As our vacation comes the an end, I found myself contemplating a few things about the Black Hills, and why we love them so much. Of course, Harney Peak (now renamed Black Elk Peak, but always Harney Peak in my mind) is our favorite hike, and one we have hiked 16 times now. As we were driving to Keystone to catch the 1880 Train, which is our last day of vacation tour every year, I can get a glimpse of Harney Peak, and it occurred to me that I might be much the same as Doctor Valentine Trant O’Connell McGillycuddy, the white man whose ashes are entombed at the top of the peak at the fire tower there. McGillycuddy was the first white man ever to climb Harney Peak. And when he was an Indian Agent, he was respected and even called “Tasunka Witko Kola” (Crazy Horse’s friend), because he was of course, Crazy Horse’s friend, but was also loved and respected by all of the Lakota Sioux tribe. As a doctor, he treated Crazy Horse’s wife, which brought about their lifelong friendship. He also treated many other Lakota Sioux warriors when they were wounded in a wrongful attack by the army. To the Lakota Sioux, even his old enemy, Red Cloud, McGillycuddy was known as “Wasicu Wakan,” which literally means Holy White Man. It was probably the greatest sign of respect he could have received. Now I’m not saying that I could even begin to compare to McGillycuddy in all the things he did, but in one way, we are the same. We both love the Black Hills, and especially Harney Peak. After McGillycuddy passing, and as a show of respect, and to commemorate his love of the Black Hills and Harney Peak, his ashes were entombed in that amazing place.
Of course, for us there are many special places in the Black Hills. We love the trails. Among our favorites are, of course, Harney Peak, Sunday Gulch, Horsethief Lake, Cathedral Spires, the Flume Trail, the Mickelson, the Centennial, and French Creek trails. These trails take us to beautiful areas of the Hills that you just can’t see from the road. They are inside places like the Black Elk Wilderness areas. These are remote places where you have to sign in, just in cast you don’t come back out. It gives them a place to start looking for you. In reality, it would be hard to get lost, provided you stay on the trail. The trails are well marked and easy to spot. It’s just not easy to get lost. Some of the trails are really hard, however, and sometimes it just depends on the shape you’re in. A trail that was really hard one year can be a lot more tolerable the next year. The Black Hills are a challenge, at least for the tourist who gets away from the touristy things, and looks for the remote beauty of the Black Hills.