiking and take a friend or two,

especially since there is limited cellphone service in the canyon. Bring water, dress appropriately and have fun.

way to Iron Creek Lake, or simply follow alongside the creek for as long or short of a time as you want. The trail starts about 11 miles into the canyon when Roughlock Trail coming from Spearfish. You This is an easy hike for those will see Iron Creek and a parkwho don’t want anything too ing lot on the right side of the strenuous. It’s located at the road. end of the Spearfish Canyon Lodge parking lot, and is a 11th Hour Gulch one-mile hike. This is a good This hike is more of a short option for kids and those who climbing adventure than an esdon’t want a hike that climbs tablished hike. There are many far uphill. small waterfalls throughout the trail, but be prepared to climb Iron Creek up some terrain and ladders This hike is as long as you to reach the top of the rocks, make it. You can hike all the which overlook the highway

CHRIS HUBER, JOURNAL STAFF

Yellow aspen and birch trees dot the landscape from the view at the rim of Spearfish Canyon. The view is accessible from the ‘76 trail. going through the canyon. Look creek that you don’t slip. This for the roadside pulloff roughly trail is about 7 miles into the 9 miles into the canyon across canyon off Cleopatra Lane. the “kissing rocks.”

Devil’s Bathtub This trail leads you to a great place to cool off on a hot day — nature’s own little swimming pool. You’ll have to cross the creek quite a few times to get there, but you won’t have to go uphill too much. Just be careful when crossing through the

‘76 Trail

Although this hike is less than a mile long, you’ll gain 1,000 feet in elevation — 700 feet in less than half a mile. Once you’re at the top, though, you’ll be looking over the top of the canyon. The trailhead is located near the Spearfish Canyon Lodge parking lot.


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

Mountain bikers race a 12-mile loop on M-Hill during the 11th annual Black Hills Fat Tire Festival. The Fat Tire Festival has been rebranded as the Black Hills Mountain Fest. JOURNAL FILE

Celebrate the

OUTDOORS

Black Hills Mountain Fest filled with rides, hikes and concerts KAYLA GAHAGAN

Journal correspondent

Whether you’re a lifetime mountain bike enthusiast, a novice hiker or someone just looking for a good brew, organizers of the Black Hills Mountain Fest say there’s a place for you at this year’s event. Formerly known as the Black Hills Fat Tire Festival, the Black Hills Mountain Fest has not only been renamed, but includes a revamped agenda of

Lintz, recreation program specialist for the Rapid City Parks and Recreation department. The event kicks off June 15 and will offer three days of When: June 15-17 races, seminars, outdoor venWhere: Hanson Larsen dors and free nightly concerts. Memorial Park “Our intent was to change the scope of the event to be How: For a full list of events more inclusive of other outand to register, visit bhmtdoor recreational activities,” fest.com Lintz said. The events will be held at races and events, said Kristy the Hanson Larsen Memorial

Black Hills Mountain Fest

Park in Rapid City, another great reason to host an event that celebrates the outdoors, Lintz said. “We have a gem here with the Hanson Larsen,” she said. The City of Rapid City owns the 40 acres at the base of the mountain and along the creek line, the School of Mines and Technology owns the acre at the top of the mountain where the “M” is located, and the rest of the park is privately-owned.

“Not many people know that,” Lintz said. “It’s a private park that has been opened to the public.” The privately-owned section includes more than 300 acres with 30 miles of trails. “It’s a great way to showcase what we have here in the hills,” Lintz said. Started in 2007, the original event was a great place for mountain bike enthusiasts to gather, race and connect. The


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

event eventually included a trail run that became exceedingly popular and was one of the reasons they realized they should expand. “We had added a 5k and 10k trail run with the Black Hills Runners Club and it had seen significant growth,” she said. From 2016 to 2017, the number of runners grew from 75 to 120. The race will now be featured on Saturday morning. Another major change is that the event’s main trifecta of events – a hill climb, Super D descent race and cross country race will be replaced with an eight-mile timed night race on the Hanson Larsen Memorial Trail. The race, which includes an 1800-feet elevation gain, will begin Saturday night at 8 p.m. and run until 8 a.m. Sunday morning. “It’s a different focus and for a different type of racer,” Lintz said.

JOURNAL FILE

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JOURNAL FILE

Black Hills Mountain Fest will feature rides, hikes and concerts all based in Rapid City.

A mountain biker races down the trail at Hanson Larsen Memorial Park last year.

There are so many other races and rides in the area, she added, and the night race is a great way for Black Hills Mountain Fest to be distinguished from others. People interested in learning

Cabin Beer Co. brews. Lintz said she knows that switching things up is always a risk, but they are hopeful the newly revamped event will retain bike lovers and attract new people as well. “Change is hard because

something new can also take one of the event’s seminars or speak with a local vendor about fly fishing, hiking, biking or trail running. Independent Ale House is sponsoring the beer garden featuring Lost

you don’t know how people will perceive it,” she said. “But hopefully people will enjoy it. Whether someone is a trail runner or biker or just wants to stand by a stream and fish, we hope this will appeal to a broader audience.”


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Pack your hiking shoes and a pole 5 walk-in fishing spots in the Black Hills CHRIS HUBER

Journal staff

I

f you would take the babble of a brook over the honk of a car every day of the week, these five spots are just for you. Fishing can be an escape and a chance to get back to nature — but to escape, sometimes you need to tread off the beaten path. If you are looking for a little less traffic and a little more hike while casting a line this summer, check out these five hike-in fishing spots in the Black Hills.

Grace Coolidge Walk-in Fishing Area This gem of a trail in Custer State Park winds up an old logging road crossing Grace Coolidge Creek several times along the 3-mile trail. Several low-level dams are built into the creek creating ponds that hold large numbers of rainbow trout. This area is a great place to take someone new to fly-fishing. The trail leads from Highway 16A to Center Lake.

French Creek Natural Area Also in Custer State Park, this 12mile trail follows French Creek crossing it more than 40 times through beautiful valleys and high canyon walls. Brook, rainbow and brown trout reside in its peaceful waters. This spot is a great for a short camping/fishing trip. Camping is allowed within the canyon bottom, but campsites need to be at least 50 feet from the stream.

Kinney Canyon Nestled below Deerfield Lake, Kinney Canyon follows a peaceful trail up Castle Creek until reaching the dam. Brook and brown trout hide in cutbacks along the banks of this creek, but can be coaxed out with nymphs and dry flys. Fish here aren’t huge, but there

JOURNAL FILE PHOTOS

This trophy trout spot is catch and release only and located right below the Pactola Dam. The trail that runs along Rapid Creek is part of the Centennial Trail that meanders all the way through the Black Hills and is well maintained. Park at the lot below the dam and walk down the creek sight fishing as you go. are plenty to catch.

Rapid Creek Trailhead on Centennial Trail This trophy trout spot is catch and release only and located right below the Pactola Dam. The trail that runs along Rapid Creek is part of the Centennial Trail that meanders all the way through the Black Hills and is well maintained. Park at the lot below the dam and walk down the creek sight-fishing as you go.

Spring Creek Trailhead This short trail leading from Sheridan Lake Trail to the Sheridan Lake dam gives fisherman an enjoyable walk along Spring Creek with the opportunity to catch some nice trout. The roughly one-mile trail is easy to travel and sight fish while heading to the lake. There are few small pools along the banks where fish will bunch up. If you are feeling up for more of a hike, this trail hooks up with the Flume part of the Centennial Trail.

Part of the joy of the Grace Coolidge Walk-In Fishing Area is hiking the secluded path that is dotted with a half-dozen fishing holes.


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Racing down the trail Black Hills Runners Club hosts trail running series for 10th year JOURNAL STAFF

Lace up your running shoes and get ready to hit the trail. The Black Hills Runners Club is back this spring and summer for the 10th year of its Trail Race Series at several sites throughout the Black Hills. The races are a great way to explore the hills, meet new people and get introduced to trail running. The first race was already held in April, but there are seven more races to come out and compete for prizes and brag-

ging rights.

Black Hills Mountain Fest 5K and 10K

this race is not for the faint of heart. Running through steep terrain in the area of Hisega, racers can either choose the full 26.2 miles or 13.1 miles. The marathon beings at 7 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Tomaha Trail.

Originally part of the Black Hills Fat Tire Festival, Black Hills Mountain Fest has turned into a three-day festival with music, biking and trail running Hell Canyon on M-Hill in Rapid City. The New this year, this five-mile COURTESY PHOTO trail run begins at 9 a.m. on race starts near Jewel Cave NaThe Trail Running Series runs from April until the South Dakota Saturday, June 16, at Founders tional Park west of Custer and Trail Running Championships in October. Park in Rapid City. runs through and up Hell Canyon. The race is held Aug. 25. The race will be 4- or 8-mile race is Sept. 23. Mystic Mountain Run distances and is held Sept. 9. This 7.6-mile trail run will 7th Cavalry Trail Run South Dakota Trail take racers up steep slopes and The 7th Cavalry Trail Run Dugout Gulch Running Chamionships through forested single track. takes places on some of the Just across the border near Held each year at Coon HolThe race date is Sunday, July 8. newest single track in the Black Beulah, Wyo., this 7.8 mile run low near Rockerville, the chamHills just outside Sturgis. The Stoneman Marathon trail starts at Lion’s Park in St- meanders through stands of pa- pionships run on the Flume and Hisega Half urgis and meanders through the per birch, ironwood and hazel- Trail. The race features 8K or New to the series last year, Fort Meade Recreation Area. nut trees alongside a creek. The 16K distances and is on Oct. 13.

Sturgis & Meade County Historical Society 4th Annual History Day Friday and Saturday, June 15-16 Including dedication of Nolin Monument & Birthday Parade. A celebration of the 140th birthday of Sturgis and Ft. Meade. Saturday’s events begin at 9 a.m. at the City Auditorium. The dedication of Nolin Monument will take place at 3 p.m. Friday, June 15. A parade in celebration of the 140th birthday of Sturgis and Ft. Meade will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. *In case of inclement weather, dedication will be held at Sturgis City Auditorium For further information contact Kris Hubbard at kris_hubbard@msn.com For a complete list of events please contact sturgishistory.org


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

Beat the crowds to South Dakota’s

HIGHEST POINT Take the trail less traveled to the top of Black Elk Peak

Distance of hike: 10 miles out-and-back from the Norbeck Trailhead, or 14 miles out-and-back from Iron Creek Horse Camp. Tips: A Black Hills National Forest brochure describes the Norbeck Trail No. 3 as a steep and rocky trail known for its solitude. The brochure adds that adventurous hikers can make a loop by hiking Norbeck Trail No. 3 and Trail No. 9 to the summit of Black Elk, and then hiking Trail No. 9 and Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7 down from the peak, followed by a small segment of the Centennial Trail, to end up back at the Iron Creek Horse Camp.

SETH TUPPER

Journal staff

any South Dakotans know a lot about Black Elk Peak, especially after the past several years, when the granite summit was in the news repeatedly during its controversial name change from Harney Peak. Many of them have even stood atop the peak, which is officially listed at 7,242 feet above sea level and is South Dakota’s highest point and probably its most-hiked mountain. Yet some South Dakotans and many tourists are under the false impression that there is only one route to the top, from the popular Trail No. 9 trailhead at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park. In fact, more than a dozen trailheads ring the Black Elk Wilderness around Black Elk Peak, enabling an even greater number of hiking routes to the top for those who engage in creative route-planning. The alternate routes see much less foot traffic, and while some of the alternate routes are significantly longer, a couple are about the same length as the hike from Sylvan Lake.

M

Grizzly Bear Creek route

CHRIS HUBER PHOTOS, JOURNAL STAFF

South Dakota’s highest point, Black Elk Peak, offers sprawling views of the Black Hills and a historic fire tower at its summit. There will be crowds at the summit, but they can be avoided along the way by taking one of the less-traveled trails.

Little Devils Tower route

Starting point: Little Devils Tower Trailhead, about threefourths of a mile east of Sylvan Lake on state Highway 87 (Needles Highway). Route: Trail Nos. 4, 3 and 9. Distance of hike: 7 miles out-and-back. Tips: While on Trail 4, consider taking a couple of spurs: the unmarked (but clearly visible) spur to Poet’s Table, a high granite alcove with a beautiful view where visitors have installed a table, chairs and a bookshelf lined with visitorcontributed poetry and other

writings; and the marked spur to Little Devils Tower, a granite summit with a 360-degree view that rivals the one from Black Elk Peak. The Poet’s Table spur is about a third of a mile long, and the Little Devils Tower spur is about two-thirds of a mile with some rock-scrambling. Both spurs run steeply uphill. Or, for a slightly different route, consider starting from the Cathedral Spires Trailhead, which is 2 miles east of Sylvan Lake on Needles Highway, and use that trail to link up with Trail No. 4. Starting from either the Lit-

tle Devils Tower or Cathedral Spires trailheads assures a hike of about the same length as a hike starting from Sylvan Lake, but with far less company.

Norbeck route

Starting point: Grizzly Bear Creek Trailhead, 1 mile north of Iron Creek Horse Camp on Forest Road 345. Route: Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7 and Black Elk Peak Trail No. 9. Distance of hike: 13 miles out-and-back. Tips: “The rugged Grizzly Bear Creek Trail climbs sharply for a 1,500-foot elevation gain through the most remote areas of the Black Elk Wilderness,” says a Black Hills National Forest brochure. As noted above, the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail can be hiked as part of a loop with Norbeck Trail No. 3.

Starting point: The Norbeck Trailhead in Custer State Park, about 5 miles east of Sylvan Lake on state Highway 87 (Needles Highway); or the Iron Creek Horse Camp, about 3 miles farther east on Needles Highway and a short drive up Horsethief Lake route Forest Road 345. Starting point: Horsethief Route: Norbeck Trail No. 3 Lake Trailhead, about 2 miles and Black Elk Peak Trail No. 9. west of Mount Rushmore Na-


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tional Memorial on state Highway 244. Route: Horsethief Lake Trail No. 14, Grizzly Bear Creek Trail No. 7, Norbeck Trail No. 3, Black Elk Peak Trail No. 9. Distance of hike: 13 miles out-and-back. Tips: According to a Black Hills National Forest Brochure, the Horsethief Lake trail segment “wanders through granite peaks and twisting spires that poke through the thick forest canopy” and includes two Poet’s Table is a great stop along the way to Black Elk Peak if you saddle-like areas with sweep- take the Little Devils Tower Trail. ing views of the surrounding area. No. 8 and Black Elk Peak Trail horseback riders. To make a No. 9. loop, hike south on Trail No. 9 Willow Creek route Distance of hike: 12 miles from the summit of Black Elk Starting point: The Wil- out-and-back. Peak and then take Lost Cabin low Creek Horse Camp, across Tips: This route leads up Trail No. 2 back to Willow from the Mount Rushmore Black Elk Peak’s northern side, Creek Horse Camp. KOA at Palmer Gulch Resort past a massive granite formaabout 6 miles west of Mount tion known as Elkhorn Moun- Lost Cabin route Rushmore National Memorial tain. Two-thirds of the way up Starting point: Palmer on state Highway 244. to Black Elk Peak is an overlook Creek Trailhead. Drive about Route: Willow Creek Trail and hitching rail popular with a third of a mile west of the

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The trail to Black Elk Peak from Sylvan Lake is heavily traveled, but lesser-known trails offer a great way to get to the summit without the crowds. Mount Rushmore KOA at Palmer Gulch Resort on state Highway 244, and then about a mile on Palmer Creek Road/ County Road 357. Route: Lost Cabin Trail No. 2 and Black Elk Peak Trail No. 9. Distance of hike: 13 miles out-and-back.

Tips: This trail begins with a steep climb and then features many views of Black Elk Peak. To make a loop route, hike north on Trail No. 9 from the summit of Black Elk Peak and then use Willow Creek Trail No. 8 to reconnect with Lost Cabin Trail No. 2 and return to the Palmer Creek Trailhead.

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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

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Tips for fishing spring high water Use these 5 tricks in fast and muddy waters CHRIS HUBER

Journal staff

Each year melting snow and strong rains can bring a rush of water to your favorite fishing creeks. All that dirty water doesn’t mean you have to put down your rod and wait for it to settle. Change your techniques JOURNAL FILE PHOTOS a bit, and you can be fishing Greg Riley fly fishes in Rapid Creek on a sunny Saturday afternoon. through the highest of flows.

casting upstream.

try to really make them see you.

Run deep

Be bright

During high water, trout are concentrated near the bottom of the creek so take your fly to them. Use split-shot weights to bring your line down in the water. Sinking line also works in these areas. Get down to the fish, because it is unlikely they are coming to the surface for you. A double nymph rig can be successful with weights.

Dirty water means brown or dark flies are unlikely to be seen. Use some of your brighter color flies to make you stand out to those trout. Think oranges, yellows and greens.

Size up

Dirty, fast water means the fish’s vision is significantly cut and behind boulders. Search group up. Find these areas and down. Use large flies, size 18 or Pick your spots Raging waters concentrate the creek for those calm areas fish them hard. Let flies settle bigger, to catch the trout’s atfish along banks, in eddies where trout can take a rest and into them; use the current by tention. Also give streamers a

Be safe Most importantly, be careful when you are fishing high water. Rapids can be extremely dangerous and you could be swept off your feet and down river in seconds. You may want to stick to fishing from shore during this time. Bring a buddy with you if possible so you can keep an eye on each other.

Open Year Round | 4 Miles West of Hill City | 605-574-9003 | www.highcountryranch.com


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

Highest SD peaks always alluring Visit the Black Hills’ eight peaks over 7,000 feet SETH TUPPER

Journal staff

From Nicholas Black Elk to George Armstrong Custer, and for scores of lesser-known people before and since, the highest points of the Black Hills have long exerted a magnetic attraction. Maybe it’s the surrounding treeless plains that make the urge to scale the alpine heights more inescapable. And maybe it’s those same flatter expanses that make the view from atop a Black Hills summit so spectacular. The Great Plains, so empty and immense, are never more awe-inspiring than when seen from a Black Hills peak on a clear day. Yet getting to the top of a peak is a challenge that not everyone has the time, ability or inclination to undertake. We drove, hiked or scrambled to the summit of the eight recognized peaks in the Black Hills that stand at least 7,000 feet above sea level. We drove on gravel roads, bumped along faint dirt tracks, hiked marked trails and plunged into wild areas of the Black Hills National Forest as we summited peaks both grand and pedestrian. Sometimes, the view from the top was the reward; other times, just finding the peak was a victory. See for yourself by visiting the eight peaks.

No. 8, Sylvan Peak, 7,000 feet

CHRIS HUBER, JOURNAL STAFF

Sylvan Peak offers great views of Black Elk Peak and parts of Custer State Park to the east. The peak is marked by a large cairn. Set a treadmill to its highest incline and walk on it while someone throws waist-high obstructions in your path every few seconds, and you’ll have some idea what it’s like to pick and scramble and clamber your way up to Sylvan Peak. There is no trail to the top. There is only a ridge line littered with innumerable fallen pine trees, rock outcrops, and a vertical gain of 773 feet compressed into a distance of a mile. Fortunately, the base of the peak is easier to access than the summit. Drive eighttenths of a mile west of Sylvan

Lake Lodge on Highway 87 in Custer State Park and find a gravel turnout on the south side of the road. Park there, walk around the gate and hike the gravel road beyond it. The road winds upward and around several switchbacks and terminates at the site of an underground water tank. Here and there, you may glimpse something resembling a path that others have trod. But you won’t see the summit, which will be obstructed for most of the hike. Just stick to the ridge line and keep heading toward the next high point you can see. Watch for several “false

summits” along your journey. Sylvan Peak is marked by a large cairn. After the heart-pounding hike (it’s 45 minutes to the top at a brisk pace, despite being only a mile in distance), you’ll be glad to sit down and enjoy the scenery. The view is as good as any other — and more private than most — in the central Black Hills. Easily discernible landmarks on a clear day include Sylvan Lake and Black Elk Peak close to the east, Mount Coolidge (topped by manmade towers) farther away to the southeast, and the tip of

Terry Peak on the northern horizon.

No. 7, Crows Nest Peak, 7,048 feet Were it not for a pioneering surveyor who chose to drive a copper bolt into it in 1897, Crows Nest Peak would have little to offer modern-day adventure seekers. But, because of that decision 120 years ago, an orienteering challenge awaits atop the otherwise ho-hum high point in the limestone plateau region of the western Black Hills. Looking for those relics


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is part of the fun of a trek to Crows Nest Peak, which is in a remote, undeveloped and quiet area of the Black Hills, about four miles east of the Wyoming state line. There is no hiking trail to the thickly forested summit, or much of a view from the top. Though the peak’s elevation is listed by many sources as a lofty 7,048 feet above sea level — which ranks it seventh among the eight highest recognized points in the Black Hills — there really isn’t a peak atop Crows Nest Peak. It’s more of a flat hilltop that rises modestly from a surrounding baseline elevation of about 6,700 feet. First drive to Hill City and then out past Deerfield Lake via Deerfield Road. Veer left off the highway onto a gravel road known as Forest Road 110, or West Deerfield Road/Upper Castle Creek Road. From there drive eight miles

to a four-way intersection of gravel roads where we turned left onto Forest Road 117, also known as Boles Canyon Road. Drive a little more than two miles on 117 and kept a close watch for Forest Service Road 266, a barely visible dirt path that splits off to the left. Next, drive on 266 for about a halfmile until we came to an intersection with another dirt path that was marked with a barely noticeable sign as Forest Road 266.1A. We parked there and got out of the car to begin our hike to the peak in a northeasterly direction. If those directions sounded confusing, it’s because they are. Bring a good map, and even with a good map, you might get lost.

only a winter recreation destination, you’re missing one of the best summertime views from the most easily accessible of the eight highest named summits in the Black Hills. There is a fire lookout tower atop Terry Peak, and the tower is topped by a large wooden viewing platform. The Black Hills panorama seen from there is rivaled perhaps only by the one atop Black Elk Peak, the state’s highest point. Terry Peak is officially listed at 7,064 feet. As the only one of the eight peaks in the far northern portion of the Hills, Terry Peak towers over its surroundings. And unlike other peaks on the list, which can require bumpy drives on dirt roads, long or short hikes, off-trail No. 6, Terry Peak, bushwhacking or careful navigation to reach, Terry Peak is 7,064 feet situated at the end of an easyIf you think Terry Peak is to-find, well-maintained

gravel road. At the top, anybody willing and able to climb several dozen stairs can get to the lookout tower, and a couple of dozen more stairs lead up to the viewing deck. The journey starts with a drive to Lead. Five miles south of the city on U.S. Highway 85, turn north onto Terry Peak Summit Road. Drive three miles to a parking area near the summit, where there are several communications towers. Then get out of your vehicle and climb the stairs to the lookout tower and to the platform atop it.

No. 5, Crooks Tower, 7,137 feet In 1876, Lt. Col. Richard Irving Dodge proudly reported that the surveyors who accompanied his 1875 expedition named the highest point in the Black Hills for his command-

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ing officer. The officer was Brig. Gen. George Crook, and Dodge called the peak “Crook’s Monument.” Dodge was probably disappointed, then — and Crook even more so — when four years later the expedition’s lead scientists published a separate report that promoted Harney Peak to the highest point in the Black Hills and demoted Crook’s Monument (which the scientists alternately called “Crook Tower” or “Crook’s Tower”) to No. 2. Today, Dodge and Crook would probably be even more disappointed to learn that the passage of time has confirmed Harney Peak — which has since been renamed Black Elk Peak — as the highest point in the Black Hills at an officially listed 7,242 feet above sea level, while Please see PEAKS, Page A14

Rustic Houses and Cabins, RV Park, tent sites, horse camp and guided trail rides, ATV Rental, 100’s of miles of trails available right from your door step. A well Stocked Trout stream runs through the ranch, and for hikers, just a short walk to the Centennial Trail Head. A general store and full service restaurant to meet all your vacation needs

605-578-2708 www.nemoguestranch.com email: nemoguestranch@hotmail.com


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Peaks

Odakota and Bear mountains, which will mentioned soon. The best place to enjoy the view is from atop the natural limestone pedestal at the cliff’s edge, but it takes a little scrambling to get up there, and the top of the pedestal is only about the size of a surfboard. In other words, be careful, and don’t climb onto the pedestal if you’re afraid of heights.

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the “solitary rock” now known as Crooks Tower has fallen to the fifth-highest recognized summit in the Black Hills, at 7,137 feet. Crooks Tower is about 50 miles west-northwest of Rapid City and the most direct route from Rapid City goes through the small community of Rochford, via state Highway 44, U.S. 385 and Rochford Road. At the T-intersection in Rochford, take a left and drive nearly a mile to an intersection where the road splits. Instead of following South Rochford Road to the left, stay right on Rochford Road, aka Forest Road 231. You’ll see no more paved roads for the rest of the trip — just gravel and dirt. Go about 14 miles west from Rochford on Forest Road 231, heading into a remote area with grazing cattle and occasionally visible wildlife, until you reach the turn for a road marked on Forest Service maps as 189.4. Turn onto that road and go south for about two miles until you spot a dirt track marked on Forest Service maps as 189.4A. If the track is in good condition, you can drive on it; otherwise, get out and walk. At that point, you’ll be only a half-mile from the summit and nearly 7,000 feet in elevation, having gained about 3,500 feet during the drive from Rapid City. As you head up the incline toward the summit of Crooks Tower, you’ll first encounter a rocky ledge on your right with a view toward a large area of dead trees. Don’t be fooled by the presence of the cairn, which typically marks the location of a summit. The real summit is about 200 yards farther up the dirt track.

No. 3, Bear Mountain, 7,166 feet

CHRIS HUBER PHOTOS, JOURNAL STAFF

Because of tree growth, Crows Nest Peak no longer has a sweeping view, but geodetic survey markers dating to 1897 can be found there. Journal reporter Seth Tupper is shown here exploring the site.

No. 4, Green Mountain, 7,164 feet The view from Green Mountain is so exquisite and yet so little-known that the peak’s existence should probably be concealed from the masses, so as not to ruin it. Without a designated nonmotorized trail to the summit, the mountain is unknown to even some avid hikers, and the mountain is literally “off the map” in terms of the official Black Hills National Forest motor-vehicle use maps, which do not include a place marker for it. The mountain does show up on snowmobile trail maps for the Black Hills, but under the informal name of “Clinton Overlook” rather than the official “Green Mountain.” Go nearly three miles on Six Mile Road/Forest Road 301 until you spot a dirt track on your right marked as Forest Road 301.1R. You could drive

Stevie Coomes of Sioux Falls looks out on the view from the top of the Terry Peak fire tower in May, 2017. onto that road if it’s in good condition, but we recommend parking and walking. It’s only 1.6 miles and 275 vertical feet to the summit from there. Walk north on 301.1R until you come to a fork where the path to the right is marked as 2B. That’s a snowmobile trail, and it’s your route to the summit.

On the summit, the view is not only amazing but is also a lesson in Black Hills topography. Rather than a peak in the traditional sense of the word, Green Mountain is really a cliff at the edge of a high limestone plateau. The edge of the plateau extends for many miles and has several notable high points, including nearby

Bear Mountain makes an outstanding vantage point because it is on the rim of a plateau bounded by limestone cliffs. West of the cliffs is the rural high country of the Black Hills, where grassy meadows abound, and where cattle and wildlife outnumber tourists. East of the plateau lies the more populated and touristtraveled granite interior of the Hills. The plateau is so elevated in the Bear Mountain area that three of the eight recognized peaks standing 7,000 feet or higher in the Black Hills are located along a roughly sixmile stretch of the plateau’s edge. One of the three is Bear Mountain, the third-highest peak in the Black Hills, from which the second-highest peak in the Black Hills, Odakota Mountain, can be seen about four miles to the north. Another couple of miles to the northwest is the fourth-highest peak, Green Mountain. To visit Bear Mountain yourself, you’ll need to drive 50 miles southwest of Rapid City. For the easiest route, take U.S. Highways 16 and 385 through Hill City and past Crazy Horse Memorial, and take a right on Medicine Mountain Road. You’ll be on gravel the rest of the way. After about three-fourths of a mile on Medicine Mountain Road, veer left onto Custer


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

Limestone Road. Go about three miles on Custer Limestone Road, and veer right onto County Road 285. After about a half-mile on 285, go left on Elliot Road/ County Road 292. That will take you about four miles to a T-intersection, where you’ll turn right on Forest Road 291. It’s about a mile on that road until a right turn onto Forest Road 293, which will take you The Crooks Tower summit is a flat limestone outcrop in southern to the summit. Lawrence County.

No. 2, Odakota Mountain, 7,210 Feet If not for the actions of a South Dakota woman 49 years ago, the peak now recognized as the second-highest in the Black Hills might be nameless and unknown. But because of that woman and a letter she wrote to a U.S. senator, the peak is now known as Odakota Mountain, and its

elevation — 7,206 feet above sea level, give or take several feet, depending on the source — ranks behind only Black Elk Peak among the highest named places in the Black Hills and all of South Dakota. The most direct route is U.S. Highway 16 to Hill City and then Deerfield Road, followed by a succession of gravel and dirt roads: East Slate Road/ Forest Road 300, Medicine

Mountain Road/Forest Road 297, Six Mile Road/Forest Road 301 and Long Draw Road/Forest Road 693. Go about a half-mile on Long Draw Road/Forest Road 693 and park at a pullout along the roadside. The summit of Odakota Mountain is only about 500 yards due east from there, and although there is no trail and there is some barbedwire fence and some downed

trees to contend with, it’s all public land in the Black Hills National Forest. While you’re on the summit, be sure to look for a pile of stones — called a cairn — and look inside the pile for a can containing a piece of paper known as a summit register.

No. 1, Black Elk Peak, 7,242 feet Standing on top of Black Elk Peak, the state’s highest point, you’ll enjoy an incredible view of the Black Hills and surrounding plains and see a historic stone fire lookout tower. While hiking up the steps to the tower, look closely and you’ll notice a small plaque fronting the entombed ashes of Valentine McGillycuddy, who made the first recorded ascent of the summit in 1875 and went on to live a colorful life that included a stint as mayor of Rapid City.

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Some of the signage on the mountain may still say “Harney Peak,” which was the name given to the mountain during the 1850s in honor of Army Gen. William S. Harney. Because the Black Hills are an important spiritual center to many Native Americans, and because Harney was a leader in deadly military campaigns against Native Americans, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names approved a request last year to rename the mountain to Black Elk Peak. The new name honors Nicholas Black Elk, a late Sioux holy man who is famous for the spiritual teachings he related to the author John Neihardt for the 1932 book “Black Elk Speaks.” The trails to the top are numerous, but the most popular starts at Sylvan Lake. The trail gains 1,100 feet in elevation over the 3.5 mile hike to the summit.


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

JOURNAL FILE

A group of friends jump into Pactola Reservoir from the rocks at Jenny Gulch.

Add these 10 places to your Black Hills

OUTDOOR BUCKET LIST

JOURNAL STAFF

No. 1, Jenny Gulch Jenny Gulch is one of the lesserknown hideaways at Pactola Reservoir. The area features two entrances to the water, one right next to the parking area (which is ideal to launch kayaks and canoes or to do some on-shore fishing), and one just over a small hill that is ideal for swimming and cliff jumping.

Like all of Pactola, the area features numerous scenic hikes, most of which require little athletic skill. If you’re swimming, be aware that even on the warmest summer days, the water stays very cool. Getting there: From Rapid City, take Jackson Boulevard toward Pactola Reservoir. Jackson will turn into S.D. Highway 44. Continue until the road dead ends, about 15 miles. Take a right

onto U.S. 385. After 1.5 miles, take a left onto Silver City Road. Travel about 3 miles, turn left onto the gravel road for Jenny Gulch. Expert tip: If you’re heading out in the heat of summer, be prepared to encounter pontoons holed up on the larger Jenny Gulch inlet. While they don’t limit swimming opportunities, the music is often loud, people are drinking and the tranquility of the area

can be compromised.

No. 2, Devil’s Bathtub Devil’s Bathtub, in Spearfish Canyon, won’t be found on any official tourist destination list, but it’s not necessarily a well-hidden local secret, either. Visitors should count on getting wet even without plans to take a dip in the “tub,” which is actually a pool made from swirling erosion of the


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

“tub,” which is actually a pool made from swirling erosion of the rock formations. Breathtaking stands of aspen and birch trees highlight the pines along the trail. The pool used to be deep enough for diving from the surrounding rocks, but sediment has left the water only about 4 feet deep. Getting there: From Rapid City, take Interstate 90 to the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway exit, then proceed south on Highway 14A. A few miles past Bridal Veil Falls, look for a turnoff called Cleopatra Place. There is a small gravel parking lot before a bridge. Hike across the bridge over Spearfish Creek and follow the trail to the right. The hike, on well-worn trails along Sunshine Creek, takes about 45 minutes and crosses the creek several times, so plan on at least getting your feet wet. Expert tip: The land around the parking area is private property, so park properly and tread lightly as you start the hike. Watch for brown trout jumping their way up the creek and also watch for the Wedding Tree, a birch and pine

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that have grown together. valley. Talk a walk around the grounds to see other No. 3, Meeker examples of historic ranching. Ranch Meeker Ranch is part of a historic homestead nestled in a scenic green valley 5 miles east of Custer. Frank Cunningham Meeker homesteaded the area near Willow Creek in the 1880s and the cabin was completed in 1916. The 127-year-old ranch house is one of the few remaining examples of historic ranching from the era, and is worth a trip to feel the force of history that washes over visitors. Getting there: From Rapid City, take U.S. 16 West to Custer. Turn east onto Montgomery Street and continue driving until the name changes to Willow Creek Road. As you continue driving, the road will eventually turn into a dirt road. Park at the locked Forest Service gate at the end of the road and hike in half a mile to get to the ranch. Expert tip: Although the ranch house is one of Meeker Ranch’s largest draws, the 278-acre area has several other structures scattered across the

No. 4, Victoria Canyon Victoria Canyon features towering limestone cliffs that provide onlookers with a unique setting below the walls of a narrow limestone canyon. Victoria Creek cuts through the canyon, creating small waterfalls to add to the limestone walls, which can reach up to 80 feet in height. It’s a super spot for rock climbing, but also for just feeling like a small part of a great big natural world. Getting there: From CHRIS HUBER, JOURNAL STAFF Rapid City, take Sheri- Victoria Canyon is a rock climbing area southwest of Rapid City. The high, dan Lake Road west out overhanging, limestone canyon walls provide difficult routes for climbers. of Rapid City and turn north on Norsemen Lane. Take this road for about 100 yards until you get to National Forest Service Road 150. Stay on the dirt road for IS IN about a mile and a half, then turn right at Road 1E. Stay on the road past the meadow for about 3 miles. From there you will have to hike the trail into the canyon.

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List From A17

Expert tip: Victoria Canyon is often regarded as a premiere destination for rock climbers, but the routes can be quite difficult and dangerous. It is best to try to climb the canyon only if you’re an advanced climber. Also, be prepared to get wet. The creek flows through the canyon in the spring and summer, so you might get wet getting to the climbing routes in the canyon.

No. 5, Poet’s Table Poet’s Table is a well-kept local secret, one of those places that intentionally doesn’t get a lot of publicity to protect the pristine spot in the southern Black Hills from overuse or desecration. It’s well worth the effort to find this unsung gem, where one can drink in a

BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

leaning birch tree that points up the slope. Follow the gully up the slope, while staying to the right of the highest peak. At the top, climb over some rocks on the left and the green-painted wooden table, cabinet and chairs should be visible in a small alcove in the rocks. Expert tip: The writings of those who have been there before, some dating back many years, are left in a simple wooden bureau accompanied JOSH MORGAN, JOURNAL STAFF by a table and chairs where you Curtis Bailey jumps across the creek at Devil’s Bathtub on Saturday, can rest, enjoy your packed-in lunch and recover a bit from May 23, 2015 in Spearfish Canyon. the hike. breathtaking view of the Nee- west 37 miles west to Sylvan dles formation, hear and feel Lake. At the furthest south- No. 6, Hippie Hole the wind wafting through the east corner of the day-use It’s easy to imagine what fragrant pines, and then leave parking lot, find the Harney drew the hippies for whom the your feelings of the moment in Peak Trail 4 trailhead. The Hippie Hole is named: secluan informal “guest register” of Little Devil’s Tower spur is sion, a waterfall, and a natulocated along Trail 4. About ral pool below. Today, it’s not spiral notebooks. Getting there: From Rapid five minutes along the Little uncommon to see families and City, Take U.S. Highway 16 Devil’s Tower Trail, look for a people of all ages enjoying the

Hippie Hole, which is off the beaten path. Getting there: From Rapid City, drive U.S. Highway 16 for about 12 miles to Rockerville and take the exit onto Main Street. Turn left (south) onto South Rockerville Road and follow that to Foster Gulch Road, a gravel road where you’ll turn left. Keep driving and stay to the right through a couple of forks, and eventually you’ll arrive at a parking area. Hike the dirt trail from there for about 15 minutes to reach Battle Creek, and then go left (south) to find the waterfall. Expert tip: Reaching the Hippie Hole requires an adventurous spirit and can involve scrambling over some boulders and dodging poison ivy. Be patient and careful when walking in. Many people like to cliff dive into the pool, but it is dangerous and not recommended.


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

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No. 7, Cathedral Spires With a view that could be categorized as creating a religious experience, the Cathedral Spires in Custer State Park couldn’t have been given a more fitting name. Massive gray spires poke through the forest landscape in Custer State Park and stand together in a glorious granite-filed ridge line. The rocky outcrops here serve as a wonderful backdrop for hikers looking to get out of the car while traveling the Needles Highway and offer some of the best traditional-style rock climbing the Black Hills have to offer. Getting there: From Rapid City, take U.S. 16 south to Hill City, and continue to Sylvan Lake. Turn onto the Needles Highway (S.D. Highway 87) and go 2.5 miles east to a small parking lot for the trail head. Expert tip: Stretch your legs on the steep 1.5mile hike from the Needles Highway up to the spires. The hike ends in a lush valley surrounded by behemoth granite rocks. Don’t forget to take your camera.

No. 8, Cement Ridge If you want to enjoy one of the best views of South Dakota’s Black Hills, you need to take a trip just across the border to Wyoming. Cement Ridge Lookout is one mile west of the border and at 6,647 feet is the secondhighest peak in the Black Hills. Only Black Elk

CHRIS HUBER, RAPID CITY JOURNAL

Stacks of rock built up by gold miners along ridges provide the path for hikers on the Flume Trail. lenging than walking up. But bring your lunch, sit CHRIS HUBER, JOURNAL STAFF back, and relax after that climb. You can recall the The Cement Ridge lookout tower was built 75 years ago by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Black Hills National Forest officials say it’s an important tool for incredible vista while sipping a cold drink. helping fight wildfires. Peak, which has an elevation of 7,242 feet, stands taller. From Cement Ridge Lookout, there are clear views of Crow Peak, Inyan Kara Mountain, Spearfish Peak, Terry Peak, Old Baldy Mountain and Custer Peak. This may be one of the prettiest spots in the Black Hills; in spring and summer, it explodes with colorful wildflowers, and in fall, the aspen leaves put on a dramatic show of yellow and orange that cannot be beat. Getting there: Due to its remote location, U.S. Forest Service officials suggest getting a map before traveling to Cement Ridge. But from Rapid City, go north to Interstate 90 to Spearfish. Exit onto U.S. Highway 85 and go south to Alternate 14A, and head south on Forest Service Road 134, then go west (right) on 105, turn north (right) on 804 and north (right) again on 850. Expert tip: Due to its

lofty status, a two-story wooden tower was built there in 1921. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the current tower in 1940-1941. In 1993, the Cement Ridge Fire Tower was listed in the National Historic Lookout Register. It is still manned during fire season.

No. 9, Timon Cave Timon Cave is a seethrough cavern overlooking a canyon in the Black Hills near Spearfish. Visitors crawl through a small entrance hole and at the back of the cave is a much larger hole with a spectacular view. Finding the entrance is difficult enough, but then there’s the hike up the steep hill it sits atop. Going back down is not exactly easy, either, but the view out the back door makes it all worth it — it is one unique and memorable view. Getting there: From Rapid City, take Interstate 90 about 40 miles

to Spearfish, Exit 14. Turn left onto North 27th Street. Turn right onto East Colorado Boulevard. Turn left onto Spearfish Canyon Highway. Follow the highway to Roughlock Falls Road; turn right. About 4 miles from Roughlock Falls is Timon Campground. The hill to climb to get to the cave is across the road from the entrance to the campground. Expert tip: Be careful on the hike back downhill from the cave; it is steep and more chal-

No. 10, Flume trail A trek through the central Black Hills historic Flume Trail hearkens back to the 1880s gold boom of the region. Some 130 years ago, the earthen Rockerville Flume channeled water along a 20-mile stretch of the Black Hills, from Spring Creek west of Sheridan Lake to several booming placer mines near Rockerville, on U.S. Highway 16. Now, the 11-mile Flume Trail — trail number 50, a National Recreational

Trail that includes a 3-mile loop — follows much the original flume bed, which operated until 1885 and allowed miners to collect more than $20 million in gold. Artifacts still dot the long-abandoned mining operation, and visitors are asked to leave them be. Getting there: From Rapid City, take Sheridan Lake Road west to U.S. Highway 385. Take 385 south to the Sheridan Lake campgrounds. Follow the Flume Trail signage to the southeast shore of the lake. Expert tip: Afternoon thunderstorms often come on unexpectedly in the area. Hike early in the morning and don’t forget to pack rain gear.


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

Angostura features pristine beaches and quality fishing ISAAC ZARECKI

Hot Springs Star

Angostura Reservoir, south of Hot Springs, South Dakota is home to two state recreation areas and endless opportunities for fun. Angostura Recreation Area and Sheps Canyon Recreation Area both sit on the banks of the Angostura Reservoir. The body of water is part of the Cheyenne River and is formed by a dam on the north end of the reservoir. Both recreation areas boast hiking and biking trails, bird watching, fishing, camping, and the ability to rent canoes, kayaks and paddle boards. Sheps Canyon offers horse trails to those interested. Angostura offers visitors the opportunity to play volleyball, horse shoes, disc golf and swim at the beach. In total, the reservoir has 36 miles of shoreline. According to the State of South Dakota, the average depth is 29 feet. When the reservoir is full, it can reach depths of 75 feet. Fishing is very popular at Angostura. Walleye, smallmouth bass, crappie, and also supports northern pike, largemouth bass, perch and bluegill are all popular catches. Several annual fishing tournaments are held on the reservoir throughout the year. Several Nature Day Camps are hosted at Angostura Recreational Area. These events are held throughout the summer and promote outdoor experiences and education among children. On the Saturday of Labor Day week-

end, the Southern Hills Triathlon is held at Angostura Recreation Area. It offers novice an seasoned athletes a chance to compete in several races including: spring triathlon, Olympic triathlon, duathlon, youth triathlon and team triathlons at both sprint and Olympic distances. Angostura Reservoir has something to offer people of all ages and outdoor persuasions all summer long.

ABOVE: Angostura Reservoir’s name has Spanish roots meaning narrows. LEFT: Maddie Bloemendaal, left, and Ashly Hendrickson, both of Rapid City, enjoy the Breakers Beach at Angostura Reservoir a couple years back. JOURNAL FILE PHOTOS


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

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Cold Brook a secluded Southern Hills

OUTDOOR PARADISE ISAAC ZARECKI

Hot Springs Star

Cold Brook Recreation Area is located about two miles north of Hot Springs. This quiet, secluded area is an outdoor lover’s dream. The Cold Brook Reservoir sits at the center of the property. This body of water is formed by the Cold Brook Dam; an earthen dam is 127 feet tall and 925 feet wide. The structure was built in 1953 as a flood prevention measure. The lake formed by the dam is a popular fishing spot for locals and tourist alike. It boasts a number of pan fish species along

with trout and pike. Visitors can canoe or kayak the clear waters or fish from shore. Swimming is also popular and a sandy beach is nestled in the west side of the lake. Picnicking and camping are also popular with visitors. The property boasts 13 campsites along with multiple picnic areas and playground equipment. Campsites are available from May 15 to September 15. Campers can register on site. Wildlife viewing is always an opportunity in the Black Hills. Whitetail and mule deer frequent the area along with turkeys, birds

of prey and many other animals. A lookout is perched on the east side of the lake. It allows for drive up access and spectacular views from high above the lake. An archery range sits on the hillside east of the entrance road. Established in 1973 by the Fall River Archers, the range is open to the public for free. It has 14 targets. Each target has multiple rages it can be shot from, varying from 10 to 70 yards. The Fall River Archers host a group shoot every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the range from May to SeptemCHRIS HUBER, JOURNAL STAFF ber. The public is welcome to Cold Brook Reservoir is a great place to fish or go for a swim. these events.

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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

How a ‘vagabond’ created Poet’s Table Story of John Raeck could inspire respect for quiet Black Hills site SETH TUPPER

Journal staff

When John Raeck showed up at Sylvan Lake Resort looking for work during the 1960s, he found a job — and a home. The tall, rawboned loner, who was then in his sixth decade of life, fell in love with the forested mountains and granite formations of Custer State Park. He took off on long hikes, began writing verse, nicknamed himself The Vagabond Poet and discovered an ideal spot for solitary inspiration — a place known today as Poet’s Table, where many people visit but of which few know the history. High up and over the granite-studded terrain east of Sylvan Lake, about 6,600 feet above sea level, Raeck found a cool and silent patch of shade under a natural recess in a rock face. Like a giant viewfinder, the darkened nook framed a far-reaching view of the southeastern Black Hills. Eventually, Raeck apparently hauled lumber to the high-elevation alcove and built a plain and sturdy table, a pair of chairs and a couple of small benches. Soon he was distributing calling cards that described the site as The Poets’ Desk at Paradise Retreat, “Est. 1968.” His placement of the apostrophe after the “s” in “Poets” — indicating the place belonged to all poets, not just one — was a subtle invitation, and other vagabonds began to show up. He supplied a box for them to leave their poems behind. For decades, Raeck’s retreat remained a little-known but unofficially sanctioned Custer State Park attraction, as awareness of its existence spread slowly by word of mouth. The place came to be known simply as Poet’s Table, and although the table and chairs have been moved a short distance from

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS HUBER, JOURNAL STAFF

John Raeck created what is now known as Poet’s Table in Custer State Park. Hundreds of visitors have sat at the desk and written poetry, just as Raeck did. their original location, they appear as though they could be Raeck’s original handiwork. In recent years, smartphones and social media have brought more visitors to Poet’s Table. With every new arrival, word of the existence and exact location of the site can spread to hundreds and even thousands more people who are eager to find the quirky and hidden gem, which is not on maps and has no signs pointing hikers to its location. The trail to Poet’s Table, which branches off from a trail to Little Devils Tower, has become worn enough that it’s easy to spot. Some problems have accompanied the site’s growing popularity. The rock wall at Poet’s Table is now defaced by graffiti from hundreds of hands, and

a bookcase beside the table is stuffed full of notebooks scrawled with writings both profound and profane. Last month, Custer State Park officials removed a makeshift shelter nearby that someone had built from logs and branches. The state of the modern Poet’s Table would probably sadden Raeck, who penned this ode to his hideaway: “A castle that secluded lies Beyond the Gates of Paradise. A soul-restoring mountain ark In South Dakota’s Custer Park; Where time and life are reconciled, And man-of-years is like a child.” A copy of that poem, printed on one of Raeck’s calling cards, has been kept all these years by Donald “Nick” Clifford and his wife, Carolyn, of Keystone.

Nick, is the last surviving member of the crew that carved Mount Rushmore. He also served in World War II and then ran a dry-cleaning business in Custer before submitting a winning bid for the concessionaire contract at Sylvan Lake. Clifford’s first summer running the resort was in 1957. Raeck, meanwhile, grew up in rural Two Rivers, Wis., and farmed with his brother, Edwin. Neither married, and Edwin died in 1960. Raeck sold their farm and worked two years for the purchaser, and then headed west. Those details are among the few that were eventually printed in Raeck’s newspaper obituary. Clifford valued older workers at Sylvan Lake because of the stability and maturity they added to his summertime


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BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

staff of mostly college-age employees. When Raeck came looking for a job during the early 1960s, Clifford put him to work at the gas and service station that was then a fixture at Sylvan Lake. The Cliffords remember Raeck as honest — one of the most honest people they ever knew — and dependable, with few material wants or possessions. Raeck continued to work at the lake into his mid-70s. One of his poems, “The Auditorium,” reflected the comical tribulations of an elderly bachelor living among rambunctious youths in what was then a dormitory-style facility. “... The inmates carouse Past midnight till three. They mess up the house, Leave cleaning to me. “Their bedrooms are strewn With clothing and brash. But once in a noon They clean up the trash.

CHRIS HUBER, JOURNAL STAFF

John Raeck created The Poets’ Desk at Paradise Retreat in 1968 while he was working at Sylvan Lake. “As morals go down From year unto year, There’s hardly a clown We haven’t had here …” Raeck spent several winters in California, partly to be near a pastor who moved there

from Rapid City, according to the Cliffords. But according to Carolyn Clifford, “John couldn’t take California.” Raeck made that clear in a poem titled “Exodus California.”

“I’ve seen California, And first I was glad, But close observation Has left me most sad. “I found, to my sorrow, That here is a state Where fond expectation Is turned into hate. “Her streets are deficient In sidewalks and drains, And quickly they’re flooded By moderate rains. “Her mornings are hazy, And all summer long No sunrise inspires The mockingbird’s song. “Her landowners worship The god of inflation, Expecting increase For mere speculation. “Her standard of living Is highest on earth, And people are spending For all they are worth …” Clifford gave up his concessionaire’s lease at Sylvan Lake after 1967, but Raeck continued to work there until 1976, after

which he moved to Spearfish. Raeck died there in 1982 at the age of 81. The Cliffords kept some of Raeck’s poems, along with some letters he sent them and a photo of Raeck looking every bit the old bachelor-farmer in a pair of jeans and a denim jacket over a flannel shirt. After reading recently about the unauthorized structure that was removed at Poet’s Table, and about the graffiti there, the Cliffords decided to share their memories of The Vagabond Poet and his Poets’ Desk at Paradise Retreat. They figure people need to know something of the love that the father of Poet’s Table had for the place. “I would hope they would treat it with respect,” Carolyn said, “and not destroy it.” Contact Seth Tupper at seth. tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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| SUNDAY, MAY 13, 2018

BLACK HILLS OUTDOORS GUIDE

Black Hills Outdoor Guide 2018  
Black Hills Outdoor Guide 2018