Tuesday, July 30, 2013

6,600 Feet Above Sea Level (and all is well)

Ho hum.  Another Sunday.  But it wasn't.  Ho hum, that is.  It was a Sunday though, and that's always a day for adventure during summer in the Black Hills.  This past one lived up to expectations.  Actually even exceeded them.  And it all started out with a simple breakfast with my lovely wife at a lovely little table in a perfectly lovely location.  The view was..well..lovely.

Our plan was to continue from here up to Roughlock Falls, then on to... "Hey look! A squirrel!"

Oh, sorry.  I'm easily distracted.  But there actually was  a squirrel in the tree above our table.  It was hilarious to watch him pick those fresh green pine cones from the branch and chew them up just like corn on the cob.  He would finish one, toss it down to the ground, then grab another and start gnawing away.  It really was very entertaining.
Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah, the plan.  We wanted to go up to the very summit of Cement Ridge where there is a fire lookout tower located.  My wife had never been up there, and it had been many years for me.  So many, in fact, that I didn't quite remember the way.   I took a wrong turn and finally realized something was amiss when we came to this spot ---

So I did what any guy would do after trying to figure it out on his own.  I got out the map.  And, yes, I had taken the wrong road.  So we back-tracked a few miles, found the right road and continued on toward our destination. 
There is always interesting and unusual scenery on any Black Hills backroad, and this one was no exception.  At one point we rounded a corner and gazed upon this landscape --- "Looks like Hobbit Land," my wife said out loud just as I was thinking the same thing.  The way the meadow of tall grass gave way to the clusters of small bush-like trees, then the Aspens, then the big Pines, offered an excellent illustration of the diversity of nature out here.  So much diversity in fact, that it actually did seem possible there could be a few Hobbits or Trolls in there somewhere. 
Then, right before the final turn-off where the climb to the summit of Cement Ridge began, we came across this old barn with a roof made up of tiller blades.  The word we agreed upon this time to describe the scene was "Vikingish."  That may not actually have been a real word. But it is now.
A few miles later we reached the lookout.  What a view!
To add some perspective - Harney Peak, the highest point in the Black Hills is just over 7,200 feet, and here we were over 6,600 feet.  It was spectacular.
After wandering around for a bit we headed back down and were treated to a rare sight of some wildlife that I have never seen before in this area.  Right there sitting atop a big rock on the side of the hill next to the road was a Woodchuck, Groundhog and Marmot.  I say "was" instead of "were" because those are all names for the same animal.  At first I thought it might have been Honey Badger, but then I remembered a Honey Badger don't care, and this animal looked like it did care.  (Sorry for the pop culture reference right there.  I hope at least a few readers got it. And for those that didn't get it -- check out You Tube sometime).
Pretty sure it's a Woodchuck. (You can click on the photo for a closer view).  I know they're around this area, but I had never seen one in the wild before.  So that was kind of cool.  And, speaking of cool, by now a heavy layer of clouds had moved in and it looked like a good thunderstorm was brewing.  Soon huge rain drops were splashing onto the windshield signaling that it was time for us to go.  I kept the window open as long as I could to savor that wonderful smell of a forest rainstorm.  There's nothing like it. It makes getting wet quite all right.