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Black Hills ramblings

Agriculture.com Staff 10/01/2007 @ 11:52am

My wife and I never get tired of the Black Hills, which is why we went back there recently.

Millions of coniferous trees give the Black Hills a fresh, piney scent, causing one to think that the world has been soaked in Pine-sol. "Isn't everything out here just so much cleaner?" my wife will ask. I'll agree, secretly noting that there is just as much dirt in the Black Hills as anywhere.

We stayed at a secluded little bed and breakfast. By "secluded," I mean "way out in the boondocks." This suited us perfectly; we tolerate the sounds of silence a lot better than the sounds of traffic.

My wife needed a nap after our long drive so I went for a walk down a quiet forest lane. There's nothing like a brisk stroll up a 30% grade -- which felt like 90% to me -- to remind one that he is a life-long flatlander.

As I walked along an old logging road, I thought about how out of shape I was and ruminated on some of the things I had heard regarding the Black Hills.

For instance, I understand that there are an estimated 200 mountain lions living in the Black Hills and that the carrying capacity is about 150. This means that the lions, instead of dining on deer, may turn to eating such things as dogs and cats, calves and sheep, and maybe even me!

I suddenly noticed that the forest seemed eerily quiet and quickly decided that it was time get back to our cabin. I picked up a big stick and picked up the pace.

A stealthy scratching noise came from behind me, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of tawny brown! "What a dumb time to wear a buckskin colored jacket!" I thought. Whipping out my cell phone, I tried to Google "how to scare off a mountain lion," but no signal!

The scratching sound now came from directly behind me! Realizing that I was out of options, I spun around to confront my adversary. As I raised my stick above my head, I came face to face with a chipmunk.

In my defense, this was no ordinary chipmunk. It was a crazed killer mutant chipmunk, the kind that stalks hikers and brings them down, then scurries off with full cheek pouches. No one has ever heard of this species before, mainly because I just recently discovered it.

After my close encounter of the wild kind, we decided to play it safe the next day and focus on transportation-related fun.

Specifically, we rode the Black Hills Central Railroad's 1880 Train, a steam- powered choo-choo that runs from Hill City to Keystone. The 1880 Train makes the 20 mile roundtrip in two hours, which means that it goes at a pace one might describe as "stately." One might even say "slow," but only until one looks out over the steep precipices that sometimes yawn below the tracks. Peering down at those sheer drop-offs, one feels like yelling at the engineer, "Slow down! Five mile an hour is plenty fast!"

The best part was enjoying the scenic scenery that would be otherwise missed from the highway. We also saw wildlife, such as deer and turkeys. Spotting a flock of wild turkeys, I nudged my wife and asked, "Relatives of yours?"

"No," she replied, "But I married their leader."

Speaking of birds, I was pleasantly surprised later that day when we were driving along and came upon a roadside trio of whirlybirds.

After saying "please" and promising to be good, my wife agreed to let me take a helicopter ride.

Pete, my pilot, even had me wear a set of Official Helicopter Earphones, complete with voice-activated boom mike! I was feeling very aviatorish as we rose gently into the sky.

Pete asked if I had any questions. Just one: Is a helicopter suspended by its rotor or does it float on a cushion of air?

"It's suspended by the rotor," replied Pete. "And the rotor is held on by a thing called a Jesus nut."

I didn't ask for an explanation of that particular term, but figured the device got its name either from something you say when it suddenly comes off or the next person you meet should it fail.

We flew to the Crazy Horse monument, which the Ziolkowski family has been carving for nearly 60 years. When completed, it will be the world's largest sculpture; the four faces of Mount Rushmore would fit neatly on Crazy Horse's outstretched arm.

Crazy Horse's face has been completed and the outline of his arm is taking shape. A gigantic horse head is beginning to emerge from the granite.

It might take another six decades, but someday our great-grandkids might peer up at the completed monument. To paraphrase an old proverb, the sculptors may be slow but the stone is patient.

My wife and I never get tired of the Black Hills, which is why we went back there recently.

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