I had to clear my head today, and nature is the best place for me to find the answers. Bear Butte is a place of vision quests and one that I’ve not hiked, so off I go.
Some good music along the way is necessary, to slow my brain down from its constant fluttering of thoughts, to-do’s and plans for the future. I settle on some Native American flute by Darren Thompson, a local artist. After about 40 miles of driving outside Rapid City I arrive in Sturgis and follow Google Maps, which takes me to the wrong place. Lesson number one. I turn off the GPS and figure it out by circling the mountain and finding the unassuming road to the parking lot.
My gear goes into my backpack, and I’m ready for another Black Hills Adventure. I read the posted signs at the base of the trailhead before making my way up. No photos of the prayer cloths hung from trees, silence is best, respect the wildlife and the sanctity of the area. I got this.
I hear the grass crackle, stop, get my eyes and ears tuned in, then she moved again. It’s the first animal, a beautiful female pheasant under a small pine in the golden grass. Revealing herself to me, she slowly moved ahead creating distance and putting the pine between her and I. Patiently I stand, watching her careful movements and just taking in the moment.
As I climb higher, I hear the sound of a bird calling. I’m hoping it’s the Magpie, my favorite bird of the Dakotas. She won the race for all two-legged creatures by cleverness, not physical prowess.
Teasing me, I stop, listen and hear nothing. I move forward and the calls come out, mixed with the sound of my boot soles as they touch the gravel. The contact makes just enough noise to keep her exact location from me.
Finally, it flies out of one pine to another, presumably flirting with his lover bird. The wings opened and he glided at an angle beneficial to my eyes with an iridescent blue.
It was the Magpie, and now he’s gliding back and forth between Ponderosa pines. Thank you, Magpie.
I continue my hike. This time the rock becoming my focal point, I reach a place where I can catch my breath and look around. Bright green lichen adorns the rocks, themselves like gypsum in their own linear crystal shapes. This mountain looks older than the spires, less worn but more cracked. Steps of Superman’s home accompany each protrusion.
The trail is adorned with strips of cloth tied to branches, each the color of the directions. Red for North, white for South, yellow for East and black for West.
Feeling both reverent and spooky at the same time, I try not to stare at the patters and shapes they form. It’s as if God were present, tending to the prayers and hopes of all his children. I walk carefully, mindful of my footsteps and body movements through the tighter areas of vegetation.
I hear the distant sound of poor-quality music, reminding me of the single speaker radio I once had in my youth. In an Instant, the Zen-like feeling and bright glowing Chakras flickered and blew out like a delicate microfilament of carbon inside a light bulb. Humans, sometimes they’re just unavoidable. They pass, and so does the moment. I’m taken back into the sacred.
Scars on the mountain are reminders of a large fire that burned here in 2018. Bear Butte lost almost all its trees. The trail takes you through this long-gone inferno and reveals the healing power of nature.
The mountain is regenerating. Each type of forest is its own story and position in the cycle. Surviving the flames, I come to a stand of Ponderosa. It’s then I hear the comforting sound of wind being split by the dark green sturdy needles.
A Hairy Woodpecker begins his hunt. The location is close and easy to spot. He pecks away at the dead limbs daring the burrowing bugs to the surface.
The prayer cloths are everywhere now. I wonder about the feelings each one represents. Hope, fear, needs, sorrow, wishes and dreams, they’re all present and vibrating. The evening before I had a terrible dream, making the situation even more intense. Don’t binge “YOU” on Netflix, it’s not right.
I’m descending, the pathway full of mistakes to be made. Keeping my head down and trying not to kick rocks I slowly forge ahead. A familiar “S” shape lays across the path. Green and yellow, the snake makes its way up the hillside through broken grasses, small branches and rocks. A typical reaction at this point would be to scream and run, but I know everything I see is a message from my higher power. I stand still and watch as the Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer crosses the intersection.
Days ago, snow fell heavily in this area, leaving 2 feet on top of the mixed grasses. Laying down now, the pale green stems lead to golden tips. A sign of the cycle and a movement towards the winter season.
I’m down the mountain and thinking again. It was a great experience and just right. Right time, place and setting.
Bear Butte is a sacred place to the Lakota, Cheyenne and other tribes. It’s clearly a special place that should be respected and preserved. It’s best to be silent here, with no enhancement or distraction. Being in a quiet place is needed now more than ever. Think how nice it would be if everyone practiced silence.
I felt if I visited without expectation and an open mind, I’d find what I was looking for, and I did.
I'm a traveler at heart, with a constant desire to learn and explore. Home for me is in the Black Hills of South Dakota. My company is My XO Adventures, a dream come to reality that offers Black Hills Adventures, as well as cultural immersion vacation packages all over the world. As I explore, I share my experiences with close friends, family, guests and readers like you!
South Dakota is one of 4 states that does not recognize Columbus Day. Rather, it celebrates Native American Day on October 11, 2021! As it should be here, with rich Native American culture, heritage and diversity. Native Americans make up 9% of the current population of South Dakota.
I'm proud to say that I live in a state with 9 unique Native American Tribes. With this many tribes, I've only begun to scratch the surface on my understanding of what I consider a treasure of heritage that should be known, celebrated, protected and supported. My research over the next several weeks will intensify, lasting a lifetime and if I am fortunate will result in friendships with the Indigenous Peoples of this land.
Cheyenne River Lakota Nation
Crow Creek Sioux Tribe
Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe
Lower Brule Sioux Tribe
Oglala Sioux Tribe
Sicangu Lakota Oyate
Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
Yankton Sioux Tribe
It should be noted that the term "Sioux" is short for Nadowessioux, meaning "little snakes", a name the French learned from the Ojibwe. The proper term is Lakota, Dakota or Nakota depending on the dialect that particular tribe speaks.
There are many ways to experience the Native American Culture in South Dakota, and I'll be sharing those with you over the next several weeks as I dive in and explore deeper each day.
#myxoadventures #lakota #nativeamericans #badlandsblackhills #hifromSD
The Great Race of the Black Hills
I have to admit, the Black Hills of South Dakota contain more stories than I ever thought they would, but some of my favorites come from Indian Lore. Primarily, the Lakota and the Cheyenne consider the Black Hills as part of their origin story. I've found that aside from speaking with a Native from these tribes, children's stories of Native American Lore can be an incredible reference.
One story that I love the most is about the Red Racetrack. It all started in the beginning of times, when the buffalo at the humans and not the other way around. The humans felt this to be unfair, so they appealed to the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit had to settle the matter, so he decided on a race between all animals of the earth. He sent the crow to announce that there would be a great race, and everyone would need to participate.
It was decided that the four-legged animals would side with the Buffalo, and the two-legged winged animals would side with the humans. Everyone chose their fastest representative! They practiced, and while the buffalo were sure the cow they picked was faster than the human, she still wasn't going to have an easy time. The human was fast and determined to win the race.
The day had come, and the coyote and the wolf howled, marking the start of the race around the Black Hills. The birds immediately got a head start and zoomed past the four-legged animals, except the Magpie. No matter how fast she flapped her wings, she was always the slowest bird, but the Magpie also had a plan in mind. When nobody was looking, she landed on the back of the Buffalo. It was a very hot day, and the two-legged creatures decided to stop at a lake and take a drink, but they had too much which made them tired, so they fell asleep in the trees. Oh no!
Many of the animals of the Black Hills swam past them, but the Beaver was not able to do so well with those short legs, so he slipped away to a wonderful part of the lake and made a home, to be seen there ever since. The Otter and the Muskrat felt this was a good idea, so they followed. The Jackrabbit was scared by the coyote coming up from behind and he ran out onto the Great Plains, still wondering who is behind him.
The race lasted for days, with no animal exactly sure on how much time had passed. During that time of the race, the Rattlesnake at the toad and fell asleep, while the Mole and Gopher dug holes and burrowed inside, still believing the race is not over. The Prairie Dog wasted his time chattering to the Hawk as they do.
As time went on, the human man fell further behind the buffalo and the four-legged animals were surely going to win the race. The Buffalo tried even harder, increasing her lead. Magpie had been on the back of the Buffalo all along, and the time had come to hatch her plan. Right before the finishing line, she jumped off the back of the Buffalo and flew towards the sun, then dove downwards back to the finish line. She had crossed over the line before the Buffalo, winning the race!
The two-legged animals cheered with joy, and the race was declared fair, thus changing the order of things. From now on the Buffalo would be eaten by the humans. If you look close today, you can see each Buffalo has a beard, which is left over from the days when Buffalo ate humans. It's the human hair hanging from their chin.
The Great Spirit declared it a fair race, and so there it was. Humans now had a great responsibility to the four-legged creatures to respect and treat them right. From this point on the Magpie has never been harassed. The actual ring of red can be seen in the Black Hills as an oval racetrack, it's red color coming from the animals that ran the race, trying so hard that they bled into the ground staining it red. This is a true story, and the characters names have been omitted to protect their privacy.
When It's your time to come to the Black Hills of South Dakota, you can see and enjoy these stories while touring the area.
My XO Adventures believes the stories of the Lakota and all Native Peoples are worth preserving. We do so by incorporating them into our Black Hills Tours each and every day. We hope to see you someday to meet the Buffalo, Magpie, Prairie Dogs, Coyotes and all the winged animals of this Sacred Place, Paha Sapa.