Lost in the Hills: A hike in Jewel Cave National Monument

Erin and I went hiking this weekend.  We weren’t sure if the weather was going to be cloudy and cold all day or if it was going to warm up.  We were also having a lazy Sunday morning, so we got started relatively late.  We didn’t really know what hiking trails were in Jewel Cave National Monument (above ground) so we decided to check it out.  There was a nice hike of about 3.5 miles called the Canyons Trail, so we headed off, at first in thin snow but into increasingly deeper snow.  Soon we were calf deep…then knee deep in snow, trudging along.  This was a little worrisome for me because when we left the house there had been talk of a short trip to the city park and then maybe some blogging, so I’d foolishly worn my blue jeans.  The bottoms of my said blue jeans soon were packed with snow, large balls of snow formed on the boots, especially around the laces.  Still, the sun was up and we were both cheery and merely laughing at the snow.  We still had plenty of sun light and we’d be back home before it got too cold.  Then we came to a trail sign with a very nice map.  The nice map had a bright red arrow stating quite helpfully ‘You are Here’ we glanced at the map on the sign and continued down the very obvious trail.

A very helpful sign with a very accurate trail map.
A very helpful sign with a very accurate trail map.

Soon we came to a large sign saying “Now Leaving Jewel Cave National Monument”  Odd we thought.  We wondered aloud to each other if we were on the right trail but decided in the end to continue on.  After a while we came to a road and the road came to a cattle ranch.  Then we turned around.  We walked all the way back to the helpful sign and discovered there was a fork and a less obvious trail heading off through the snow.  We took it.  Then we came to another useful sign and immediately made the same mistake.  By the time we’d turned around and taken the right trail this time, it was dark, my feet we soaked and numb.  We were both tired.  We climbed a hill, the snow lessened and soon it was just an inch or two under foot.  At the top of the hill, there was a wooden deck with a railing and I joked about there being a beautiful scenic overlook here and Erin said, “Actually it is quite beautiful” she was right.  In the moonlight dark clumps of Ponderosa Pine contrasted nicely with the ghostly glow of the snow.  No power lines or roads or even the trail could be seen as we looked out over the forest and for a moment we almost glimpsed the untouched, primeval wild of what South Dakota once was.

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