A “Devil-ish” Good Time!
Erica Lineberry, cragmama.com
This past summer my family took a whirlwind wild west vacation to South Dakota and Wyoming. Although the main agenda was to rock climb in Spearfish, Ten Sleep, and the Needles, taking advantage of all of the great NPS sites nearby was pretty high up on the list as well, especially on rest days!
After 2 days of crankin’ in Spearfish Canyon, our crew was ready for something a little more low-key. The only must-do on our agenda for Day 3 was to make our way 3 hours west to Ten Sleep, Wyoming, but nobody said a rest day had to be boring…We had found out from some locals about a surreal swimming hole along Sunshine Creek in Spearfish Canyon, which seemed like a great way to pass the morning.
It was about a 2 mile hike round trip, along a well-worn trail that was mostly flat and often meandered back and forth across the creek. But while this hike was just a casual, enjoyable stroll for the grown-ups, it was anything but relaxing for Cragbaby. His short little legs hiked for much of the way there, and for ALL of the way back, despite acquiring his first bee sting just as we were gearing up to hike out. (He handled it as any man should – 15 seconds of crying and then back to the business of hiking.) Needless to say, it took about 30 seconds for C to fall asleep in the car after lunch as we made our way to our afternoon pit stop, Devil’s Tower.
Originally I had really hoped we’d be able to climb on the Tower. Not only does this giant stand tall and proud as the most dramatic feature for miles and miles, an ascent of the Tower is a prized possession, almost a rite of passage for today’s climbers. But unfortunately, we can’t do it all. No matter how we crunched the numbers, the logistics just didn’t work out.
Obviously the biggest logistical dilemma was what to do with Cragbaby…but if that was the only issue we probably could have done some juggling with our friends to make it work. The other issue was that we had an hour and a half drive to get there, which made the early start we needed to beat the heat impossible. Not to mention it was supposed to be a rest day. Had we pushed ourselves to summit, I’m sure we would not have had nearly as much success the next few days in Ten Sleep, so it was definitely the right decision to stay on the ground.
Cragbaby on the other hand, wasn’t so sure. As we walked the 1.3 mile paved path around the base of the Tower, he seemed very confused. He kept looking and pointing up at columns and cracks, and saying, “Mommy climb that.” It was as if he couldn’t figure out why we were just walking around.
But our day wasn’t without some climbing excitement. About three-quarters of the way around, along the Durrance section, we heard a climbing party shouting to each other. The leader was on a big ledge with a tree, and had somehow dropped his rope (?!?) and was exhibiting an array of dehydration symptoms from atop his perch.
We called up to them, confirmed the details of their situation, and picked up our pace as we headed to the ranger’s station to report the incident. However, before the rangers could even make it to the base, help was on the way from another group of climbers as well, which as a side note, to me speaks a lot of the selfless generosity that the climbing community so often displays.
But perhaps the cutest part of our day was on the drive out of the park, when we stopped at the roadside “prairie dog towns.” There were literally hundreds of these inquisitive little guys scurrying around from one hole to the next. C had never seen anything like that before, and was quite taken with the prairie dogs. His enthusiasm scored him his own stuffed prairie dog, as well as his very own disposable camera (who knew they even made those anymore?) from the trading post just outside the park. This was unknowingly a brilliant move on our part, as prairie dog made for a surprisingly good road trip companion for C. His entire 3 hour drive into Ten Sleep was spent taking pictures of us, and pointing out interesting sights for his prairie dog to see – bulldozers, school buses, trees…I promised Cragbaby that we’d come back someday when we could summit as a family of three.
Thinking of planning your own visit to the Black Hills Region? Here’s what you need to know…
The park is open 363 days per year (closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas). The visitors center is closed during the winter, and the trails are not maintained – but apparently the cross-country skiing and snow shoeing is great!
Climbers must register (free) before and after each climbing day.
There is a campground as well as numerous hiking trails in the area. The most popular trail, the Tower Trail, travels 1.3 miles around the base of the Tower and is paved (though the park staff do not recommend it for wheel chairs, as it is steep in some areas).
Devil’s Tower is not the only NPS site in the region! Mt. Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument are all within 2 hours, and Badlands National Park is just another couple of hours to the southeast.
Though not managed by the National Park Service, Crazy Horse Memorial and Custer State Park are well worth a visit!
Sea Kayaking at Channel Islands National Park
Kristen Lummis, braveskimom.com
Mountain people, that we are, we still love a good beach vacation. This summer, we loaded boogie boards, wetsuits and sunshades into our car and drove west to Oxnard, California.
We visited Oxnard for two reasons: beautiful, unspoiled beaches and Channel Islands National Park. Channel Islands National Park is sometimes called the “North American Galapagos,” and like the famous islands to the south, it is home to many species of plant, bird and mammal found nowhere else on earth.
Sea Caves and Kayaks
We came to Channel Islands National Park for kayaking. Sea caves are a main attraction for kayaking tours in the park. Because of the inherent danger of kayaking along a rocky shore and venturing into caverns with fluctuating water levels, guides are recommended. Additionally, many of the caves are nurseries for seals and sea lions. When they are in residence, humans are required to stay out.
The NPS website provides links to kayaking outfitters and many of the trips go to Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the Channel Islands. We chose an outfitter that kayaks at the smallest island, Anacapa. We chose this trip because we didn’t have to take a ferry to Santa Cruz and because we liked the idea of kayaking from one end of the island to the other without backtracking.
Water Birds and Wildlife
The first thing you notice at Anacapa Island are thousands of water birds. There are oystercatchers and cormorants, as well as thousands of brown pelicans, so many that Anacapa Island is home to the largest pelican rookery in the U.S. Paddling near the rugged shore, we passed beautiful red starfish clinging to the rocks and eternally washed by the waves. We dug our paddles into the canopy of giant kelp forests and saw seals and sea lions. We explored sea caverns and entered passageways so narrow that we had to turn our paddles parallel to our boats to get through.
Anacapa Island is a rocky five-mile spine made of three islets. We paddled for about four miles, starting in a bay near the western end of Anacapa. At the far eastern tip of the second islet is an iconic stone arch, created by erosion. When the weather is clear, you can see this arch from the mainland and it is a recognizable symbol of the Channel Islands.
We ended our journey paddling through the arch accompanied by the clamoring bark of sea lions on a nearby beach. Exiting our bright kayaks, we climbed aboard the transport boat and claimed our coolers. Sitting in the sun, enjoying a picnic lunch and drinking lots of water, we listened to the sea lions vocalizing over the roar of the waves, while watching pelicans skim the water, rise and dive. We may be mountain people, but we too, can appreciate a perfect day at sea.
When You Go…
For more information on sea kayaking at Channel Islands National Park, please visit http://www.nps.gov/chis/.
Category: Outdoor Kids