Lost Creek Wilderness {November 2011}

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pahá Sápa

The Black Hills (called Pahá Sápa in Lokota) make up an isolated mountain range in North and South Dakota as well as Wyoming. They are separated from the Rockies, and are something of a geologic anomaly considering the desolate and relatively featureless grasslands surrounding them. In the midst of a barren and monotonous landscape, the Black Hills are like an oasis of green ... an island of trees.

Justin and I (as well as our 9-month old Shepherd mix, Kona) left around 6:30 Saturday morning for South Dakota, a state neither of us have had reason to visit before now. It takes just as long to get to Telluride and the San Juans in southwestern Colorado as it does to drive to the Black Hills of South Dakota. So, why not? I don't know about the rest of the state, but this area is truly beautiful.

The Black Hills/Black Elk Wilderness

We chose a 13 mile loop hike beginning and ending at Big Pine Trailhead to explore Black Elk Wilderness, which derives its name from an Oglala Lakota Sioux holy man, and to see Mount Rushmore. Heading out on the Centennial Trail around 1:00 pm, we arrived at our campsite after four miles or so. Black Elk Wilderness is a part of the larger Black Hills National Forest, which is unlike any forest I've seen in Colorado. The ground is covered entirely in pine needles making it soft and bouncy; granite cliffs and irregular mountains are scattered randomly; and sunlight radiates through the trees and illuminates the forest floor with a soft golden glow.

Centennial Trail (#89)

Horsetheif Trail (#14)

Thank God for Daylight Savings Time ... and the arrival of spring! We found the perfect campsite, cracked a beer {New Belgium Trippel for me, Stone IPA for Justin}, and began climbing to the top of a nearby rock outcropping; we had a good three hours before dark. The view was spectacular (see the first photo). We also thought we'd have premium seats to the 'Supermoon' (a full moon that coincides with the point at which the moon is closest to the Earth in its orbit ... this year it would have been the largest full moon in nearly twenty years). But, no such luck - it was too cloudy. Despite this, we were still able to enjoy a gorgeous sunset from one of the higher cliffs. Two games of mountain bocce ball, a blazing campfire, and several Avalanche Ale brats later, we were in our tent for the unseasonably warm 40 degree night.

Our chosen campsite

Sun setting over the hills

Kona playing bocce with us

The next morning, we prepared to trek the 8-9 miles along Grizzly Creek back to the trailhead. The faces of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln greeted us after a few hours.

I've never had any desire to go out of my way to see Mount Rushmore. The sculpture is a bizarre sight, and it has an equally bizarre history. Construction on the memorial began in 1927 as an effort to "communicate the founding, expansion, preservation, and unification of the United States with colossal statues of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt" (Gutzon Borglum, sculptor). Although it leaves a legacy to our country, a shrine of democracy and freedom, Mount Rushmore excites plenty of controversy. The land upon which it resides was seized from the Lakota Sioux tribe in the late 1800's, and Borglum was an active member of the white supremacist organization, the Ku Klux Klan.

The memorial is not at all what I expected. It's smaller and less remarkable than the images I'd conjured up in my mind. Also, it's a bit eerie ... especially when you catch a glimpse of it from the heart of the wilderness, much less so when you view it from the road in your car. Although this isn't something that necessarily impresses me, I do appreciate the grand scale on which it was ideated and created.

Mount Rushmore from Hwy 244

After we arrived back at the car and snapped a photo of the four presidents from the road, we were on our way to the Badlands. The landscape here is most unique ... I'd say it resembles what I believe Mars or the moon to look like. Furrowed cliffs, gnarled spires, carved ravines, and grass-capped buttes ... It's an area of raw and rugged beauty. John Evans, a government geologist dispatched to the Dakota territory in 1849, likened the area to a "magnificent city of the dead, where the labor and genius of forgotten nations had left ... a multitude of monuments of art and skill." I imagine the Badlands to be a severe and sinister place, but the warm glow of the setting sun during our evening drive transformed the landscape into something rather inviting. 

"The bad lands to cross"

Our final stop required us to drive back into Wyoming where Devils Tower, a vertical column of volcanic rock, rises dramatically above the surrounding terrain. Mostly, it's a rock climbers haven. But it also has a special significance to Native Americans, who have regarded the tower as a sacred site long before climbers found their way to the area. Indian stories and legends of the creation of Devils Tower vary, but my favorite goes like this: Seven sisters were playing in the meadow when bears began to chase them. They all climbed atop a rock and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. At that moment, the rock rose up towards the Heavens as the bears left deep claw marks in its side (which correspond to the columns we see on the tower today). When the girls reached the sky, they were transformed into the seven-starred constellation, the Pleiades (or Seven Sisters). Once again, gazing at the tower, I sense a connection to something bigger ... and it too feels quite eerie. This may be intensified by the fact that we arrived at Devils Tower in the middle of the night, and to see the dark silhouette of something so massive suddenly appear on the horizon sends chills down your spine.

Justin and I near the base of Devils Tower

I cannot believe we packed so much in to less than three full days. Each place that we visited maintains extremely strong ties to the American Indian heritage ... I feel blessed and priviledged to have been a part of that culture, even if for a brief moment. As I said before, it's pretty eerie - in a good way. Although the landscape is beyond beautiful, and ridiculously unique, nothing compares to the history that you can learn about a place and its people or the feeling it gives you to be in the midst of it all hundreds of years later.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

♣ Love Thee, Notre Dame ♣

This day, dedicated to St. Patrick, is one of my favorites of the year (after Christmas of course, and maybe my birthday ...) I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be the case had I not attended the most Irish university in our country. They know how to celebrate anything Irish at Notre Dame, and I miss the place more than ever on this day. But, each year, I feel my connection to the university so strongly. I think of tailgating and green beer, the Victory March and bagpipes, but I also remember my friends, the Notre Dame family, and the meaning of loyalty, faith, and love. Above all else, it brings a sense of belonging as well as a feeling of contentment and comfort. Today, everyone wishes they were Irish. I get to be Irish everyday!

Notre Dame, Our Mother

Notre Dame, our Mother

Tender, strong and true

Proudly in the heavens,

Gleams thy gold and blue.

Glory's mantle cloaks thee

Golden is thy fame,

And our hearts forever,

Praise thee, Notre Dame.

And our hearts forever,

Love thee, Notre Dame.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Comanche Grasslands {Photos}

The Comanche National Grassland is a unique place to visit, especially when you're used to vacationing in the mountains and foothills. This time of year, there's not much to look at in terms of beauty per se, but come summer, the brown landscape will transform to a lush green. At that time, I'll be back for another visit (and to hike the 10.5 mile round-trip trail to the dinosaur tracks ... I know, nerd).

Despite the arid environment, you can't beat the serenity and stillness of a highly unvisited area where sky meets horizon every way you turn, or the satisfaction of enjoying a sunny spring weekend outside.

Welcome to Comanche

Purgatoire River

Picketwire Canyon (and cacti)

Picketwire Canyon

Sunset from our campsite

Friday, March 11, 2011

Happy 64th, Daddy

Schönbrunn Palace, Austria, October 2010

There are some things besides Italy that are good in my life at the moment ... my dad being one of the most important. He's showed me unconditional love; he's made incredible sacrifices to ensure I have the best of everything; he's offered words of wisdom, sprititual guidance and boundless encouragement throughout all stages and transitions of my growth; and he's acted as one of the most deserving and respected role models I've ever come across. In all honesty, I am a daddy's girl. But, it's hard not to be when you're the only child of a protective and loving father.

Happy Birthday Dad, I'm so sorry the ND Irish couldn't win it for you tonight!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Italy: the consolation

The above link will take you to a lovely description (complete with photo gallery) of this charming restored barn in the heart of Tuscany, Italy. This shall be my home for a time in September; it will also be a celebratory location for my 25th birthday on the 16th.

So it wasn't in the cards for me this year ... medical school, I mean. The interviews went well - I'm a decent judge of these things, and I've learned to trust my instincts. As for a short-term solution, I've requested to speak with Dr. Winn, the Dean of Admissions at the University of Colorado. He's a Notre Dame alum, and he's an amiable, though painfully realistic, guy. I believe it to be my MCAT score that's preventing me from receiving that acceptance letter ... perhaps my low-ish science GPA, maybe both? I don't know anymore. Three years is just crazy, and I am mentally, physically, and emotionally drained. I need someone to tell me bluntly what the hell is wrong with me. 

This really is not the end of the world (despite how I felt yesterday afternoon in the car, stopping for a split second to give partial credence to the thought that I almost wouldn't have minded being in a car accident on that particular day). Either way, I suppose I'll find the answers and fix what I can for next year. I've always believed things work out the way they're meant to .... and there is always a positive side to every misfortune. 

I must admit, Italy is a pretty fantastic consolation prize!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Comanche Grasslands

Located in southeastern Colorado near La Junta, Comanche National Grassland extends across 443,764 acres and is divided into two units, Timpas (in the northwest) and Carrizo (in the southeast along the Oklahoma border). Vegetation is primarily Shortgrass prairie, but juniper and pinyon trees grow in rocky canyons and cottonwoods are abundant along streams. The area contains ancient petroglyphs carved into canyon walls and rock faces, and Picketwire Canyon boasts the Purgatoire River track site (the largest documented dinosaur trackway in North America) in the Morrison Formation. More than 1,300 Allosaurs and Brontosaurs tracks are visibly preserved in the rock - footprints that were left behind in the muddy shoreline 150 million years ago!

Aside from these obvious attractions, the grasslands offer a unique sense of isolation that people like me crave when hiking, camping, and enjoying the Colorado outdoors. With a promising weekend forecast of high-60's and sunny, I know where I'll be spending my Saturday and Sunday!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Inspiration for The North Face

While I own a substantial collection of North Face clothing and gear, I have never given much thought to the logo (which conists of three thick half-U shaped lines somewhat resembling a mountain).

Never Stop Exploring
I was surprised to learn that the image is an interpretation of Yosemite's Half Dome viewed from the west. The sheer North Face of Half Dome is on the left. Below is a photograph of the granite monolith taken by the one and only Ansel Adams. See the similarity?

I am very excited about this new-found knowledge!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Half Dome Cables

Permit reservation day: 8 am Mountain Time, March 1st 

From Recreation.gov

Beginning in 2011, each person who ascends Half Dome via the Cable Route is required to have a permit every day of the week that the cables are in place (mid-May/early June through Columbus Day weekend in October, depending on snow conditions). Although wilderness permits can be secured up to six months in advance, a day-hike permit cannot be reserved until a specified date - in our case, March 1st.

You can only reserve a day-hike permit online through Recreation.gov as early as 7 am Pacific Time (8 am Mountain Time). Out of a 400 per-day permit quota, there were none remaining at 8:05 am for June 21st, the day we'd planned our climb. Within minutes of becoming available, every single day in both May and June was sold out {July hikes can't be reserved until April 1st, otherwise I can guarantee that the month would be sold out as well}. Thankfully, Justin and I were among the lucky 400 ... we had ours reserved and confirmed by 8:01!

Apparently I've underestimated the popularity of this hike (despite the craziness of day-hike permit demand). We'd been unable to obtain a wilderness permit allowing us to camp at Little Yosemite Valley on the night of the 20th (thus dividing our 17-mile round trip - & 4,800 feet of elevation gain - climb into two parts); every day through mid-August was completely reserved. However, the park service allows only 60% of these permits for any particular trailhead to be reserved ahead of time; the other 40% is held for hikers the day of travel, or up to 24 hours in advance. So, if we can make it to the wilderness office long before they open on the 19th, we should be good to go. If not, at least we've ensured a day-hike permit and the opportunity of a lifetime to climb this famous granite rock formation.