The gravel crunched under my hiking boots as I stepped out of the car. Water seeped up a bit as I strode on the ground; the air was wildly sweet and fresh; the sun shone in hopeful springtime rays. This was going to be a good hike.
Horse Thief Lake was my go-to hike. Challenging enough but not exhausting; never meet another human soul; breathtakingly beautiful; God’s peace and joy. I opened the back door of my car and pulled on first my jacket and gloves, then my backpack. Zipped up, locked up, I started out.
Entering the Black Elk National Forest is entering a different dimension of enveloping beauty and quiet. An occasional swish or crack alerts to small woodland presence unseen. Birds are hushed, silently sweeping from branch to branch, protecting their families and feeding their young. Looking down at the trail and looking up through the trees yield disparate and exquisite vistas.
The trail is single-file width. Mostly dirt, it often offers rocks and boulders in or out of the way. Sometimes one must climb using sure footing techniques, sometimes using clamber-like-a-toddler on all fours techniques. Springtime hikes ‘most always include moist patches, puddles, or downright watering holes.
The upward vista is always glorious, sun, rain, or snow. The trees vary from birch to pine to oak, and present their various colors throughout the year: sunlight dapples down through naked branches, vibrant springtime leaves, full summer foliage, brilliant autumn colors, or pine needles. One’s gaze may be drawn up rugged cliffs or down into woodland draws, carpeted with leaves, branches, and mosses.
This is easily a ten- to twelve-hour hike, beginning to end, but you can make it in seven and a half if you really hustle. The highlight is a turn-out offering a spectacular view of Mt Rushmore. On this particular day, I was taking it easy. A few hours into my hike, I settled onto a cozy boulder for a snack and some water. Carefully positioning myself, I remained still for several minutes. It was then that tiny creatures revealed themselves. A shrew scuttled across the trail. Two chipmunks chased one another through the underbrush. Two deer alerted and dashed up a slope. I knew that a hot shower was going to feel oh, so good upon my return; but, for now, I relished the moments and God’s creation.