We pulled to the side of the road and jumped out, stepping into the woods to a place we had never been. After only a short jaunt, the trees opened up into this:
With not another human being in sight, we played in the waters and ate cherries on the shore.
The only signs that others had ever been here was an old campsite, abandoned long ago.
After hiking around the lake, we continued on, venturing further into the mountains and up a small hill. The trees soon fell away and revealed the Winds’ hidden secrets: views like this one, only footsteps off of the road. Views that so few people take the time to find.
You never know what you will see when you step off the road in the Wind River Mountains.
As our last mission in the Black Hills, we aimed to climb the highest peak in South Dakota (in fact, the highest peak between the Rocky Mountains and Europe!). At a staggering 7,244 feet, it might not seem like much to those who bag 14ers in Colorado, but from the top, you can gaze out into the plains of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Montana.
To reach the summit, we took Trail No. 9 from the Sylvan Lake day-use area in Custer State Park. There are supplies there, if needed, though at only 7-miles round trip, the trail should not take you all day. No permit is required, but they do request that hikers register at the beginning of the Black Elk Wilderness. There is a small fee to gain entrance to the state park.
We set out early and soon overcame and passed the only other people on the trail. There is an abandoned fire lookout tower at the peak, and you are free to climb around and play in it. From the views, it feels as if you can see everything. The entire world is right there, sitting just at the horizon.
As the first to reach the top that day, we were lucky to find a dozing mountain goat, just waking up from its slumber in the basement of the lookout tower. He popped out looking a little dazed, and then a little annoyed that we had woken him up so early.
From the top, standing precariously on the tips of cliffs that drop down into empty black gulches, it’s easy to image why these hills lay virgin until as recently as 150 years ago. While the rest of the West was being tamed and tortured, the Black Hills sat aloof, above it all and dangerously imposing.
The vastness of the West from the summit also gives way to the same visions that quite possibly came to Black Elk as he sat upon the stones, alone, a wondrous survivor of both the Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee.
As Black Elk said: “I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.” — Black Elk Speaks
We took time for a mid-morning snack, testing fate by eating right on the edge of eternity.
And as the rest of the world caught up to us on our secluded mountain, we packed up and headed out, in hopes of finding (successfully) a funky pub in downtown Custer.
Back on the Big Island, we try to wander off the beaten path.
We go down one side…
…and up the other.
A path that takes us straight, straight down into a valley nearly abandoned during years of flooding and tsunamis intertwined with years of severe drought.
The few who still live there are intensely private, preferring to be left along among the palm trees and taro fields of the narrow tropical valley.
The beach is nearly empty in all directions…
…with Maui peaking out coyly from the plains of sweeping blue waves.
We sit and scrinch our toes through the course black sand, an adolescent beach growing up and out.
And we enjoy the time alone before hitching a ride back up the 70-degree incline that serves as the driveway into Waipi’o Valley.
On top of a mountain.
It’s easy to do in Hawai’i, if you aren’t seduced by the thought of sitting on the beach drinking mai tais for days at a time. People don’t usually head to the islands to mountain climb, but they could if they wanted to.
Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Island of Hawai’i are both well over 13,000 feet, and the tips of Mauna Kea flirt with the same elevation as the tallest mountain in Wyoming, and that height doesn’t even begin to count the 35,000 feet of it that are under water.
While the summit of Mauna Loa is reserved for hikers and climbers, Mauna Kea plays host to a dozen or so international organizations that study space in some of the clearest air in the world with some of the most retro-space-aged equipment I’ve ever seen outside of Mystery Science Theater.
Some of them you can drive right up to, other you can even tour if you call ahead.
NASA’s infrared telescope is up there, as is a CalTech machine, a Gemini Telescope that jointly owned by several countries, a site that belongs to the National Observatory of Japan and the UK’s infrared telescope, and absolutely NO invasive species (unless you count the telescopes).
It’s a regular Alpine United Nations up there, and it looks like a scene from a creepy 60s science fiction movie that would be riffed by the MST3K guys…
An in accordance with Hawaiian law, the Hawaiian people are allowed to continue traditional practices and ceremonies at the top of Hawaii’s largest mountain.
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