Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Black Hills

The Black Hills are a cluster of forested mountains that sit like an oasis smack in the middle of the North American steppe or “Great Plains” and are a patch work of National Forest, National Park, State Park and private land that straddles the boarder of Wyoming and South Dakota.  In 2012 the United Nations general assembly recommended that the Black Hills be returned to the previous stewards of the land, the Lakota Native American Tribe.  What is to become of these recommendations is to be determined.

For us the attraction was nothing knew – some of the best summer rock climbing in the country.  A large portion of the climbing takes place in the Needles district of Custer State Park.  Let me tell you, if there is a better place for a couple young bucks like Jacob and Elias to get psyched on climbing I’m all ears.

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The very hilly landscape is blanketed by a pin cushioned like forest of granite spires with 300 foot tall monoliths and 50 foot turrets which are easily accessible via trails amongst grassy Ponderosa forests.  If you wanted to climb them all good luck, you could probably do it in three life times, maybe.  The climbing is a play ground of cool fins, arrets and bubbly faces most of which almost always top out on some sort of peak or summit.  It’s a great place to climb if you don’t own much climbing gear because you won’t need it.  Cracks and places for natural pro are rare and the route setters were cheap, meaning bolts are few and far between.

I hope that when and if the Lakota get their land back the door stays open to climbing.  And I do hope they get it back. A large portion of the Southern Black Hills, nearby hilly forests and rolling grasslands make up Custer State Park, named after General Custer and famous for fantastic animal viewing.

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I haven’t had the opportunity to read in great depth about why the UN Assembly on Indigenous Peoples recommended returning the park to the Lakota however I will say, you don’t need to read much to get a gist that things have not yet been set right.  The area encompassing Custer State Park is very important to the Lakota.  In 1868 a treaty was signed by the United States Government stating that this land would belong to the Lakota people forever.  In 1874 General Custer, who was given the task of rounding up Native tribes on the plains and placing them on their assigned reservations, marched into French Creek in the present day town of Custer and found gold.  He then opened up the Black Hills to a massive gold rush scrapping the US-Lakota treaty.  Eventually the Lakota would be pushed onto the current Pine Ridge Reservation.  However they weren’t pushed there by Custer himself.  The Lakota, the Cheyenne and the Arapahoe native tribes settled their age old differences (which included the Lakota taking the Black Hills from the Cheyenne in 1776) and ended Custer’s murderous rampage along with the whole of the 7th US Calvary at the Battle of Little Big Horn in South East Montana where Custer met his “Last Stand”.

It could be said that although Native rights have not been respected in this area, the rights of non-humans are currently well valued.  The park systems in this region remains one of the last North American sanctuaries for the American Bison, as well as home to large numbers of Elk herds, Mule Deer and White Tailed Deer, Cougar, Pronghorn Antelope, Prairie Dog and many other animals including wild donkeys that are very eager to meet you.

At the southern tip of 111 square miles of Custer State Park is Wind Cave National Park.  We visited the Wind Cave on our second day in the region.  Wind Cave is one of the longest explored caves in the world with 140 miles of cave now mapped (residing under one mile of surface area)  which leaves an estimated 90% of the whole cave yet to be mapped.  The discovery of this cave is due to the “wind” that  flows out of the cave during low pressure.  The breeze streams out of the cave’s only known natural opening which is the size of a volley ball.  The first explorers of the cave not only squeezed themselves through this absurdly small opening but they squirmed for hours on end by candle light.  A large opening was eventually built in the name of prospecting, where nothing of value was found, which made it possible for a young man named Alvin McDonald to lead tourists through the cave as early as 1892…all by candle light dragging sting behind him to find his way out.  Today being guided through this cave is easy, fun and fascinating.  One of the real gems of the Park is the fact that there are 44 more square miles of prairie protected above ground allowing one of the 4 largest and genetically pure herds of wild buffalo to roam free along with all of the other wild animals found in the region.

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The majority of our time in this area was spent in the Needles District of Custer State Park.  Here we stayed in a secluded hilltop campsite next to Sylvan Lake.  Along with hiking and climbing we also found a quiet routine at camp which included schooling, playing in the forest, building forts and time around the camp fire with other travelers, including a British math teacher who gave Jacob math lessons in exchange for climbing lessons.

On September 11th we packed up camp and began our eastward migration but not without stopping first at Mount Rushmore.

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Categories: Adventure, Bison, Camping, Car camping, Custer State Park, Ecosystems, Elk, family, Family Climbing, Great Plains, Homeschooling, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids | Leave a comment

Ten Sleeps

Some of the most mystical places we go to we don’t even realize we’re there until the magic has already set in deep…… I found Ten Sleep when researching climbing areas across the country while prepping for our trip.  Ten Sleep caught my eye because of well, just the shear massive amount of climbing with summer temperatures averaging in mid 70s as well as the fantastic description from an old Climbing Magazine:

“Hippies and hunters and cowboys and climbers—these strange bedfellows mingle in relative harmony in north-central Wyoming’s Ten Sleep, ‘a little western town with a big western heart.’”

After tearing across the northern Wyoming desert and pushing our weighted Mazda up into yet another Rocky Mountain range, none of us really knew where we were going to end up.  We did know that the patience tank was on empty.

After selling ones house and hopping into a mini van with your entire family, which IMG_0505c_rainbowincludes a moody teenager, a babbling 20 month old and squid learning to squirm, with the intention of traveling in that small vehicle for 10 months, a person experiences many  emotions in rapid succession over the first month.  The dominant emotion to this point had been a giddy sort of excitement.  Also there was the effervescent feeling of endless possibility.  There is the thought of “finally….Finally…we did it.”  And then there was POOP, GRRR, AAAA, HELP, but always the opportunity to become more adept at being together returns and with nothing but time on our hands we are reminded that patience is the easiest way.

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So it was here in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains that we found ourselves after hiking up and over the Tetons, driving late, getting up early, learning about dinosaurs and then driving more.  We were all in a knot that was getting tighter when we realized we were literally following a massive rainbow.  As the knot seemed to tighten more we did not know to what extent the rainbow was effecting us until we turned onto this Forest Road off of the main road pulling us towards the end of the Rainbow.  To the right there stood a moose happily eating. We drove further, our minds loosened, we pushed up hill to the edge of this magical meadow.  We parked, got out and there we were bathing in this giant pot of gold.  Each of us filtering out of the car became contentedly and quietly absorbed by our new home for hours…our was it days?  I think it was a total of 6 days that we spent there before peeling ourselves away.

We slept, read, walked, climbed, wrote, ate, climbed some more and slept some more.  Finally we remembered we were on this big adventure and we were not yet ready to disappear into the great wide open.  Not yet… onward…

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Categories: Adventure, Big Horn Mountains, Camping, Car camping, Dinousaurs, family, Family Climbing | 6 Comments

Land of the Lost

As we climbed into our car our intention was to head directly for Wyoming’s Dinosaur Museum located about 45 minutes North in the town of Thermopolis.  To our delight after about 3 minutes down the road we entered one of the largest naturally occurring natural history museums in the world.  The road clung to the side of the steeply carved Wind River Canyon.  Here, the Wind River carved through a concise story book that displays almost the entire history of life on earth in impeccable chronological order.

The journey began with some of the oldest exposed rock on earth. Cambrian shale and limestone were at the start and held countless fossils of life forms from 450 million years ago.  As we sped down the road winding through tunnels and hugging tightly next to cliff and roaring river we passed signs marking the type and the age of the rock.  One after the other, a sign highlighted different notable formations for example “Such and such formation, Permian, 290 myo (million years old).”  At the time the numbers were so big that it didn’t mean anything.  As we drove on peering 2,000 feet up crumbly walls to the sky it began to sink in that this was no ordinary canyon.  It turns out the Bighorn Basin is notable for being one of the most complete hotspots in the world for preserving the story of prehistoric life on earth.

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After about 25 minutes we exited the canyon and arrived into Thermopolis, its name inspired by the hot spring state park located in the city limits.  That day held temperatures in the 90s therefore our interests were not on the hot springs.  With an unquenchable curiosity sparked by the run through Wind River Canyon we headed to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

It turns out that this region was host to a succession of prehistoric swamps, coastal regions, oceans and seas mostly teaming with life for hundreds of millions of years.  Over time each era became compressed and preserved:   Limestone and Dolomite which make up a large portion of the rocks is essentially compressed sea and coastal life.  Sandstone, also abundant, was created during this prehistoric era.  Dinosaurs didn’t really show up until about 240 million years ago.  They were on the scene at first as the recovery species directly after THE largest mass extinction of life that the world had ever seen, and then taking center stage as the world’s dominant life form about 180 million years ago.

During this epic tale, the landscape continued to gather and stockpile the clues of life on earth due to its variation of mostly shallow sea and coastal life.  At about 80 million years ago the landscape started to change in a way that this region had never experienced.  Due to the slow and shallow subduction of an ancient Pacific plate under a North American plate, the middle of North America began pushing upward.  Lasting only about 20 million years it was during this era of land contortion that the dinosaurs died off almost completely, a time most commonly referred to as the Laramide Oraginy.  For this region it means that the perfectly chronologically stacked sea life rose into one of the Highest regions of North America also known as the Rocky Mountains.

It has been the popular opinion for quite some time that the Dinosaurs were rendered extinct via a large meteor from outer space.  However evidence keeps pointing towards another earthly inspired mass extinction caused by an overwhelming amount of Volcanic activity rendering the air poisonous.  During the Dinosaurs final golden years over 60 million years ago we saw some of the most famous dinosaurs such as the Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex reign supreme over the land only to die off in some of the largest mass dinosaur graves ever found here in the Bighorn basin.

From here on, as prehistory turned to history this region would take on a few more major changes, including major cooling causing several successions of glaciers to carve at varying depths into the landscape then finally becoming windswept and arid, leading to and eventually arriving at present day with a climate and landscape of preservation.  Currently, this region has a very low human population leaving most of the land under federal management.  It remains very dry due to its ideal location, just out of reach of almost all major weather patterns that crisscross the country.  It’s actually so easy to find fossils here that one of the attractions offered to visiting tourists is the option to go on an archeological dig and find your very own fossil souvenirs.  Unfortunately we were here on a National holiday so we didn’t get to do this…”next time”, I had to explain to a very disappointed Elias.

From here we were to head only an hour or so north and east into the Big Horn Mountains and the climber’s jungle gym at Ten Sleeps!

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Categories: Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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