Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Far away

Several years ago my life went to hell. Important things weren't working, people lied and cheated and I wasn't doing well. On an August afternoon I got in my car with no luggage, no plan, and started driving west.

I drove for about an hour before I had a choice to make. The interstate highway split; to the left was I90 which headed through southern Minnesota to South Dakota and Montana. Going straight I94 went through central Minnesota and North Dakota before it rejoined and became I90 near Billings  Montana.

I didn't know where to go, I just wanted to get away. I pulled to the shoulder of the expressway and sat there for a couple of minutes.

I chose left.

It had been awhile since I had spent any time in South Dakota.

The sun was already getting low as I crossed the Mississippi River and the road climbed the bluffs above LaCrosse Wisconsin.

As I came to the top of the hill and started driving west  across Minnesota and into the sunset, I didn't know where I was going, but it felt good to be there.

Just a few hours later I had passed through the farmlands of southern Minnesota into South Dakota.

The skies were clear and the night uneventful as I continued west. Nothing but a little truck traffic and lots of time to think.

I started to get tired so I stopped to sleep for awhile at a rest area somewhere in South Dakota. I fell asleep lying on a picnic table watching shooting stars cross the night sky.

The sun rose in my rear view mirror. It was a good start to another warm and sunny day.

I decided to stop in Wall South Dakota just because I could. 
There had been signs advertising Wall since Minnesota. Wall is a made up destination for tourists heading west. I had been there before, but that was a long time ago.

So I pulled off the interstate and pulled into a parking space in front of an old west (in a movie sort of way) looking building advertising free ice water. I walked in, got some water, and stretched my legs. It was a spacious building with lots of souvenirs and mementos. Though it was still early, quite a few tourists were milling around and living their dream in Wall South Dakota.

I was glad I had stopped, but I didn't stay long.

There were signs for Badlands National Park but I decided not to visit. I had spent a little time there in August years before and could still remember the 100 degree plus heat.

It wasn't long and I could see the Black Hills in the distance. I could feel the cool breezes and picture the shade from big ponderosa pine trees in my mind. Maybe that's where I would go.

An hour later and I was in Rapid City South Dakota and it was time to make another choice. Go left, and I'd be headed towards Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and the Black Hills. Go right, and I'd be in Wyoming and eventually Yellowstone National Park.

I'd always loved Yellowstone. For me it was good for the soul.

I turned right.

The road I was on, I90 swung north along the edge of the Black Hills. In the distance on the right side I could see a tall hill standing all alone on the open plains.

I didn't know anything about it, but thought maybe I should go there.

As I got closer to the hill there was an exit for Sturgis South Dakota and I got off of the highway.

Every year Sturgis holds a huge motorcycle rally which draws 100s of thousands of people to a town with a normal population of about 6,000. 

I got into Sturgis just after the rally had ended. There were still vendors taking down their tents and storefronts, but very few bikers around. I stopped at a grocery store and got  something to eat and a local newspaper.

The paper said a mountain lion with a radio collar had been hit and killed on the road that led to Bear Butte. The hill I had seen was called Bear Butte.

Since I was a kid I had wanted to see wild mountain lions, live mountain lions, not dead ones. It was good to know they were around.

I found signs leading to Bear Butte and followed them a few miles out of town until I got to the lone peak. I stopped to pay the daily user fee and drove up to a parking lot at the base of the hill.

Although there was a nice visitor center, I only used the bathroom and water fountain to fill two empty water bottles I had with me. 

It was already evening as I took my water and started up the trail towards the summit of Bear Butte. The weather was beautiful and occasionally a cool breeze blew along the edge of the hill.

I stopped often to soak in the amazing views. The Great Plains stretched into the distance flat and unbroken in three directions and to the south rose the bluish colored Black Hills.

Bear Butte had been called Bear Mountain by some Native Americans and from the right direction it resembles the silhouette of a bear. 

As I walked the trail two prairie falcons cried out and coasted along the side of the mountain. A mule deer doe and fawn stood up and started to eat on the hillside below me. I only saw five other people and they were all heading down as I was going up.

As the trail came around the side of the hill I found some rocks jutting out from a ridge line where I could stand, stretch out my arms, and lean into the wind. The wind was blowing strongly enough that It could actually hold me up. For a few minutes I smiled broadly and laughed out loud as the wind whipped against my face and body holding me upright as I leaned forward trusting it not to drop me. 

What a great day!

A little later as I sat facing northwest on the side of the hill I had a 'different' experience. It'd be hard to explain and maybe unbelievable to some. All I can say, is that I got some much needed help from an unlikely source and my perspective had to shift to accommodate what happened. 

At the top of Bear Butte the trail leads to an observation platform. I had the place to myself and the views were outstanding so I stayed at the top until the sun set and then slowly followed the trail back to my vehicle.

I made some notes about what happened and then headed back through Sturgis towards the interstate and home.

I'm sorry to say that I don't have any pictures left from that trip. A couple of years ago malware got the better of my computer and I lost the few images I had made that day with my point and shoot camera.

I did go back to Bear Butte a year later hoping to have a similar experience. I didn't. But I took a small camera and these two photos are from my second trip.

Ponderosa pine trees at the top of Bear Butte.

I noticed that the shadow from the mountain forms an almost perfect pyramid shape on the ground to the east at sunset. Some of the shadow can be seen on the right side of the above photo.

Beautiful sky at sunset from the summit.

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