Black Hills National Forest
Location: Sundance, Wyoming/USA
Elevation: 3,100 ft
Prominence: 1200 ft
Note: Before you begin reading I already know what you’re thinking: “What could possibly be exciting about Wyoming? (yawn)” It’s a fair question, and something that should be addressed straight-away. The answer might surprise you a little. The truth is, the answer is totally related to what kind of hiker you are, and somewhat philosophical. You have to ask yourself: “Am I a trailblazing, stone-kicking, seeker of sacred zones in the misty heights?” “A geared-up ‘earthbound-astronaut-in-boots’ made for 10,000 feet above sea-level?” “Am I wading waist-deep in the Irish-muck to get to the distant hill where the Dolmen sits?” “Am I willing to go to that way-out-there place which others dismiss as too inconvenient?” In other words, are you passionate about breaking the domesticated spell of post-modern life? Or…are you the needy type? Do you need attention and noise? Are you in the habit of speaking constantly, needing to hear about this, that, and the other thing from the social-media feed? Do you need lots of stuff at your disposal? Do you need to be close to a metropolis and all its accoutrements? Do you need a constant phone/computer signal? If so, you’re not alone; but let’s put distant, hard to reach, places into perspective; If, for example, you were to show up in a place like Killarney Ireland (Image/Left) with this needy attitude, a Killarney which is a darkly magical, mostly wet, Celtic wilderness of eternal greenery, you could perhaps say the same needy things you say of Wyoming, like: “Oh man, it’s just farms and mountains without a soul in sight”… etc etc etc. And with this needy attitude you will have already failed. You might as well go on a cruise and do the thing where you get off the boat, and then back on, after looking at a mountain from the beach, for about ten minutes. Awful. The point is this: the only real difference between the stellar beauty of a romantic wilderness like Killarney, and the lessor known wilderness of The Black Hills (Image/Below), is only the basics of fauna of the landscapes, and that’s it. That’s all. The potential for wonder and exploration is just as possible in Wyoming as it is anywhere else on Earth. Both are haunting and spacious, eccentrically-far from any city, and soooo quiet that they are equally capable of making you face that illusive, money-bound, noise factory, you currently know as…. yourself. The Black Hills in Wyoming is yet another dream-scape that can heal your senses and sooth your thoughts. There are romantic signs in the mountains of a history that goes right back to the primordial beginning of Time, just like Celtic sites. If you open your eyes in this way, Black Hills Wyoming is a vast mystical zone, just waiting to embrace you. In American modern cinema, in films such as ‘Dances With Wolves’, ‘The Last of The Mohicans”, or “The Revanent”, there is an image of the “spiritually in-tune” Native American. This image of the stoic, quiet minded, spiritually animated native, is not easily grasped by the domesticated culture we now find ourselves in, where almost 65% of the population has now been forced to inhabit cities. It is hard to comprehend the once spiritual state of the Native American in such a postmodern situation. But, if cities are the mechanism for our domestication, than places like Black Hills National Forest in Wyoming, are the mechanism for cosmic-quiet, and a confident solitude that the Native Americans once knew. When you enter them, the quiet is practically a persona to be interacted with, not just a lack of meaningless bustle and monotonous motion. You can truly realize this in this absolutely vast space, and slightly hypnotizing slopes of the Black Hills.
Even the image of this wide-open landscape can’t do the actual scale justice. South of this place, the Wyoming Plain rolls like an intermediary dimension between Heaven and Hell, neither rising nor falling, just continuing into an ever distant blue horizon. Some History: Obviously no Roman Army ever traversed this place, like in England or France, although, I have to think that the Caesars would have been tempted by the idea of crossing such a vast stretch of accessible land, like when they penetrated the high Plains of Scotland, where they were eventually turned back by the Picti (Scottish Natives). So, who did walk in this place in Wyoming? The Arapaho, Cheyenne, Ute, and Shoshone all inhabited this vast space as warrior-hunters of the Plains. We now know that most of their ancestors wandered over the land-bridge while hunting animals from the East-Eurasian Continent to what is now Alaska, created by the receding Ice-Age some 40,000 years ago. Once upon a time, this Plain was inundated with Buffalo, an animal by which nearly every human need can be resourced. The native tribes, amazingly, say that they were NOT the first to inhabit this place, but rather, the ancient myths tell of a race of “Celtic looking (caucasion) red-haired giants” who were already here when the natives arrived. Strangely enough, the Native Israelite tribes encountered the exact same thing when they entered Israel from Arabia, discovering giants in the hills, which is recorded in Semetic Scripture: ‘Numbers 13:32’. The Mayan and Inca say the very same thing. The megaliths of South America were there BEFORE THEY ARRIVED. In fact, nearly every Native American tribe has stories of giants controlling the heights of the mountains and hills. And these are the oldest stories that the tribes have to offer, which are now faded into inaccuracy and mere myth, due to the genocide that came for the natives in the modern Era. Like the native Scottish Picti tribes, these Native Americans were at-one with the landscape, and also like the Picti, when a foreign army came marching through, they decided to paint themselves for battle, and fight. Of-course it wasn’t the Roman Army which wandered into the heights of Wyoming, but The Union Army, a far more advanced and devastating force, and we know how that story ends. Don’t let this wide-open space and silence fool you; although it is profoundly peaceful there are mysteries and epic events which took place here, making it that much more haunting in the heights of the trail. The natives called this place “The Black Hills”, although I am not entirely sure how they could have… The scene is a dry green and golden haze that embeds striking patches of massive trees and knolls. It all booms-out over the region as if it never ends. The trails are not what you would call ‘a going concern’, but are still marked by the classic cursive lettering and soil-brown signs that were erected at the turn of the century. I’ve waited my entire life to see one of these particular types of signs; seeing one means you’re in the Great North West of America; a rock-star zone for hikers. This is the listed trail-head for the Black Hills, down a lulling farm-road, about 7 miles from the classically Americana town of Sundance Wyoming, population 1,182. Sundance has veterans who died for the United States memorialized in the center of Town, along with home-like breakfast parlors and ice-cream shops straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. But these people aren’t lost to the Times, as you might ignorantly assume; they are a deeply rustic, tough, and caring people who look you straight in the eye, and extend a helping hand in a moments notice. Black Hills Trail: Entering this trail is as pleasant as it gets. There are distinct and clear heights in front of you, with a breeze and swaying grass beneath spaciously assorted Pines. The path appears to be a modern work of Cub Scouts and campers from the last 100 years. There are no signs of the ancient stony paths found in Celtic heights, New England, or northern Colorado. The one factor that is entirely unique to this space is the level of quiet, if that is possible to measure. It is simply a denser quiet. Even the regular sounds of hawks or wild goats are not heard in these hills. It will make you more aware of yourself in return. Often times it’s a moment to say to yourself: “Well, at least I’m not in my office/in traffic/on-line/ etc etc etc. The Trail switches back a few times as you ascend a solid soil pathway through the Ponderosa treeline (Image/Left). As the hillside reveals itself, there are stones that begin to pop up, of a type I had never seen before. As the trail levels off near the top of the initial knoll, it begins to veer into the deeper woods, and boulders akin to what is found on the ledges of New England, begin appear. I have to admit that the ledges and boulders here were so ancient looking, so old, that I realized I had never seen this specific type before. Ancient Wyoming boulders are practically rust colored with orange and brown spots. (Image/Below/Right) This is very similar to the pattern on Alpine stones found in the heights of Mount Katahdin (Below/Left). Look at the Same rare spotted pattern, although they are very different colors. There are also boulders in auspicious vantage points throughout the early portion of the upper trail.(Image/Below) You can see cut-sections of ancient hillside stone, with a free standing boulder on the upper left corner in the image, in an advantageous vantage-point above, just like on New England ledges. Whoever put these boulders there are the first occupants of this land, before the Native Americans arrived. The places where the stones are cut, and stacked, on top of each other are most often the most beautiful views facing outward, not hidden in the forest. Again, this is so similar to Ireland and New England that it is nearly impossible to ignore. Look how distinctly the stone is cut and set in a fixture in the image below.The second third of the trail, the upper trail, becomes gorgeous forest. This is a beautiful stretch of trees and thickets, and there is a temptation to wander into it, leaving the path behind. I don’t recommend going off-trail on a first excursion, but with time, and more knowledge of the range, it might be possible some day in the future.
The upper vale in any range, whether it’s the White Mountains of Vermont, or The Berkshires of New York, are almost always a type of secondary dimension. You step through them, only to have them change as you go. Your perspective can change from ‘surrounded by pillars of reddish brown’ to ‘sifting through small shafts of milky-white limbs’; i.e: Ponderosa’s to Birch’s. This might be hard for a hiking layman to understand, but a particular grove can change the way you feel. The Ponderosa Pine grove (Image/Above) is a distinctly different feeling than the Birch grove (Image/Below). Harder still it is to comprehend for many beginners, is that forests, in this manner, teach us about our level of receptivity and perception. Imagine what happen if you chance to walk through 50 forests, or 100, in this lifetime. On the higher end of that receptivity is realizing and experiencing sacred zones. They feel beyond Time. Places where megaliths are found are almost always in accordance with this mystical feeling, and we are discovering through dynamic new anthropology that this is anything but wishful thinking. There are entire forests and ranges in New England and Ireland that have connective engineering throughout the entire landscape (See Cavan Burren National Park/Stonestrider.com). The landscape is literally stone-grafted to synergize the experience of moving through it. Most people, even in this age, just can’t get their minds around the idea that the entire landscape is a temple or monument, harnessing very real subtle energies. This particular trail in Wyoming is a chance to see the contrast between landscapes that are inundated with stone-linings, and those that are not, and what that might mean. Why is there not a single stone-lining in these beautiful small-mountains, while in New England there are enough Stone-linings to circle the Earth several times over? What does it mean?The trail here at Black Hills opens up into elevated fields of thriving grass beds within the glades, with absolutely no stone distinctions. You can almost picture an Arapaho Native materializing out of the woods, with nothing particular on his mind in this absolute tranquility. Prairie Asters emerge along the path, as well as what looks like a lavender Lonicera type flower. Entire fields of these wildflowers appeared across the next range, several miles from this spot, and everything about these beds indicates a vibrant, happy, and healthy zone.
The cover photo of this article, at the very top of the page, looks to be the objective of this Black Hills Trail. It’s a fine view across the valley. This is a place to sit down for a while. Impressively, the trail doesn’t loop back, it continues rolling on through several small Ranges to the north, perhaps as much as another ten miles after this 2.5 mile section.
To exit the Trail, simply head back the way you came, and enjoy each ridge and the views they offer as you go.
There are places that are more intrinsically natural than others. Everything about Wyoming says “Don’t worry.” The Black Hills is a Trail that forces you to wonder how many of your problems are self induced. The peace in a place like this is so stunning that there is a cleansing of any spirit that passes through it, like a “landlocked baptism.” Landscapes don’t always have to reveal specific megalithic statements to be sacred. The land itself is at the heart of the ability to feel the sacred. It is entirely possible to see and feel the calm that the Native Americans felt for thousands upon thousands of years, and there are still ancient echoes of what was here before, written in the stone ridges. In a contentious time like this, Black Hills Trail is pure medicine, a regenerating tranquility that can take any modern confusion that you might have, and massage it into a cosmic calm so abundantly represented in the hills of Wyoming. Those who ignorantly accuse places like this of being “boring” are already drowning in a technological pool of hyper-urbanized poison. Wyoming is gorgeous, peaceful, mysterious, and gracious, with each and every step, and each step you take through it, is a step closer to your better-self. Black Hills Wyoming is part of the answer in this world, not a source of division; what more do you need to hear? Explore our world, and leave those that are trying to control and monitor every move you make, far, far, behind. Thanks for reading Stonestrider.com