Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hiking in Custer State Park

After a hardy breakfast of cereal, we closed up the tent and headed out to conquer some trails. I had selected a couple of challenging yet somewhat moderate trails for our hike. From Blue Bell campground, we headed north to Sylvan Lake. Behind the dam at Sylvan Lake- a popular, small recreation and camping ground for families—is the trailhead for Sunday Gulch. The trail guide map boasts that the view from the peak looks out onto Custer National Park, Black Hills National Forest, Sylvan Lake, and—on a clear day—a glimpse of Mt. Rushmore.

We took the small path around the lake to reach the trailhead, only to be greeted by a closed for the winter sign. Hmph. Well, let’s see how closed it really is…we started down the small path. As we climbed over some rock and vegetation, I see that the vegetation is depressed in a small, round pattern…I look up. No mountain lions looking down upon me from the cliffs above. I log the pattern and continue our descent into the gulch itself. The rock leading down to the river are reinforced with railings to assist hikers in navigating among the slippery rocks in the river bed. Brad stops at the top of one sharp rock and says, “I think we found the reason it is closed.” I freeze and look up, expecting to see whomever had slept there the night prior. Nothing above me, so I look below me, further into the gulch. Water. Lots of standing water. I make my way down the rock steps and peer down the trail, which is now covered in 18 inches of water. We were prepared for stream crossings but not hiking in a river. Technically, this is Brad’s first foray in hiking with me; call me crazy, but I think it would bode well for me to select an alternate trail. I turn around and head back up the railings. Brad is waiting for me, pointing down at a track. I inspect: bobcat. Well, that explains the bed I saw. We make our way back to the closed sign and the dam. We continued our promenade around Sylvan Lake, taking some candid shots and deciding on Little Devil’s Tower trail, just up the road.

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