Adventure

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

Organic Farming in the Rockies

Larch camp
Day 2 – Day 6
Waking up in a Montana Larch forest to freshly picked huckleberries and French pressed coffee, care of my husband, as the kids slept, was delightful. After a slow morning of yoga in the sun and quiet chatting with Joseph I realized that nature is my medicine right now…wilderness, walks, crickets, wild chamomile, berries and quiet. There is a lightness that I haven’t felt in years creeping back into my spirit. It is contagious and I think we are each experiencing it in our own ways.
The previous evening was wonderful. As dinner was cooking on our camp stove the boys eagerly started their “adventure school” work, writing and drawing in their main lesson books about the beginning of our journey. Although I expect their enthusiasm will wear off as school becomes an integral part of the trip it was quite satisfying to see them work. Ila played her part. She participated by snatching up Mr. E’s crayons when nobody was looking, then running as fast as she could then stopping and eating them as he chased her down the trail. Ila’s entertaining yet goofy urge to eat crayon continued. We gave her a piece of paper with crayons so she could participate. When everyone was looking her way she would use them to draw. Once she decided everyone was looking away she shoved it in her mouth and started devouring as fast as she could. “Ila no!” someone would shout….back to drawing.
J and E 1st lesson
Ila's main lesson
From there we enjoyed the spectacular drive down to Missoula and took care of some busy work…Laundry, food shop, gas. We also learned that town life was complicated with our family of five. Instead of hanging around we wasted no time and headed North to the Salish Indian reservation.
Next stop, was our college friends’ organic farm, Fresh Roots Farm just outside of Polsen, MT. About an hours’ drive North from Missoula their picture perfect farm was nestled literally at the base of the dramatic western edge of the Rocky’s. The Mission Range towered above as we enjoyed this lovely resting place and opportunity for karma yoga. Weeding onions, gathering eggs, washing beets, sharing meals and playing in the sun, E was sold on the farm life and on his new 4 yr. old buddy Kena. Mr. J was psyched that it had wifi (read download more books) and an opportunity to learn how to fish and Ms. I was all about the animals. She made friends with the sheep, courageously pet a chicken and was pretty much the last gal standing at the end of each night with late night visits to see the cows, horses and donkeys. The stay included pasture walks, lovely hikes with refreshing and picturesque swims at nearby Flathead Lake – a lake so vast it seemed more like an inland sea with the Rocky Mountain rising abruptly out of its eastern bank.

Mr. E's new friend

Mr. E’s new friend


I, E, K on tractor
Days before we set off on our journey from Bellingham, Joseph Mr. J and I watched Food Inc. We wanted to educated ourselves before we traveled, knowing that the temptation to eat mindlessly and poorly on the road was too easy. We hoped that the film would make this decision simpler. Interestingly, we experienced the themes of the movie first hand on the farm. As the kids played on our last morning, our hosts prepared an incredibly bountiful box of veggies for us for the road and we packed up the car, a plane flew super low over us spraying the commercial seed potato farm adjacent to our friends’ farm. Although common to farm folk, it was incredible to our little town family that such spraying of pesticides (and earlier in the season, herbicides) was acceptable much less right next to a certified organic grower. The wind was quiet that day however is it realistic to say that all of the spray fell over the exact area and not in the common irrigation ditch or atop other parcels of land?
Flathead lake swimming
Kena fishing
Joseph and Karl harvesting
Over our last breakfast, Karl and Darcy, our farmer hosts gave us a quick lesson about commercial/organic farming regulations and practices as well as the impact of GMO’s and the power of large companies like Monsanto (with printouts regarding the major chemical companies that now own the majority of seed companies and the rights to the seeds as well as the major organic seed sellers).
camping at the farm
We left the farm with a focus on continuing to learn more about our food, visiting other farms across the country, remaining aware about our choices and feeling thankful for our friends in the gorgeous valley and their dedication to sustainable, organic growing…
The Farmers
Let the adventure continue. Next stop Glacier National Park.

Categories: Adventure, Camping, family, GMO, Hiking, Homeschooling, Montana, organic farming, Rocky Mountains | 7 Comments

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