Fifth Wedding Anniversary Part III: Harney Peak

I slept in on July 4th. We had been getting up so early the last few days, trying to get through everything on the South Dakota check list. Finally, I decided I needed a break.  Sleeping in was refreshing.

When I managed to crawl out of the tent, Adlai already had a cup of coffee ready for me. We sat in our camp chairs drinking coffee and contemplating the rumbling sky. There were a few soft raindrops that started to fall. We decided to go get a bite to eat at the Mountain Grill before the downfall.

We each ordered a breakfast burrito. Mine was packed with scrambled eggs and cheese and Adlai’s was filled with eggs, sausage and cheese. We asked for the burritos to go. They came tucked in a piece of aluminum foil and included a side of salsa and sour cream. As we walked back to the campsite, we listened to the rumbling in the sky as more raindrops dampened the soil.

Breakfast burrito complete with salsa

Scrambled egg and cheese breakfast burrito.

We sat quietly under the canopy wondering if today was going to be a good day for the bike ride we planned — well sort of planned. We knew we wanted to go on a bike ride, but we didn’t know where. Before I could look up from nibbling on my breakfast burrito, Adlai’s had disappeared. “This isn’t going to be enough,” he said. “Then go order another one,” I retorted. He didn’t respond, he just poured more coffee in our mugs.

Adlai got out the map and we were trying to determine which bike trail we wanted to take. I wanted to get up and go. I wanted something that was going to give me a good workout. I wanted to be worn out. We talked about the bike ride and I threw in Harney Peak. I said, “I really want to hike Harney Peak, so, if you change your mind let me know.” No response.

We looked at the Deerfield bike trail that was about 18.3 miles long. It was north of where we were staying, and that was appealing to us because we spent most of our time in Custer State Park which was south of where we were staying.

We prepared for the day by packing up the cooler and making sure the bread was on board, attached the bikes and left our campsite. The sky was still rumbling and there were a few rain drops rolling down the windshield, but the farther north we traveled, the sky cleared up and the sun warmed our surroundings.

On the way to Deerfield trail, we decided to stop at a place called Pactolo Reservoir. There were boats, tubers, skiers and lots of others enjoying the clear blue water and sunny skies. We snapped a few pictures and got on the road again.

Pactola Reservoir South Dakota

The beautiful Pactola Reservoir in South Dakota.

We kept traveling and soon discovered that the trail heads were not marked very well. According to mapquest we were in the right location, but we couldn’t find the Deerfield trail. After wandering for at least a half an hour, I was getting grouchy again. I am a girl on the go and I love exercise. I wasn’t getting my fill of sweat sessions and I wanted to GET MOVING!

I suggested we stop at the visitor center that was a few miles back. We turned around and went in to talk with the rangers. Apparently, the trail we were looking for was in bad shape. A couple of days prior to our arrival, a man rode his bike on the Deerfield Trail. It took him eight hours to finish the trail and his wife ended up sending out a search party for him.

The man said the trail was in bad condition, there were trees that were downed and covering the trail. He told the rangers he had to pick up his bike and carry it over lots and lots of trees. We were thankful for this information, so we asked if there was a trail that was close so that we could go for a bike ride. The ranger said, “Sure! The Centennial Trail is close and a lot of people really like it.” He told us how to get there.

When we got to the trailhead, we loaded up with sunscreen and put our water bottles on the bikes. We looked around for the trailhead. “I think that’s it,” I said. “No, I think it’s this way,” Adlai responded. So, we went his way. We soon realized that was not the right way, so we went my way and it seemed like the right way to go.

The trail was a single track, dirt trail that I knew I was not going to like and Adlai was going to love. I am not sure what happened from age 25 to age 39, but somewhere along the way I lost my nerve. I used to ride the insane switch backs and steep hills of Colorado and Utah bike trails. It was a rush and I loved every minute of getting the adrenaline pumping. Yes, I wrecked a few times and flew over the handle bars, but it never stopped me. But now, I if a tree root sticks out in the trail, I walk my bike over it.

We weren’t on the Centennial trail for 10 minutes when we came to a four-wheeler trail and another trail that had a sign posted on it…no outlet. We were both confused. There were no arrows, nothing was marked; we had no idea which way to go. So, we took the four-wheeler trail only to make one big loop back to the parking lot.

When we arrived back at the parking lot, we talked to a few people in the lot to determine if they knew where to go. None of us were very sure of ourselves, so we all left and went our separate ways. By then, we were stumped. “What now,” Adlai asked? “I say we hike Harney Peak, please,” I begged. “Alright,” Adlai said.

By now, it was lunch time and we were hungry. When we arrived at Harney Peak, I recognized the area. We had driven through the day before and there was a wedding and the guests were facing the bride and groom and looking out at a lake. It was an amazing place for a wedding. I caught myself saying that I wanted to do that…hmmm, already married…guess I can’t do that.

There were lots and lots of cars and very few places to park. We pulled up next to another SUV and parked the Jeep in a ditch. We grabbed a few things out of the cooler and made sandwiches. Today we had bread! Neither one of us said very much. We were both grouchy and felt like we had wasted much of the day just driving around. By now, we really needed some exercise. I’m not sure we chewed our sandwiches, but they ended up in our bellies. We packed the food back into the cooler, grabbed some water and granola bars and set out to hike Harney Peak, the highest peak in South Dakota at 7,242 feet.

Harney Peak hike!

Getting ready to hike Harney Peak!

The sign said it would take about 4-5 hours, but we were passing those people that took four to five hours with relative ease. We were movin’ at a good pace, stopping every now and then to snap a picture or two. The terrain was steep and snaked around through the Black Hills. Some areas were filled with intense sunshine and others were covered with moss and ferns.

The hike was beautiful, although there were a few places that the earth was washed out and mud was thick. I was wearing tennis shoes and had to hop through the mud in a few spots.

To our surprise it only took us about an hour and 20 minutes to reach the top. And everyone was right! The view was amazing. We could see for miles. The Black Hills were not as majestic as the Rockies, but the land formations were a beautiful sight to see.

Harney Peak!

Where we are and where we’re going. Another photo-op while hiking Harney Peak.

Harney Peak hike.

Photo-op as we hike to Harney Peak.

Harney Peak lookout!

Almost to the top of Harney Peak!

Harney Peak!

We made it to Harney Peak!

While we were at the lookout tower, there was a Native American chanting and tapping a stick on the granite. It was surreal listening to the chant. And the more we listened, the more guttural and aggressive he sounded. We walked down the stairs from the lookout tower and overheard the Indian claim that this mountain should not be named Harney Peak, after General William S. Harney, a commander of the military in the Black Hills area in the late 1870s. He kept talking, but he was headed downhill in front of us, so I couldn’t hear him. When I had an opportunity I looked up Harney Peak. Apparently, this particular general led troops against the Sioux at the Battle of Ash Hollow. The Sioux Indians nicknamed him the “Woman Killer” because he was known to have killed women and children. It’s ironic that his name is now attached to one of the sacred mountains of the Sioux.

A Native American chanting at Harney Peak.

A Native American chanting at Harney Peak.

Our trek down the mountain was just as fast. We made it to the bottom in another hour and 20 minutes.

As we headed back to our campsite to clean up for dinner, I called a few of the local wineries. I wanted to eat dinner and sip wine for our fifth year anniversary. Because it was the fourth, many of the wineries were closing early. And, one of the wineries served only snacks. We really wanted a solid meal, and neither one of us wanted to get ready and drive back to the area we were leaving (Harney Peak area). So, we decided to eat in Rapid City.

We cleaned up back at our campsite and rode in to town. We decided on the Firehouse Brewery. The Brewery was the old Firehouse in Rapid City that was built in 1915. It was a charming brick building with decorative tile ceilings and firehouse décor. The restaurant was packed, but within a half hour we found ourselves looking over the balcony of this historic building.

Firehouse Brewery in Rapid City, South Dakota

We celebrated our anniversary with a wonderful dinner at Firehouse Brewery.

We ordered calamari for an appetizer. I had fried halibut tacos, and Adlai had a burger and fries. Neither one of us ordered a beer from the famous brewery. We both felt a little dehydrated from the long, hot and dry hike up Harney Peak. The dinner was delicious, though. When we finished, we walked around downtown. There were lots of boutiques, spas and other unique restaurants that reminded me a lot of Boulder, Colorado. I had to quiet my mind as we walked. It made me want to move to Rapid City.

After our evening outing, we went back to the campsite and ended our evening with s’mores. We reminisced about all the happy memories we made throughout the day.