Black Elk Peak, Segment III: Playtime on the Summit, then Back Down


There were quite a few people on different parts of Black Elk Peak’s summit, on July 21:  The usual college-age guys posing for photos, on the most seemingly inaccessible rocks; the young ladies, sun-bathing, on their own “private” section of boulder, and folks like me, checking out pools of water in the area once used as a water-collection spot for the fire watch crew.




Throughout nature, living creatures seek companionship.  Look closely, and you will see two butterflies.


On the way down, along Trail # 9, I came across an injured man, whose party had already requested medical assistance.  The dangers of heat prostration cannot be minimized.  I was fortunate to have an abundance of water, on hand.  The Search and Rescue crew passed me, about a mile further down the trail.  They have some amazing equipment in this area.


Passing the westernmost boulders, at the base of Black Elk Peak, I bid the fair mountain thanks and farewell.


Thus ended this phase of my spiritual quest.  It brought me in touch with myself, forced me to confront my darker places, and helped cleanse those areas.  My focus now was on crossing the prairie, to Pipestone National Monument, in southwest Minnesota.

Black Elk Peak, Segment II: Cathedral Spires to the Summit


Cathedral Spires is an area where I could camp for days on end, if it were permissible.





Yet, there was something of grandeur lying ahead for me, on Sunday afternoon, July 21:  The summit of Black Elk Peak.


The columbine were there to send me forward.


As I ascended, the views of the surrounding Black Hills region underscored the uplifting air.



While the haze was a small bit of a damper, one can look beyond it and be glad for such as this.





The summit was now just a stone’s throw away, once past this little “tunnel”.





Upon reaching the summit, I found several rather hazy views, but there was also this:


and this,




courtesy of this:


It was a beautiful day, in the hawks’ neighbourhood.

Next:  Playtime at the summit and someone’s harrowing descent

A North American Spiritual Arc- Heart of the Black Hills, Part 4: Black Elk Peak, from Sylvan Lake to Cathedral Spires


After spending about an hour at Crazy Horse Monument, I headed directly for Custer State Park, and Sylvan Lake.  From there, Trails 4 & 9 offer breathtaking choices, in heading for the summit of Black Elk Peak, another mountain that is sacred to indigenous people of the High Plains.    I will describe my hike of Sunday, July 21, in three segments.  Today,  I present the first half of the ascent:  Trail #4, from Sylvan Lake to Cathedral Spires.

The photos will tell the rest.  The approach to Custer State Park offers a hint of what lies ahead on Black Elk Peak.


Next,we arrive at Sylvan Lake, a very popular fishing and swimming spot.


Now, on to Trail # 4.


The Black Hills remain heavily forested, yet have igneous, granite and limestone formations much like those of points further west.



A spire, looking like a cave, got some new friends and I in the mood for further adventures, uptrail.


The trail itself is quite moderate, in terms of elevation gain, up to and including the turnoff to Little Spirit Tower (which I did not visit, this time) and Cathedral Spires.  It was worth noting, however, the effects of heat on the quartz which is also ubiquitous here.


Now, back to the various and wondrous shapes, which the rocks present.







Wildflowers get in their two cents, every now and then.


Through it all, the rock guardians keep watch.


Soon, again alone, I came to Cathedral Spires.





From these majestic volcanic uplifts, I would continue on a somewhat steeper course, to the awe-inspiring summit of the highest mountain in the Great Plains region.

Heart of the Black Hills, Part 3: Custer City


The first time I visited the Black Hills, with Penny, in 1984, we avoided Custer, SD, because we were both so disgusted about Little Big Horn.

I went there this time, because it had plenty of motel vacancies and I needed a shower.  The next day, July 21, I enjoyed breakfast at Baker’s Bakery, the food being far more imaginative than the establishment’s name.  A bustling, and engaging young man named Seth was my server, and applied himself very well to making his guests feel at home.  The chorizo  omelet was a sheer delight.

After breakfast, I walked around Custer.  Here are some things I noticed.  Below, is Custer County Courthouse.


Next, one of the first settler’s homes in town.


Local rocks are well-displayed at this shop, which was closed that Sunday morning.


Custer’s downtown was just starting to stir.


The town’s very own hill was clearly marked.


Buckhorn Mountain was not marked, but rose prominently, to the northeast, nonetheless.


Custer, the town, is a lovely, welcoming place- a far cry  from its namesake, the General.



I am sharing this one on Facebook, as well.  I have many friends on that medium, and other sites, who are in a very tender emotional state, for reasons of their own.  When they take a risk and share their grief, which, by the way, they don’t have to do, they are sharing the most private areas of their life experiences.  I love a good many of these people, as if they are my own family.  I believe, to the core of my being,  that we each have a bounden duty to follow the Golden Rule, with regard to one another and with regard to our expectations of ourselves.  I have several snarky friends, who are mostly of good sense, in honouring people who are clearly in a dark place, emotionally.  If they can be civil, so can every one else.

Heart of the Black Hills, Part 2: The Two Great Monuments



On Saturday, July 20, I took an evening respite from the wild and wonderful, and joined the masses at Gutzon Borglum’s  epic memorial to our nation:  Mount Rushmore.



Each state has its flag and a granite slab, set in its honour, along the Grand Concourse.

SAM_5660            SAM_5661

SAM_5662          SAM_5663

The mountain, before the monument was carved, looked something like this.


Now, there are vantage points, from which to focus on one ,or several of the presidents.



I had a simple supper in Mount Rushmore’s dining hall, then took a brief hike under the sculptures.  After that, the Great Black Hills lodging hunt yielded me a room in Custer.

The next morning, after a delectable breakfast and brief walk around Custer (see next post), I spent an hour or so at Crazy Horse Monument, the memorial to the great Oglala Lakota chief, started by Korczak Ziolkowski, in 1948.  As you will note, it is far from finished.  The family, and the foundation now guiding its work, continue to carve, blast and fine-tune this magnificent edifice.                                                                                                                                            SAM_5700

I took some time to look around the Visitor Center, and to walk around the garden grounds, before setting off for Black Elk Peak’s southern slopes. (see post on Saturday).

SAM_5697   SAM_5699




Driving away, I got one last look at Chief Crazy Horse.


Next:  A Morning in Custer, SD

A Year of Respite


This will be a very short post.

 In 2011, after losing my wife, I made one moderate change in my life.  We had two homes, one in Phoenix, the other in Prescott.  I moved out of the first, into the second, and sold the Phoenix house, through a short sale.

I gave myself one year with no major decisions, other than the above.  I believe every time someone suffers a catastrophic loss, he or she deserves to be given at least a year’s respite.  Some people need two years, or more.  That should be okay with everyone who says they love that person.

I had to calm some of my family members down, when they were overly concerned with a temporary cash flow problem I had, in late Summer, 2011.  It worked out.  Transitional issues surface, the survivor handles them, sometimes with help, and moves on.

The person left behind, no matter what the loss, is a strong person, a survivor, a thriver.  S(he) deserves to be able to set the rules, and to have them be honoured.  That’s all I can say, at this point.

Thirty Days Hath….


Little over a month ago, I embarked on a heart quest, parallel to my spiritual and physical journey.  In the process of sorting out my feelings, faux pas were committed, apologies made and an important friendship was at least restored to the level of cordiality and politeness.

This morning, for the first time since the morning, in March, 2011, my wife’s soul filled our bedroom with ectoplasmic intensity and woke me with an urgency I had never felt, I was awakened by another person’s spiritual energy.  As it happens, the energy was full of gratitude, assuring me that all was better this morning, after the utter darkness that same treasured soul was expressing last night.

In only a month, I have gone, in my own emotional space, from mistaking my strong feelings for my best friend for some sort of transgenerational, quasi-romantic process, to realizing it is a far deeper and more enduring set of feelings that are at play.  Let me explain.

In the Baha’i Faith, it is recognized that there are many levels of love.  The physical, transitory set of impulses, otherwise known as lust, accompanies physical love, but really has nothing to do with what endures.  One may easily think otherwise, when the person to whom one is drawn is a very physically attractive individual, with a winsome personality. Infatuation dissipates, though, as it has for me on a few occasions over the past year.

The way it is for me now, the awareness that I have of how I feel about this person, is that there will never be a time when her feelings, her thoughts, her dreams and, yes, her own love for her own dear friend will not matter to me more than my own feelings, thoughts and dreams- about anyone or anything.  This is different for me.  I felt this, and more, for Penny, my soul mate, yet now my feelings are an odd mix of parental, fraternal and universal regard for one of the most beautiful souls I have ever known.

What you wish, my friend, may it be granted.  What you strive for, may it be achieved.  What you dream, may it come true.  There is no daylight between these, and what I would do to make them happen.  I will defend your honour, your dignity, and all that you hold dear, until the end of time.  Thanks, my friend, for just being you.

A Successful Relationship


One of my dearest friends shared a TIME article, with us today, on another social network:

The Key to Happy Relationships? It’s Not All About Communication

By Aug. 16, 2013

Read more:

This topic has been much on my mind, of late.  I reflect that my marriage, while not perfect by any means, was solid.  We knew, and honoured, each other’s tastes, likes and dislikes.  Our family members were ALL family.  My parents treated Penny’s family as their own, and vice versa.  She and I were committed to the idea that communication was important, but so was respect for feelings.  Talking had to be accompanied by listening, by hearing, and by taking each other’s feelings into consideration, when making decisions, as an individual and as partners in one of the most beautiful of all human institutions.

Society has cheapened the marital bond.  I’m not talking about things like open marriages, “swinging”,or even viewing of adult pornography.  Those practices, while neither necessarily nurturing of a marriage nor particularly harmful to it, are mostly honest attempts by one or both partners to make up for aspects of his/her life that were absent from adolescence or young adulthood.  No, the marital bond has been given short shrift by a general feeling that life is so transitory, that nothing matters much.  Odious terms, like “baby mama (or daddy)”, “Best Friend, with benefits”, or even “fuck buddy”, have replaced more conventional and respectful references to one’s significant other, mate, spouse, life partner.  I consider my wife, two years deceased, to be my soul mate.  I consider the person who shared this article with me, and others, to be my best friend in this world, sans “benefits”.  I’m just glad to know her and to share in her life, to the extent she sees fit.

When I am in a relationship with a woman, I try to know as much about the person as she is willing to share.  I do not pry, snoop, or stalk.  If she has a preference for certain things, I honour it, and do what I can to bring about her happiness.  The same holds true, to a lesser extent, for casual or platonic relationships.  It’s just good form, and increases goodwill between those who claim to be friends.

I hope married couples in general, and particularly those whose bond is “on the rocks”, will avail themselves of the TIME article and discuss these concepts fully, then put them into practice.  It’s always better “late” than never.

Heart of the Black Hills, Part 1: Black Elk Peak’s North Side


I decided to have a 3-4 hour look at the northern, less-traveled slope of South Dakota’s highest peak, on the bright and sunny Saturday afternoon, July 20.  There’s a Horse Camp nearby, but I found myself the only person on the trail, which is clear as far as a small waterfall.  This was a perfect place for me to turn around, after three hours on the trail.

Here are some views of this wilder side of the Black Hills.  I credit a family of horsefolk for showing me Trail #9.


Limestone and granite abound here, as they do in the Southwest, as remnants of glacial movement and volcanic thrust.





A lone butterfly was resting in the ash-coloured soil, as I passed carefully by.


The fruits of the butterfly’s, and other pollinators’ labours, are much in evidence here.


Monster-faced rocks added to the legends of the Arapaho, Shoshone and Crow, as well as the Siouan nations who occupied this area in more modern times.


Greeting me, and anticipating the next day’s visit, were the spires of Black Elk Peak’s summit.


Some smaller spires were well-hidden by the forest.


Others very proudly thrust their chests out.




I arrived at the falls of South Fork, Spring Creek, as the five-thirty “click” signaled to me that it was time to head back.


Tomorrow, I would be full-on, along the south slope of this magnificent peak, and would reach the top.  In between, the more settled gems of Mount Rushmore, Custer and Crazy Horse Monument awaited.