I’m out staying away from people in the Black Hills. If you’re planning to take a break this weekend (and you know, we could all use a break from the pandemic, the recession, and whatever new insults to decency and intelligence the man watching TV in the White House will come up with next) but still want to be coronavirus-cautious and avoid crowds, the Black Hills offer many opportunities for quiet, solitudinous vacation.
Hikers seeking solitude don’t go to Trail 9 during normal times, let alone during a pandemic. Yesterday, as usual, I met bunches of people (and dogs! Good brave dogs! Good dogs getting up those rocks! Treats back at the car!) It’s not disappointing to see people from all over enjoying the highest hike in South Dakota and the view from the top of our state, and our passing exposure to each other in the fresh piney air poses minimal risk of contagion (we’re all breathing hard, but the wind on the slope quickly disperses our droplets).
Still, I avoided crowded Sylvan Lake and came up Black Elk Peak from the north, from Willow Creek Horse Camp. (Be careful! The turn-off to the left comes up quickly around the bend as you come down from Mount Rushmore.) There were a half-dozen other cars parked on the grass when I got there, and the only other people I saw were a couple of gals just setting out up the trail. I put on my running shoes and followed on Trail 8 but then veered right on Trail 2, the Lost Cabin Trail, which somehow in thirty years of Black Hills adventures I’ve never taken (although I did lose a guy in my crew there once, as he got cocky, decided to blaze a trail, and ended up running halfway west around the mountain before getting turned around by someone he swears was his guardian angel).
I met no one on 2. No one. I took the spur east along the creek in view of the little meadows, past the great view of Little Devil’s Tower, through the crazy rock formations… and still no one.
There are many more trails where you can get away from everyone. Getting up early helps. I ran from Silver City up the Deerfield Trail this morning and met only two other people—caught up with them, actually, on my way back down, near the gate. Otherwise, I had Rapid Creek, the bridges, the soft ground, and the bear cave (or maybe that’s Woster’s hideout?) all to myself.
Now I’m up on some old grassy logging road in a spot that gets two bars of signal when the wind blows just right. A Forest Service truck passed me in a tolerable cloud of dust down on the gravel below, but since crossing the stream and climbing this road, the only people I’ve been aware of are the occasional four-wheelers I can hear sometimes in the valley below and the one guy on a pontoon I could see through my binoculars when I climbed a ridge and spotted the far west tail of the Pactola Reservoir. Now all I hear is the wind blowing through the pines, a sound of wind distinct from the in-town gusts in Aberdeen or the howlingest winds on the unobstructed prairie.
Getting away from everybody is good for the soul. And there are probably some people around you who won’t mind having you out of their hair for a bit.
Hit the trail this weekend. Hit a different trail.