Friday, 5 September 2014

The Black Hills, Deadwood, Devils Tower, Cheyenne and on to The Ranch

The walk up Harney Peak

A busy few days with lots of driving has been the theme recently, but now we’ve arrived on our ‘housesit’, which is looking after a ranch in Colorado for a week. There’s chickens (I’ve already collected four freshly laid eggs today, still warm!), peacocks, goats, dogs, cats, an orchard – and a bear who occasionally visits to feast on the apples, all set in about 13,000acres, with a sandstone crag, a creek and an old stagecoach trail – it’s fabulous and I’m really excited! The next entry is going to be full of stuff!

The rock is granite with these thin layers of see-through mica
The deer we saw on the way
We’ve only just arrived here, but to get here we’ve driven nearly 500 miles in two days, 450 of them in a day. Our last day at the Horsethief Campsite near Hill City in the Black Hills of Dakota was to be a hike up nearby Harney Peak, a 7242 ft (2207m) peak that starts at about 6100 ft by the very picturesque Sylvan Lake, just a short drive from our camp site with a $15 entrance fee into Custer State Park. Harney Peak is a very popular walk, being known as the highest point between the Rockies and the European Pyrenees, but as we went up on the Tuesday after the long Labour Day weekend (it’s the first Monday in September), most people had gone home, so it was relatively quiet. 

The easy scramble up Little Devils Tower
The view of Harney Peak from Little Devils Tower
There are a number of ways up, but we chose to go up to Little Devils Tower first, which at the top is an easy scramble to the summit of a rock tower for great views of the amazing Needles, which is a fabulous climbing venue (Roger lent us a climbing guide, but no time which was a real pity as they looked amazing) and of Harney Peak. The way on to Harney Peak is not straight on from Little Devils Tower as we first thought, there’s a huge drop down vertical cliffs as we found out when we ventured towards the edge looking for a way down. It looks a bit steep we thought, so back tracked to a fork in the path to take track number 4 to the summit – good choice we thought when we saw the vertical face! Blue sky and hot sun, but not too hot, it was bearable and we made good time, rounding the last corner to find a metal staircase and proper steps leading up to a substantial stone built look-out tower, complete with rooms, a terrace and its own small reservoir and dam. It’s apparently used for a fire lookout point, having commanding panoramic views of maybe 20 miles all around. 

the amazing needles climbing area
the view from Harney Peak summit
And the lookout tower that's built there
Apparently you can see the back of Mount Rushmore from here, but as neither we, nor anyone else knew what the back of the mountain looked like, we didn’t know which it was. Good views anyway and the walk back down was equally as good, particularly as we were going downhill! You can also go up on horseback and we made a stop just down from the summit where seven horses were tied up kept company by two of the riders, while the others went up. Jackie of course had to have a stroke and discussion with the two women revealed that we must drive along the needle highway as they thought it was the highlight so, after getting back to the car we did just that.

Jackie has an animal encounter
That's Little Devils Peak from Harney Peak. We first thought the route went straight on, until we realised the face is vertical. We didn't know that until we stood right on the edge and looked down! "This can't be right" we thought!
Sylvan Lake at the start/end of the Harney Peak walk
Popularly known as the eye of the needle
It’s a fairly narrow, twisting road through the tall, needle like towers of rock with six tunnels, some barely wide enough for a vehicle, with just spectacular scenery and suitable parking places for photos and short walks. It just so happened that two of the tunnels faced directly towards the presidential sculptures on Mount Rushmore, so as you drive through the dark tunnel you just see George Washington and the others looking back at you in the bright light at the end. Coincidence or careful planning of tunnel digging? Who knows!

An interesting stop along the narrow road
And the narrowest of the tunnels
We had so much more we would like to have done, but time was pressing so, on Wednesday morning we were up and away from the campsite at about 8:30am, after watching Mike, the little red squirrel run up the pine tree by our cabin, collect a cone, dash down, over the rocks, tree stumps and off into the distance, only to reappear running back, up the same tree, collect another cone and back to his home, returning time after time!

Not a bad view through a tunnel!
Deadwood main street
Our first stop of the day was at Deadwood, just up the road. It’s a bit of a gambling town (as it always has been) and lives on its reputation, but we just had to stop and take a look, but as we had a long way to go we only had an hour. It turns out that Deadwood burned to the ground in 1879, so everything dates from then, which is a pity as Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back of his head by Jack McCall on August 2nd 1876, so it’s all a reconstruction. 

The saloon complete with sawdust on the floor
We visited the spot where he was shot in a saloon whilst playing poker (a hand of black eights and aces is now considered a dead mans hand) and there is a saloon there, very much in the style of the original and there were plenty of pictures and plaques to remind us. They do a shooting reconstruction every day, but we couldn’t spare the time for that, so we drove off to find the graveyard where he is buried alongside Calamity Jane. James Butler Hickok alias ‘Wild Bill’ aged 39 and Martha Jane Burke, alias ‘Calamity Jane’, who died in 1903 aged 51 and asked to be buried alongside Wild Bill (they say he may not have been too impressed had he known!).

Sitting in the spot
Here she is...
Next stop was across the border into Wyoming to visit Devils Tower, a very unusual stack of rock that is probably an old volcanic plug, comprising of magma that has cooled and crystallised into 5, 6 or 7 sided columns that, on cooling, cracked to provide some of the best crack climbing in the USA. It’s a sacred site to American Indians and they don’t agree that climbing should be allowed, but it is and it looks awesome, but too awesome for us!

We didn’t even have time to walk round the base as it was nearly 2:00pm and we had to drive about 400 miles due south to Cheyenne, where we’d booked an airbnb room in a house there. It meant we drove almost from the top of Wyoming to very near the bottom in 4½ hours, arriving in a bit of a daze at 6:30. Wyoming is pretty flat and, as we drove south, relatively featureless, save for the snow fences positioned to stop the road being swamped by snow in winter. You wouldn’t have known it when we were there, we drove from the relative cool of the north (mid to high 60’s F) and saw the temperature gauge in the car at one point hit 101 deg F (38 deg C). In our air conditioned car, feeling cool it didn’t seem possible, until Jackie lowered the window and was hit by what felt like a hot hair dryer blowing at her!

And here he is
It was down to about 80 deg F when we got to Cheyenne and John was very welcoming into his home and couldn’t do enough for us. He’s maybe about 30, has a wife and a 1 year old child, who have moved back to Rhode Island as she wanted to be near to her family. He’s hoping to move there soon, but has things to sort out here first. We met his colleague Zak, who was quiet but pleasant and had the appearance of someone you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of! Feeling ‘spaced out’ after the long drive we just wanted to eat and sleep, but they wanted to take us out to a restaurant and entertain us so, summoning up the energy, off we went, John driving us in his very sporty, big American car, while Zak followed on behind, despite having lost his license! We had a good evening and an amazing slab of meat on a plate which was fabulously tender, all washed down by locally brewed 90 schillings (yes, just like the Scottish beer!). Had an interesting conversation about guns, they both have quite a few, as have most people in Wyoming. Zak reckons that as a result crime, shooting and assaults are very low in Wyoming as everyone knows everyone has a gun and knows what could happen. By comparison with Chicago, he say’s where not many people own guns, crime is much higher. Interesting, but also frightening! They were actually very nice, friendly people and they looked after us well, just a bit unsettling!

Wild Bill's grave and, to the right, Calamity Janes
The classic view of Devils Tower
Early to bed for us, I was wiped out after the drive, but they were both up early and away to work, leaving us to leave and lock up on our own, off to do grocery shopping for our ranch housesit and top up the US mobile phone we have (what a trial that was, but we did it).

We drove only an hour and a half, across the border back into Colorado and followed our SatNav to the ranch set in an isolated area of land on the edge of the Rockies and in a magnificent place. More on that later, it’s time for bed and we need to be up early to feed the goats, let the chickens out, feed the dogs etc etc….  
And here it is a bit closer

1 comment:

  1. Get pics? I am singing the song about " oh the Deadwood train......." Can't wait for your next blog on the ranch xxxx