High Point


The days of summer are winding down here in the Dakotas. The sun has finally started setting at a time that I’m accustomed to and I’m pretty sure we’ve seen the last of the 90-degree days. At least a third of the seasonal employees have already checked out of their apartments to return to school or other jobs and the rest of us are going to hang on for another month. I still can’t believe how much I’ve been able to see and do in the short amount of time I’ve been here. From riding horses to flying over the park to hiking new highpoints; I simply could not have asked for more adventure this summer. And to add to the list, Jacob and I plan to get another highpoint point this weekend on our way to Minneapolis where we’ll watch a Twins game. Anyway, here are some photos from the last few weeks.

A pronghorn (often mistaken as antelope) let us get close and personal during a hike.

Gelatin, anyone?

Dave (left), Sam (middle) and me on a long hike.

An area in the park called Wind Canyon has formations that look like a giant brontosaurus jaw bone to me.

Unfortunately, Fantastic Mr. Fox (my car) is out of commission for a while. His CV-axles ‘fell off’.

I finally made it back to the Rapid City area in SD to hike the highpoint. We chose the long trail from the north side (a 10-mile yo-yo that left from a horse camp in the Black Elk Wilderness). The weather was perfect and we only passed one other hiker along with some people on horseback.

When we stopped for a water break a deer buck wandered right up our path and passed within 10 feet of us, completely unafraid.

The first thing the boys did when we reached the summit was crack open a couple of beers.

Highpoint #25: Harney Peak, SD on July 30, 2010

Some photos of us hanging out on the lookout tower.

After descending the highpoint, we headed to Mt. Rushmore to park the car. Cody guided us to his favorite camping spot in the wilderness about a mile from the monument. We actually had a nice view of the heads between the trees there at camp. We got up early the next morning, packed up, and I snapped this before leaving the boys to get a head start on the hike back to the car.

While I was waiting for them near the car, I spotted a beaver!

Later in the evening we met up with Cody’s friend for beer and pizza. We were able to sleep on the floor at his place before heading back to ND.

We get some pretty crazy storms out here and sometimes they are followed by rainbows and sunsets!

This is just before Jacob took us flying.

We flew over the town that we live in.

And we managed to find a herd of bison (black dots) hanging out on a prairie dog town (white patches).

Highpoint #26: White Butte, ND on August 27, 2010 (It was really windy and you can see my hair flying everywhere!)

Here are some views from the highpoint.

I’m no geologist, but I’m pretty sure all that white stuff is sandstone and you can see where this butte gets it’s name.

An abandoned farmhouse near the trailhead.

That’s White Butte in the distance. I’m standing in a field of alfalfa.

That’s it for now! I should have more to share in a few weeks.

June 1, 2010, Highpoint #23: Mt. Sunflower, KS

We packed up our camp at Black Mesa State Park and headed north into Colorado. I can’t say that the weather cooled as much as we had thought it would, but the clouds became larger and fluffier the further north we went. The eastern edge of Colorado is very flat and patterned with a mixture of farm and pasture land.

We followed the directions in my book to the gravel road that lead to Mt. Sunflower. The high point is marked with a sunflower sculpture made from railroad spikes. We signed the register and snapped a few photos. We got bit by some obnoxious horse flies. And we left.

After the high point, we took the road back into Colorado and continued north as far as we thought we could make it with enough light to pitch a tent. Our plan was to camp in North Sterling State Park but by the time we got to Sterling the wind had picked up considerably and the sky looked menacing. After some deliberation, we checked into a motel and after hearing from some motorists in the lobby say that there was a hail storm predicted for the area we were relieved by our decision.

June 2, 2010, Highpoint #24: Panorama Point, NE

From Sterling we only had about an hour and a half of driving to get to Nebraska’s high point. It is very close to the tri-state marker it shares with Wyoming and Colorado and is at the end of some dusty gravel roads on a bison ranch.

The actual high point features a granite marker and a counter with several registers and some stories stashed inside about the high point and the ranch. We could see a herd of bison about 100 large grazing off in the distance and also had to hopscotch around their large dollops of poo, but we were in no way threatened by them.

From the high point we headed for Fort Robinson State Park. They have a primitive tent camping area and we found a nice patch of grass next to a creek. There was a picnic table and fire pit and we arrived early enough to start craving something warm for dinner so I headed into town to see if I could find some hotdogs to throw on the grill. Everything had shut down just before we arrived so I returned with only a package of marshmallows and a bag of maui onion kettlechips. We ended up boiling carrots and chickpeas and throwing some couscous and chopped nuts into the pot. It was pretty good for being thrown together from nothing.

Highpoint #22: Black Mesa, OK

It was a little overcast outside when we rolled out of bed and sat on the stoop of our motel room to drink coffee and eat breakfast (there was an excellent view of the empty swimming pool from our room). The plan was to get to the eastern-most part of Oklahoma to hike the state’s high point and pick another place to hunker down for the night.

It was an easy drive to Kenton, OK, the closest town to the trailhead. My book made note of a mercantile store in town that would give you a certificate after you hiked Black Mesa, but we went out there to ask a few questions about the weather and about the dependability of some of Oklahoma’s backcountry dirt roads. The store happened to be closed so we sat on their front steps to consume some peanut butter and banana sandwiches and put on our shoes and fill the hydration reservoir for the hike. In the 45 minutes that we sat there, two sets of travelers stopped and asked us for directions. Good thing for my road atlas, right? I was a little baffled by the fact that people were driving in the Oklahoma ‘wilderness’ without any sense of where they were going or from where they had come.

We packed up our picnic spread and drove the 6 miles to the trailhead parking lot. There was a hiker who had just made it back to his car and told us he believed the weather should be fine. It was around 4pm when we took off and we were hoping to return before it got too dark and especially before a thunderstorm passed through because that was what the Weather Channel was threatening.

The old Jeep trail around and over the mesa is well worn and has a number of green metal arrows to point the way. We passed a few benches that served not only as resting areas but also as mileage markers. It was hot and the first 2.5 miles was rather windy in some sections. We kept rounding parts of the mesa and weren’t quite sure which area we were to climb up until we counted the 8th and final green arrow and saw the switchback trail leading to the summit.

The entire hike had an elevation gain of about 650 ft which was all gained within about a third of a mile. I had been (there’s no better word to describe it but) panting to keep up with Ingo’s pace. There was a point when we neared the part of the mesa we were to ascend where I stopped to snap some photos and by the time I looked up, Ingo was a quarter mile away. And he had the water! I had to jog to catch up to him because the wind just carried my voice and he didn’t turn when I called to him. I took a few quick gulps of water and pressed on.

We began climbing gradually but by the turn of the first switchback the hike got very steep. Ingo stopped to rest and I paused here and there to catch my breath but I became focused on remaining ahead of him so that I wouldn’t have to run again. I guess I went into pack mule mode. I trudged uphill until I reached the summit and I glanced back to see where Ingo was. I couldn’t see him while trying to lean over the face so I wandered down the trail until I found a large bush to sit beside which still gave me a view of where he would summit. I waited about 10 minutes. I got bored and poked around and found a dusty lizard sunning himself on a rock. I waited another 5 minutes. Ingo still had not reached the top.

I started backtracking and almost made it back to the edge when Ingo met up with me and quieted my worries. It was a steep climb and he admitted that he wasn’t in the best shape for the sport. We waited a few minutes for his pulse to come down a bit and hiked the remaining flat mile to the granite obelisk marking the high point. We rested a little and tried to sign the register but only got as far as reading someone’s scrawl about an amazing view 200 yards south before a large hornet became very interested in Ingo. He put the notebooks back in the box and we headed south, into the wind to avoid the flying invertebrate.

The view really was spectacular. The wind was blasting up the face and pushing us backward but there was a beautiful valley there to the south. The sky looked promising in this direction but the dark clouds toward the north got me a little worried. We returned to the granite marker, picked up our bag and left.

The descent was quick and easy. We saw the lizard again and his whole body had turned a brilliant blue color with yellow speckles. We also came across a snake in the trail and miles later a rabbit. After a while we were able to pick out the red Vee-Dub off in the distance. We covered the 8.4 mile hike in 3.5 hours which was good time according to the trail description. We unsheathed our sweaty feet from the socks and dusty shoes, threw everything in the car and took off.

I had called ahead about a state park within 10 miles of the trailhead so we drove there and picked a proper camp site. We pitched the tent and made a plan for covering it quickly in case it began to rain. There was a lot of wind blowing through our site and it wasn’t necessarily cold, but it was very loud. We ate chips and salsa and hummus and washed our salty, dusty faces.

By the time we got settled in the tent the sun had set and most of the cloud cover had blown over. We could see heat lightning in the distance northeast of us and when we rolled on our backs we could see a million glittering stars. I had trouble falling asleep because the sound of the wind whipping through the trees was so loud but I must have drifted off eventually because I woke very slowly the next morning to the sight of the sun glowing against the tent and the sound of braying burros from a neighboring farm.