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!