On Expedition No. 127, Lupe pretty much finished up at least one ascent of all Black Hills, SD mountains she can climb currently in the Peakbagger.com data base. However, there was still one peakbagging goal possible in the area, which was to go to the Lithograph Canyon Hillside (5,820 ft.) . This hillside is not the summit of any peak, but simply the highest point in Jewel Cave National Monument.
Ordinarily the high points of U.S. National Parks and Monuments are off-limits to Lupe, because dogs are not allowed into the back country. However, the topo map available on Peakbagger.com showed that the high point of Jewel Cave National Monument is on the border with the Black Hills National Forest close to the NE corner of the monument. This meant Lupe could get to it by traveling through the national forest.
So at 9:30 AM on this fine morning, SPHP parked the G6 at the intersection of USFS Road No. 278 and No. 278.1E about 0.5 mile S of Hwy 16. This point is approximately 1 mile E and 0.5 mile S of the Jewel Cave National Monument E entrance along Hwy 16. The skies were mostly sunny with a few high clouds, there was a gentle S breeze, and the temperature was 52°F. Conditions were perfect for a day of dingo outdoor adventures.
Lupe set off heading W along USFS Road No. 278 down into Lithograph Canyon. This area, along with many others along her exploration route this day, had burned in the 83,000+ acre Jasper fire that was started by an arsonist on August 24, 2000. A little before Lupe had gone a mile, Lupe turned N and went up and over the hillside to arrive at Hwy 16 at the E entrance to Jewel Cave National Monument.
Although SPHP doesn’t ordinarily like fences, in this case SPHP was hoping to find a fence marking the E boundary of Jewel Cave National Monument. Lupe could then follow the fence line up the hillside to the Lithograph Canyon Hillside high point.
What Lupe found though, was even better. There was no fence, but there was a series of metal fence posts showing the way. The fence posts were anywhere from about 50 to 200 feet apart. Some of the posts were labeled for the monument boundary and others for the national forest boundary, but it didn’t matter. It was the same boundary. The posts weren’t all lined up perfectly, but close enough for Lupe and SPHP’s purposes.
To get to the Lithographic Canyon Hillside high point of Jewel Cave National Monument, there proved to be two rises N of Hwy 16 Lupe had to ascend. Shortly before reaching the top of the first rise, Lupe came across a section line survey marker at the corner of sections 36, 31, 6 & 1. Continuing N from the top of the first rise, Lupe could see the next rise ahead.
Lupe passed under a barbed wire fence running E/W at the base of the 2nd rise, but what that fence signified was unknown. It was not the Jewel Cave National Monument boundary. SPHP spotted another boundary marker ahead to the N high up on the edge of the 2nd rise. When Lupe got up to it, more boundary markers could be seen nearby still farther N. From the edge of the 2nd rise, Lupe continued N along nearly level ground close to 200 feet and found a couple of Black Hills National forest boundary markers.
A dead tree had fallen in between two Black Hills National Forest boundary posts right across where SPHP presumes the survey corner pin must be for the NE corner of Jewel Cave National Monument. There were also two metal signs on bearing trees nearby with survey information on them. One was on a tree 33 feet away to the N and slightly to the W. The other was attached to a stump 17 feet almost due E of the corner.
SPHP wasn’t thinking too clearly. At first SPHP was thinking that by finding the NE corner of Jewel Cave National Monument, Lupe had also reached the actual high point of the monument. While looking back S along the E boundary of the monument towards the edge of the 2nd rise, SPHP suddenly realized the corner was not necessarily the absolute highest point. Lupe and SPHP headed back S along the E boundary looking for the very highest point.
SPHP came across a little pile of rocks with a piece of an old post sticking out of it where the ground seemed to be the highest. Lupe got her picture taken here, since once again SPHP was satisfied that Lupe was now at the Lithograph Canyon Hillside high point and the highest spot in Jewel Cave National Monument. SPHP was still thinking the high point was along the E boundary.
Lupe and SPHP went NW up(!) to a log so SPHP could sit down and take a break while thinking about where to go next. It hadn’t taken terribly long for Lupe to get up here. SPHP had been thinking Lupe might spend the rest of the day exploring East Hell Canyon farther to the N, and wanted to consult some maps. Meanwhile, Lupe had some water and a little Taste of the Wild.
Gazing S from the log, SPHP suddenly realized the ground for a little way to the W of the E monument boundary line was obviously HIGHER than the E boundary itself. The Lithograph Canyon Hillside high point of Jewel Cave National Monument was along the N boundary, not the E boundary!
So Lupe sniffed around while SPHP went back to find the N boundary of Jewel Cave National Monument and the highest point along it. Interestingly, SPHP found that there was a line of Jewel Cave National Monument border posts heading W, but that they did not line up with the NE corner of the monument as indicated by the national forest boundary markers Lupe had already visited. Just pacing it off, the national monument border posts for the N boundary were about 55 feet S of where the national forest corner indicated they should be. The first national monument border post was about 20 feet W of the E boundary and had a partially burned flat piece of wood still clinging to it.
The high point of the Lithograph Canyon Hillside was roughly 100 feet W of the E boundary along the N boundary line. SPHP took a photo of Lupe standing on a log about 1.5 feet above the high point along the N boundary as indicated by the Jewel Cave National Monument border posts. However, with all the detailed survey work that seems to have been done by the national forest at the NE corner (two corner posts, a bearing tree and a bearing stump, and probably a survey pin under the dead tree), SPHP suspects the real high point is 55 feet farther N.
Of course, Lupe also went to the high point 55 feet back to the N in line with the national forest survey. This was most likely the true Lithograph Canyon Hillside high point of Jewel Cave National Monument, but SPHP did not bother to take another photo of Lupe there. SPHP already had enough photos of the area, and this spot didn’t look much different. Lupe was getting bored with SPHP’s obsession with marching back and forth over the same little patch of ground. None of it was all that remarkably different in elevation, views or any other aspect. (If some reader with GPS ever gets up here, SPHP would still like to hear their opinion on the location of the true high point!)
As far as Lupe was concerned, it was mission accomplished and time to press on to the N to explore East Hell Canyon. SPHP agreed. Lupe headed N continuing up the now increasingly gentle slope. The terrain made her turn first to the NNE and then back to the NNW to stay on the high ground. After going a good 0.5 mile N, Lupe started heading down a big draw leading into East Hell Canyon from the ESE.
Lupe had a much better time in East Hell Canyon than whoever named the place. Near the bottom of the canyon there was a big thick patch of a variety of tall thorny bushes, but that was as bad as it got. The canyon floor looked very wild where Lupe first reached it. Fortunately there was a remnant of a road in the canyon for SPHP to follow. (SPHP didn’t know it at the time, but this was USFS Road No. 284.2L.) Lupe and SPHP turned N again to explore.
Lupe came to better roads at a canyon junction in Section 30. Here the canyon was trending to the NE, but the way directly ahead was blocked by a canyon wall with a big crack in it. A road going E toward Windmill Draw was marked USFS Road No. 681. Lupe stayed on 284.2L which turned NNW.
So far Lupe hadn’t come to any creek or stream in East Hell Canyon, but pretty soon she did come to a round plastic livestock watering tank. There was only an inch of amazingly clear water in it. SPHP picked Lupe up and put her in it. She immediately laid down and had a nice drink. Then she spent a minute or two wading around surprised to have her own wading pool. When she was done, she easily jumped out. Lupe started coming to more watering tanks even though Lupe never saw any livestock in East Hell Canyon. Lupe did not get into any of the other watering tanks.
USFS Road No. 284.2L ended at a canyon junction just W of Windmill Draw. A sign here said it was still 3 miles to Custer Limestone Road (No. 284). Lupe could have turned NE on No. 284.2B, but instead continued NNW on No. 284.2A.
Maps showed that Bear Spring Creek flows through this portion of East Hell Canyon where No. 284.2A goes, but there was still no sign of any creek or stream. As Lupe and SPHP continued on up East Hell Canyon, gradually the canyon walls had fewer and smaller cliffs. Eventually the canyon felt less like a canyon and more like just a valley.
Lupe had already gone a long way when she came to a place where the dry creek bed was green with new shoots of grass. The dark soil looked moist. Finally Lupe came to Bear Springs Creek. By then she was only about 0.25 mile S of County Road No. 284 (Custer Limestone Road).
Going uphill to find water is not at all uncommon in the Black Hills. The area is semi-arid and the geology of the Black Hills region is such that the hills are surrounded by a ring of limestone and other porous rock formations. Few creeks or steams have sufficient flow to remain above ground as they leave the Black Hills. The entire flow of most simply sinks into the ground. Over the ages, these underground creeks and streams have charged regional aquifers. In some places they dissolved the limestone to create long complicated caves like Wind Cave and Jewel Cave.
When Lupe reached County Road No. 284, SPHP debated what to do next. After checking the maps, SPHP settled on Signal Hill (6,483 ft.) . Lupe had recently climbed Signal Hill for the first time back on Expedition No. 125, but SPHP decided it was worth doing again. From there, Lupe could explore USFS Road No. 747 heading back to the S.
A somewhat dull 2.75 mile trudge towards the NW along No. 284, a major gravel road, ensued. SPHP picked up some of the trash in the ditch to pack out. At last Lupe reached No. 747 and turned S towards Signal Hill, a 10 minute hike away. This time, instead of going directly up the N slope, SPHP circled around the NW side of the hill to an area enclosed by an 8 foot tall wire mesh fence. Just before reaching the fence Lupe spotted a shallow stock pond with little water, but lots of dark reddish brown mud in it off to the NW. Naturally she ran over to lay down in the mud and have a drink of mineral water.
At the S end of the fenced enclosure, SPHP turned and made the short climb from the W up Signal Hill. A rainstorm was in progress off to the WSW at Elk Mountain. It was almost certainly heading this way. Nevertheless, Lupe and SPHP lingered on Signal Hill for a little while. The air was cool and felt good. The views were pretty nice, although also barren and forlorn. Lupe finished her Taste of the Wild while SPHP enjoyed the moment.
Lupe and SPHP couldn’t stay for too long up on Signal Hill. The storm was coming and it was many miles back to the G6 now. SPHP had intended to have Lupe explore No. 747 on the way back to the S, but mistakenly assumed it was the little road visible to the SE from the summit. (Actually No. 747 heads SSW from the W side of Signal Hill.) Lupe and SPHP went SE down the hill. Upon reaching the little road, Lupe followed it. Before long it curved around to the NE and promptly dead-ended at another livestock watering tank.
SPHP had no clue what had happened to No. 747 and didn’t want to bother with looking at maps. To the S was a long stretch of high ground that had burned in the Jasper fire. SPHP decided to just head S trying to maintain elevation. SPHP and Lupe both really enjoyed this section of the journey. There was some deadfall timber to deal with, but it wasn’t too bad. There were lots of animal trails to follow for long stretches. The air was clean and cool. There were pleasant distant views from the open high ground.
Long before reaching it, a white water tank was visible off to the S. Lupe and SPHP headed for it. The rain started about the time Lupe reached the white water tank, which was probably a bit less than 2 miles S of Signal Hill. There was a road running E/W just N of the white water tank. SPHP knew it could likely be followed E to County Road No. 282 (Mud Springs Road), but didn’t want to do that. Lupe was having more fun just roaming the open lands.
SPHP and Lupe climbed the big hill just S of the white water tank. SPHP found a piece of thin metallic foil, evidently part of a helium balloon from a child’s birthday party and picked it up. SPHP wondered how many miles it had drifted through the sky to arrive way out here. Another big hill came into view farther off to the S, although some of the intervening ground was forested. Lupe and SPHP just kept wandering. SPHP wanted to go SSE, but the terrain kept forcing Lupe back to the SSW. There were elk and deer in the area. SPHP heard, but did not see, wild turkeys.
The rain wasn’t very heavy. Lupe got damp, not soaked. Luckily, the storm had split and most of the rain had gone either N or S of Lupe. It rained the hardest for 15 minutes as the sun came out and the last of the storm passed. A double rainbow formed off to the E, but only the ends of the rainbow existed, there wasn’t anything where the upper portions of the arches should have been.
There was more forested land and fewer burn areas as Lupe continued S. Lupe entered the damp gloomy forest. Finally Lupe came to a nice valley she had to go down into before climbing up another big ridge she had seen from afar. At the top of this ridge was a good gravel road. Lupe followed it ESE since it was staying on the high ground.
A vehicle came along heading ESE. With all the dang, confounded traffic, SPHP decided to leave the road and parallel it from a little way to the S. The road eventually proved to be County Road No. 283 (Antelope Creek Road) as signs proved where it intersected No. 282 (Mud Springs Road). Lupe and SPHP turned S on the ever-so-charmingly named Mud Springs Road.
By now it was getting quite late in the day. SPHP hoped that with some clouds off to the W, there might be a colorful sunset. For a few minutes the sun was a golden ball between a break in the clouds. SPHP should have snapped a photo then. The pinks, oranges, reds and purples never developed. The western sky turned gray. SPHP took a final photo as the light faded.
Lupe had more than 6 miles still to go to get back to the G6. There was a half moon, but it was often obscured by clouds. Lupe followed Mud Springs Road S to Hwy 16, turned E and followed Hwy 16 all the way through Jewel Cave National Monument. At one point park personnel drove by, stopped and asked if Lupe and SPHP needed help. No sir. Other vehicles came along every few minutes. A mile E of Jewel Cave National Monument, SPHP was glad to get away from the highway and turn S for the last 0.5 mile on No. 278.
Lupe was kind of tired. She had been running around for almost 13 hours. It was 10:18 PM and 42°F when Lupe reached the G6. She didn’t hesitate like she often does. She jumped right in and curled up. On the way home she only jumped up to bark frantically whenever SPHP said “deer!” Other than that she snoozed and dreamed dingo dreams all the way home.