Monthly Archives: July 2011

A few years ago, a woman whose name I don’t remember, decided that because her boyfriend broke up with her, she would start a forest fire…to get even with him. An odd thought since she was a fire fighter for the forest service, and he was not. She got caught because she left his note where she set the fire. I’m sure she thought the evidence would be burned up, but somehow it wasn’t. She is now serving time in federal prison for her acts of total disregard for the safety of others, and for destruction of federal property. That really hurt her ex-boyfriend, right. I mean, she is in prison, and they are not back together. Maybe he saw something in her that others didn’t see, like psychotic tendencies.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not without feelings. I just don’t understand why she would destroy a forest that will take years to come back…if it ever does. I love the Black Hills, which is where this woman chose to unleash her rage, and I hate to see such a beautiful place so battered and scarred by the vicious acts of one woman. The forest will take many years to even resemble the beautiful place it was back then. I will always love it , scarred or beautiful, and I know fires can happen that could bring the same result as this, but they will not be deliberate, and that makes all the difference to me. If she was looking for fame or pity, she failed miserably in her quest, because it is not her name I remember, just what she did.

Every time I come into the Black Hills, I must now drive through that reminder, as well as every time I leave. I am very saddened, because in Wyoming, trees are not so abundant, and there is a lot more open spaces and…well, I love the forest. It is so hard to drive through my beloved Black Hills looking like a tornado just went through. And that is how it will be for some time to come.

I feel like this woman has cheated so many people out of the beauty of this area. I try not to be angry, but it is really hard. I forgive her, because I know it is the right thing to do, and I hope that she has learned that this was no solution, and she is probably better off without the ex-boyfriend. I hope she can turn her life around and because the way she has chosen so far is hurtful to herself and to those around her.

When you are dating in high school, you often think that this person or that person is the one for you for all time. Quite often that is not the case, but sometimes…well, you get blessed to find your soul mate at such a tender age of 17 or 18, and somehow that young heart makes the right choice, and steps into happily ever after. Such was the case with me. While Bob and I didn’t meet in high school, since we went to different high schools, I was still in high school and he was barely out when we met.

Stepping into marriage a little over a year later is a risky step for people still in their late teens or early twenties, but that is what we did on March 1, 1975, a little less than a year after I graduated from high school, and we have never looked back to see what might have been if we had chosen a different path. We are two people going the same direction in most areas of our lives. Yes, there are some things that we are different in, but that just adds flavor to the marriage, not to mention skills that have saved us money over the years.

This is not our anniversary or anything…not the day we met…so why am I writing this now? Well, it is a very important day indeed. Today is my husband, Bob’s birthday. The day I celebrate the birth of the gift God has given to me. The day that the one person God had in mind for me before either of us were born, entered this world and began the path that would one day lead to me and our beautiful life together. It was a winding path, since he was born in Montana and I was born in Wisconsin, but God worked it out and we both ended up living in the same city, Casper, Wyoming. I won’t go into all the details of our meeting, but God worked it all out and here we are, on our way to forever together.

I couldn’t have asked for a better man, a more faithful man or a more loving man. I remember the first time I saw Bob, across the Kmart store. It was like he just stood out from all the rest of the people in that store. I can’t explain that, but that is how it happened. And before I knew it, he was my man. How blessed I am. I love you very much, Honey!! Happy birthday!!

It has been a tradition of ours for a number of years now, to ride the 1880 Train from Keystone, SD to Hill City, SD and back on the last day of our time in the Black Hills. I suppose it is the kid in both of us that just loves the train rides. Or maybe it is about seeing a part of the Black Hills that you can’t see any other way, even hiking, since there is only one trail that crosses the 1880 Train route and then only once.

There is just something about riding a train. You can sit back and relax. The rocking back and forth, while noisy is soothing somehow. The scenery passes before you and you can both actually see it, because you don’t have to pay attention to the road. You can point out things and be able to enjoy them together. You just can’t do that in a car, because the driver cannot see what you can see.

The 1880 Train takes you back in time, as you travel through old mining towns, now deserted. At the same time, mixed in with the past are homes where people live today, and towns that are thriving on the tourist industry. There are old movie sets in which the 1880 Train took part. And of course, there are the amazing rock formations that have made the Black Hills famous. Trees growing out of the rock as if it were dirt, and yet the rock is largley granite, which is among the hardest rock there is.

The rock formations, if you look closely, hold the faces of Indian chiefs, or so the legend goes, and as we ride along, I look closely and let my imagination show them to me. And the local people help your imagination by putting up statues of fishing children, bears, cougars, or waving train watchers. It is all designed to make your ride more interesting. And everyone, including the tourists driving along the road that the train crosses 9 times over the course of your hour ride, waves at the train. It is simply enchanting.

I suppose many people would think it odd that we ride the train every year, but like many things in the Black Hills, it seems to be in my blood, or maybe it is all just addictive. Maybe, like the hiking bug that I haven’t yet found a cure for, I have a train bug too…and that is ok with me, because like the hiking bug, I’m not really looking for a cure.

Today would have been my sister-in-law, Marlyce’s 61st birthday, but she will be forever 39. She died of cancer in 1989, and we all miss her very much. Marlyce was sweet and loving to everyone who knew her. Though she was developmentally disabled, she excelled in many things. She was an excellent cookie baker, and I can’t eat chocolate chip cookies to this day without thinking of her. When we used to come over to my in-laws house, she would say, “Caryn, I made chocolate chip cookies today.” She was thrilled when I smiled and told her I couldn’t wait to have some. She was a people pleaser.

Marlyce loved to knit and made many hats for family members, and others who were blessed enough to receive one. She loved doing things for people, in fact that was what she lived for. It was her strong suit. She was one of the most giving people I have ever known.

She loved being an aunt, and my girls as well as their cousins were treasures to her. She loved children, especially babies. Her nieces and nephews used to playfully tease her and most of the time she took it all in stride.

Her life ended way too soon, when cancer took her from us. I think of her often, because her sweet innocence was so endearing. She never judged people. She just let each person be who they were, and she loved them just the way they were. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were all that way. Happy Birthday in Heaven Marlyce. I love you very much.

Our goal this year for miles on The Mickelson Trail will not materialize, due to the second hike up Harney Peak. That’s ok with me, because I would hate to have missed Harney Peak. We love it up there so much. We walked 5 miles one way/10 miles total on the Mickelson Trail today, so we will be 10 miles short of our goal. I still feel good about it, because of the added difficulty of Harney Peak. What the Mickelson Trail lacks in difficulty, we make up for in distance, so while the workout isn’t the same, we still get a workout.

Bob and I have hiked for a long time, and we have learned that sometimes hiking isn’t about socializing. We have a tendency to walk at times quietly, each in our own thought world. I find myself, especially in the Black Hills, thinking of my Dad. The Black Hills was a favorite spot of his, and his echo is everywhere here. I hear him in the breeze through the trees, the crackling of a campfire, the rushing of water over rocks in the river, the chirping of the birds, and because he wanted us to see the historic places and deep patriotism that are here, I am reminded of him in everything I do here. He would have loved the places we have seen on our hikes. You just can’t see them from the main roads.

The animals that we have come across are always a total surprise. From the deer on the trail to a fox running away. From a chipmunk looking for food to a woodchuck watching us curiously and .yet not really wanting to run away. He seemed almost as curious about us as we were about him…peeking at us from his hole and ducking ever so slightly if we moved too much, then coming back up

I am always amazed at how much I need the hikes in the Black Hills. It’s like I come alive again, like I can breathe again. I think the Black Hills are simply in my blood. I need a week of trekking through them to refresh my energy again. I look forward to my yearly trips here, and am always sad to see my time here end. Nevertheless, because of the Black Hills, I go home refreshed and feeling very much alive…and very thankful for my time there.

Yesterday’s bad weather gave way to a very nice morning, so Bob and I set out for Harney Peak again. We are either determined or crazy, and since we passed a guy who went up and down twice today, I don’t think I’m so crazy. Today’s hike would be different. Our hikes up Harney Peak now total 6.8, with yesterday’s disappointing short hike to 1/2 mile from the top when we had to go down because of weather.

The weather this morning was perfect for a hike. The temperature was not too hot and not too cool. We started out early to beat the heat that would surely come. We were on top by 10:45 am. Many times when we have gone to Harney Peak, it was cold and we ate our lunch and headed back down out of the cold wind. Once again, this time would be different. It was so nice on top that we decided to take some extra time to eat our lunch and enjoy nature.

We found a spot to eat our lunch, and cool off. After eating most of our lunch in the shade, we decided to finish up in a more sunny spot. The chipmunks on the peak have lived their lives around people, and they have very little fear of us. The seem to think that your lunch is meant to be shared with them. I suppose that is because so many people do share with them. If you try to share with them, however, don’t bother with the bread. These little guys are picky. They want the chips.

Bob had Fritos, and that is one of their favorites. As we sat there, one little guy decided that we had a lunch date, and he was going to get to those Fritos even if he had to climb over me to get them…well almost. He wasn’t quite that brave, but he did go around me to get to those chips. And after getting his reward a couple of times, we were pals. He got very brave, coming back for more and even eating his chip by my feet. He was so cute. And after a while, he even agreed to pose for a few pictures. I think he knew I was going to write about him and would need a photo for proof of our lunch date.

The morning started out sunny with only a chance of late afternoon thunderstorms. We headed out at about 9:00 am for a 2 hour hike up the mountain, an hour on top for lunch, and a 2 hour hike back down the mountain. That was the plan anyway, but as sometimes happens, things didn’t go according to plan.

We were about half way in when the clouds rolled in and the thunder began. It wasn’t the first time we had hiked in a little but of thunder, but it is in moments like those that you begin to look for possible areas of shelter as you hike along. Knowing what I do of the area, I know that many of the lightning strikes in the area hit on or very near the Harney Peak tower. Being about 1.9 miles from the top gives a little feeling of safety, but you still need to be on your toes. Since we could see areas of sunshine behind the clouds, we decided to press on and hoped the storm would pass uneventfully.

Of course, when we were thinking of uneventfully, we meant that the lightning would pass on. That did happen, but in it’s place came the rain, and soft hail. Since we were higher now, and after trying to wait it out for about 20 minutes during which we were pretty thoroughly soaked, we made the determination that it would most likely not blow over.

And so it was with sadness that we decided to turn back only 1/2 mile from our prize. This was to have been our 6th trip up Harney Peak, but instead it would be trip 5.8. As we head back down to a rock that would make a perfect shelter, the rain continues to pour down. We are still amazed at the people who we continue to pass heading up as we head down. Finally, we get to the rock shelter and finally we are able to dry out a little. We stayed there about another 20 minutes, then decided to head back to the car. We were cold and bummed.

Heading back we could see the clouds rolling in again, as people continued to head up the mountain. Then the thunder began to roll again, and we knew we had made the right decision. No sooner had we reached the car and started eating our lunch, than the rain poured down with a vengeance. Oh well, maybe we will try again tomorrow.

When you are out on the trail, in shorts, with no gun or mace, the thought of three dog running toward you barking is a little unsettling. I know what you are thinking. This is going to be an icky story with a bloody ending…right? Well, not today.

Most of the hikes Bob and I take are uneventful, and often even void of a lot of human contact, but sometimes things go a little differently. As we were hiking yesterday, we walked behind a bike rental shop that was located at the family’s home. Suddenly, as we neared the bicycle advertiser they had by their open gate, three dogs came running out toward us barking. As I said, that can be a little unsettling, but we soon discovered that these dogs were very friendly. So friendly, in fact, that they decided to walk along with us.

At first we said, “You guys better go home!!” But, when it became obvious that they were not leaving, we just hoped they knew their way home, and that the owner knew that we weren’t stealing them. It soon became very apparent that these dogs knew this trail very well, and that they spent a lot of time on the trail. They knew their way around. They stayed out of trouble. And most importantly, the knew proper trail etiquette, i.e. do your business off of the trail!!!

So, along we went, the 5 of us. The dogs would run down to the river to cool off, but not splash us when they came back…very unusual. If we stopped, they stopped. Where we went, they went. It was almost laughable. They seemed to have taken us on a their responsibility. They chased each other around and jumped over weeds. They seemed to want to entertain us with their antics. They were very funny dogs. They seemed to want to make sure that it was entertaining. And it was…we thoroughly enjoyed our first “guided tour” of The Mickelson Trail.

After going about half a mile or so with us, we came upon a bridge and the dogs just seemed to know that it was time to go home. Almost like they had been trained. It occurred to me that we should have pictures of our tour guides, and we almost got them all. One had decided to lead the way home. So his picture is a little dot at the very last point on the trail. And after their pictures, the other two followed suit.

The rest of our trip was without our tour guides, but with a smile. And after a beautiful hike, we got to see them again as we passed by their place on our way back. They came running out, barking, but this time if was to greet old friends, and after we petted them and talked to them for a minute, they went back to their yard, and we went on to finish our hike. What a joy those dogs were, and what good masters to have trained them so well.

Since 1995, Bob and I have been hiking in the Black Hills. Our first hike, was up Harney Peak, and while we were pretty unprepared for that hike, it whet our appetite for hiking, and we have been doing it ever since. It is challenging, but beautiful. And when we get to the top, and have lunch, it’s like eating at the top of the world. From the top you can see 5 states. Harney Peak is and probably always will be our favorite trail. We try to hike it every year.

One of our favorite easy trails is The Mickelson Trail, which runs from Edgemont to Deadwood and is 109 miles long. This trail is part of the rails to trails system. It is a great way to get off the main streets of the Black Hills and get the feel of being close to nature without going too far from civilization.

We have walked sections of the Mickelson Trail several times, but a couple of years age we decided to make it our goal to walk the trail in it’s entirety. When we are done, we will actually walk the entire trail twice, because we walk part way up and then back to our car. In 2009 we completed the Custer to Hill City section. That is 31.2 miles total, going up and back. Then add Harney Peak, and it gave us 37.2 total for that trip. In 2010, we walked the Hill City to Mystic section. That is 29.2 miles up and back. We also did a 4.5 (9 total) mile section south of Custer. With Harney Peak we did a total of 44.2 miles last year. This year we plan to walk the Mystic to Dumont section, which is 17.9 or 35.8 total and with Harney Peak a total of 41.8 miles. We usually spend 5 days hiking.

I know…a lot of you think we are crazy, and even our friends and family have told us that too. I don’t know, maybe we are, but we really got hooked and we totally love it. We are able to see things that most people will never see, because they are off the main roads. It is a very cool experience. Yes, we come away with sore muscles and tired feet sometimes, and sometimes it is really hot out there, but every ache, every pain, and even the heat is worth it. There is no other feeling quite like it. We will keep doing this as long as we can…and I’ve heard of hikers at Harney Peak in their 80’s, so we have lots of time left.

Today is our nations birthday. We are now 235 years old. Quite an accomplishment, but still young in the world’s view. There are many nations who are much older than the United States of America, but few that have done as much for the world and the nations in it. I am proud to be a citizen of this great nation. We are a nation who has fought for the rights of other countries around the world. We are a nation who doesn’t like to see innocent people being slaughtered at the hands of some crazed dictator or terrorist. We stand up for the rights of people around the world. That is something to be proud of.

Like most people my family will attend the fireworks displays to be held tonight, some of us in Casper, and some of us in Custer. I know that many people just think of the fireworks as a fun thing to do, but it is really a way to remember. The fireworks look similar to the rockets that were fired during the fighting in the Revolutionary War, when we were fighting for freedom from English rule. So inspiring was the bravery of our men who were willing to give their lives for our freedom, that the fighting moved Francis Scott Key to write the “Star-Spangled Banner” part of which goes like this, “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there” It is with that in mind that we should watch the fireworks displays tonight. Remembering what was at stake, and really still is every day. There are threats to our security, our stability, our peace of mind every day. We have to stand up for these things as much today as they did back then.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be happy. We should, because even though we are remembering a battle, we are celebrating the victory in that battle. We won!!! So this is a celebration!! But, it is also a reminder of a very important event in our nations history…the most important really…the day we became a nation…independent and free. So when you are out there tonight, watching the great fireworks displays, be sure to take just a moment to remember what they represent. A deadly fight for our freedom, and a country of people will to fight to keep our nation, the land of the free, and the home of the brave.