Built to Last

…the walls, anyway.

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Black & White Meets Color

The sunny driving weather that I came here for has been in effect since Monday and looks like it will continue for many days ahead. Today, I logged well over 200 miles (the vast majority on gravel roads) in and around South Dakota’s Buffalo Gap National Grassland. A spectacular day of driving, with plenty of interesting things and places to see and hundreds of photos accumulated in the process. I’ll be sharing those for several months to come; here’s one to tide you over.

White Knight

The scenery has changed. Above is the view from early this morning in northwestern Nebraska. Happily, the roads were clear by late morning as I made my way toward the Black Hills of South Dakota. But it will be a few days before the backroads in the area are dry enough to explore.

Right Place, Right Time

After my 2016 visit to the Dog Ear Buttes of South Dakota, I posted this trip report, where I mentioned my long-standing desire to conquer the summits of these little hills on the prairie. When I returned to the buttes this past September, I had no plan in place for tracking down the landowner so I could get permission to hop the fence; I figured I’d wing it once I got there. Turns out, it couldn’t have been easier.

As soon as I had parked on the side of the road, a van came around the curve and slowed to a stop beside me. I introduced myself to the friendly family inside and asked if they happened to know who owns the land south of the road. “We do.” Cool. I asked if they would mind if I walked to the top of each hill. They gave their blessing, as the cows were grazing in another pasture that day. I thanked them and we said goodbye. As they drove on to their destination, I rolled a short distance westward, looking for the best spot to climb the barbed wire.

(Above: View to the west from the north summit; the Pontiac parked below)

(Above: View of the north summit from the south summit)

Once over the fence, I made straight for the north summit. Not difficult hiking, certainly, but steeper than it looks from the road. The ground was stony and dry, studded with yucca and prickly pear. In short order, I was standing on the rocky peak of the north Ear, enjoying an unobstructed view of the big sky and the sweeping prairie.

(Above: Looking eastward from the south summit; a vulture gliding through the center of the frame)

I then made the easy stroll across the saddle to the top of the south Ear. The only movement I noticed in this panorama was a single soaring vulture, making a slow circle around the buttes; not an uncommon sight on the plains, but this may be the only time I’ve seen one circling below my eye level. Pretty sweet. (You can spot the vulture during the first few seconds of the video I’ve linked below.)

(Above: View to the south from the south summit; 18 miles to the Nebraska line)

In addition to the great view up there, I enjoyed the absence of noises from the civilized world; I tend to linger in places where I can bask in the silence of the wind.

You can follow this link to Vimeo and watch a 45-second video showing a slow 360° rotation atop the south summit.

Axial Tilt

Yes, it’s that same hill in South Dakota you’ve seen many times before…the one I visit at least twice each year, the place where I love to park to watch the sun and the moon. I bookended my 2017 western adventure here; above is a September sunset, below, one from October. Note the southward drift of the setting sun in that three-week period.