On our 9000 mile tour of the western US, Captain Winnebago drove and moi –– his trusted Snactition –– ran the maps. Except for this one time...
We had just spent a couple of halcyon days at what turned out to be one highlight of the highly-lit trip –– Custer State Park.
We aren't fond of the historical figure, but his namesake chunk of land in the Black Hills of South Dakota? Really wonderful. More about that anon.
We had to go to Bare Butt State Park. How could we not?
Like so many serendipitous moments while traveling, this came out of nowhere and delivered what we hadn't even thought to expect.
Like Devil's Tower, Bear Butte is an incongruously tall mountain in the midst of the high plains. It's mysterious and magnificent. However, Bear Butte is still in use as a spiritual center of Native American culture.
Unlike nearly everywhere else we went, Bear Butte State Park was staffed by Native Americans, managed by Native Americans, and visited largely by Native Americans.
I grant you, one day of hiking does not an expert make. But there's plenty of data for me to form some theories.
Nearly everyone we saw –– the shirtless dark-haired boys pelting down the trail at top speed, the elderly ladies in skirts assisting one another uphill, the dressed-up middle-aged couple wheezing asthmatically, the young family way way up the trail carrying their littlest up the ladder-stairs –– looks to us as if they don't need to be reminded of the mountain's significance.
Before reaching the summit, there's a saddle where you can look for miles in every direction. You can see four states, though the big colorful Rand-McNally lines are not quite visible.
If you were watching, you'd probably be able to see enemies approaching for a long time before they arrived.
The wind blows right up the Butte from all directions. It's eerie. And beautiful.
And it reminded us, for the next six thousand or so miles, that these astonishing natural wonders we treasure were also sacred ground for cultures that came before us. Even if people stopped leaving fabric gifts tied onto the branches like Tibeten flags, fluttering to the heavens.
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