Start: 9:43 AM, 68°F, intersection of Long Draw Road (USFS Road No. 209) & USFS Road No. 209.2D
Loop barely got started on USFS Road No. 209.2D when it curved to the N and started going uphill. Not the way she needed to go. An unmarked grassy side road curved W continuing down the valley. Lupe took it instead.
As usual, Lupe was in a great mood! She was ready for action on this gorgeous spring morning. She trotted ahead of SPHP, frequently leaving the road to sniff and explore the narrow, forested valley.
The downhill grade gradually became steeper. The road turned to dirt and rock. After 0.5 mile, Lupe came to an ancient trough brimming with water. A steady stream trickled out over one edge. Below the trough was a muddy pool, where additional water seeped out of the ground. A separate clear stream bubbled right up out of the road.
Lupe had reached Merow Spring.
The Carolina Dog helped herself to a drink from Merow Spring, but finding nothing else of interest here, she continued on down the road. For a little way, the tiny stream originating at Merow Spring wound around in the nearby forest, before sinking back underground.
The day was unseasonably warm. Lupe and SPHP enjoyed the shade of the heavily forested valley.
Less than 0.5 mile W of Merow Spring, the narrow valley merged with a wider valley of sunny green meadows.
Lupe turned S, roaming freely through the bright meadows, exploring up the larger valley. She soon discovered a stream. The stream, though quite small, was much larger than the one at Merow Spring.
This stream was actually upper Spearfish Creek, the same Spearfish Creek that carved famed scenic Spearfish Canyon in the northern Black Hills. This far upstream the valley did not exhibit the huge limestone cliffs present in Spearfish Canyon, but rock walls were exposed in a few places along the valley’s edge.
Loop was super excited when she heard a squirrel in the forest! For some odd reason, the squirrel did not immediately climb a tree when it saw Lupe racing straight for it. Instead, the squirrel waited until the last possible moment to scramble to safety beneath a large fallen tree.
The American Dingo was frantic to get at the poor squirrel! The foolish squirrel was down on the ground, cornered beneath the fallen tree! This was the opportunity of a lifetime! Lupe bounded and danced around the tree, stopping to dig furiously in several places. The dirt flew, but she couldn’t get at the squirrel, which was by now chattering loudly, thoroughly alarmed by the situation.
When digging didn’t work, Lupe decided to rip the tree apart!
SPHP called Lupe away, spoiling all the fun.
Loop, come on! Leave that squirrel alone!
Don’t you humans have any survival instinct at all, SPHP? Help me, don’t scold me! Squirrels that aren’t smart enough to climb a tree are what we Dingoes call lunch!
Come! Now! I brought lunch, and you know it. Taste of the Wild, good for Dingoes!
Yeah, but not as much fun!
Oh, all right. Sheesh.
Lupe came. Puppy ho! Onward! Meanwhile a greatly relieved nervous wreck of a squirrel made a mental note to climb way, way up a tall tree immediately if it ever caught so much as a glimpse of a ferocious Carolina Dog again. Whew!
Loop trotted along happily for a few minutes before deciding to drag herself on her belly through Spearfish Creek to cool off. She dried herself off on the green grass, then continued her upstream explorations. About 0.75 mile from where she’d reached the Spearfish Creek valley, the terrain opened up where several valleys came together. The creek curved away up into a small valley to the E.
SPHP recognized this place. Lupe had been here once before over 4 years ago on Expedition No. 57 way back on 5-4-13. Back then she had come down Clayton Draw from the S looking for Clayton Pond. She had found it, too, up in a side valley off to the NW. Visiting Clayton Pond again was Lupe’s first real objective for today’s Expedition No. 204.
Where Spearfish Creek turned E, Lupe left it to follow the main valley curving W. Soon she was going up a wide, shallow side valley to the NW. Clayton Pond wasn’t much farther now.
When Lupe reached Clayton Pond, SPHP couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed. Clayton Pond hadn’t been very large at all when Lupe had first seen it on Expedition No. 57. Now it was even smaller. It was easy to see why. A breach in the earthen dam showed where the pond had overflowed and eroded away part of the dam. The water level was now permanently a foot lower than before. Not much, but to the shallow pond, one foot made a huge difference.
Loop and SPHP strolled completely around the pond before taking a break at the edge of the forest to the E.
Since squirrel wasn’t on the menu due to SPHP’s confounded interference, Lupe settled a little glumly for her usual Taste of the Wild snack. SPHP relaxed while looking at the topo maps, and enjoying the view of what remained of Clayton Pond. Who knew? Another 4 years of erosion, and Clayton Pond might pass into history. May as well appreciate what remained of it while one could.
After 15 minutes of laziness, Lupe was ready to press on. She departed Clayton Pond going SE back to the main valley, where she followed a road S. Her next objective was a mountain 4 miles S of Clayton Pond – Crooks Tower (7,137 ft.), one of the highest points in the Black Hills.
A mile S of Clayton Pond, Lupe reached a part of the valley where she’d had a strange experience back on Expedition No. 57 with a type of creature she’d never seen before or since. At Yellow Jacket Spring she had been, if not pursued, at least vigorously followed, by an odd, fearless, furry black and white creature – a skunk!
The Yellow Jacket Spring skunk had headed straight for Lupe and SPHP the moment it became aware of Lupe’s presence. Lupe began running over to greet it, but fortunately returned to SPHP when called. The skunk followed (pursued?) Lupe for 10 minutes thereafter, but failed to catch her before giving up.
SPHP had thought the skunk’s behavior peculiar. Maybe it was rabid? Whether it was or not, a Dingo/skunk encounter was not likely to end well. Much better to avoid any such event. Now, as Lupe approached Yellow Jacket Spring again, SPHP couldn’t help but wonder if the Yellow Jacket Spring skunk or its relatives were still around, but Lupe passed through the area uneventfully.
Lupe made good progress going S up the wide valley, but the day was sunny and warm. No stream or pond was to be found. SPHP stopped several times along the shady edge of the forest to give Lupe water. Dingo explorations can be a thirsty business!
Two miles S of Yellow Jacket Spring, Lupe came to an intersection with South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231) near a couple of cabins and a big power line. She was now half way to Crooks Tower from Clayton Pond. She turned ESE on No. 231, but followed it only far enough to get E of private property associated with a cabin to the S. Here she came across a side road heading SW into the forest.
The side road looked promising, so Lupe took it. Being back in the shade of the forest again was nice.
The road curved WSW for a little way, then bent back to the S. Before long, the road divided. Lupe took the L branch, which started a long climb up a moderately steep slope. A couple of water breaks later, the road finally leveled out. Ahead was a limestone platform that looked familiar. SPHP was almost certain Lupe had been up there before on several other occasions.
The limestone platform wasn’t a bad viewpoint. Lupe left the road. She found a place where she could climb up onto the ridge, then went out to the far W end of the platform. Yes, this was the same place!
The views were nice enough to entice Loopster and SPHP to take another 10 or 15 minute break here. Crooks Tower was only a mile away to the S, but still couldn’t be seen. All the views from the platform were toward the N or W.
Even though Crooks Tower wasn’t in view yet, Lupe knew the way when the time came to get going again. She ran through the forest sniffing everywhere, as she worked her way S. Finally, she could see part of the N ridge ahead.
Despite having a rather dramatic name and being one of the highest points in the Black Hills, Crooks Tower is in an area where much of the nearby terrain is heavily forested and almost as high. Consequently, the views from the top aren’t dramatic, and there aren’t many places from which it is even possible to recognize the mountain from a distance.
Several nearby high points on the topo maps are enclosed by contours of the same elevation as the contour enclosing the true summit. The N ridge led Lupe naturally SE up to the high point in the contour NE of the true summit. Lupe found a crumbling limestone cairn.
Loopster didn’t dilly dally long at the NE high point. She was going to get a good half hour break up on Crooks Tower’s true summit, which was only a couple hundred yards away. She easily climbed the mountain’s 20 foot high limestone crest by circling around to the SW, where a short footpath leads right to the summit.
Ta da! Lupe stood on Crooks Tower (7,137 ft.) for the 8th time, making it once again the peak Lupe has visited more often than any other.
What a beautiful day! Loop and SPHP took it easy for a while. The sun was still very high in the sky. Puffy white clouds floated by. Lupe had plenty of time. SPHP ate the only apple. Lupe had more Taste of the Wild. Water for all.
This was Lupe’s 8th time on Crooks Tower. It had been nearly 2 years since the last time she’d been here on Expedition No. 135. Back then she had wound up getting injured down in Trebor Draw after leaving the summit. SPHP had rushed her (sort of – it took hours to get there) to the the Animal Clinic of Rapid City where Emergency Veterinarian Dr. Erin Brown had patched her up late on a Saturday night.
Poor Lupe! She’d come staggering back to SPHP after her operation looking drugged with tears in her eyes. No more Trebor Draw today! That wasn’t going to happen again. Yet Lupe had so much time left in the day, a new plan was hatching in SPHP’s mind. Why not go to another peak Lupe had been to a couple of times before? Peak 6820 was less than 4 miles away to the NE as the crow flies.
Going to Peak 6820 would make for a long day, and there were no views at all from that forested hill, but so what? May as well do something. Lupe returned to the true summit of Crooks Tower for a final goodbye.
SPHP tried to persuade Lupe to remain up on the summit block long enough for a bold American Dingo photo taken from below, but Lupe wasn’t having any of that. If SPHP was starting for Peak 6820, she was too. She did consent to a photo of a bold American Dingo beneath the summit block, but somehow it wasn’t quite the same.
Oh, well. Onward! Even though it was nearly 4 miles to Peak 6820 as the crow flies and Lupe knew a good shortcut, so many hours of daylight remained that SPHP led her on a long way around she had only taken once before long ago. Lupe started off going SW instead of NE. She ended up taking a considerably longer-than-SPHP-remembered tour of the entire region along USFS Road No. 631.
This route was scenic and easy, but time slipped by as Lupe traveled all the way from a valley SW of Crooks Tower around to the S, then E and NE sides of the mountain. On the way, Lupe passed by the road leading NE into dangerous Trebor Draw. A little later on, she discovered Dingo Arch.
The long march on USFS Road No. 631 eventually brought Lupe to a valley leading all the way down to South Rapid Creek Road (USFS Road No. 231). Lupe followed this major gravel road N until she was within sight of the junction with Besant Park Road (No. 206). Many deer were grazing in a lovely green field here, but they fled at Lupe’s approach.
By now, the angle of the sun was noticeably lower. The blue skies and puffy white clouds prevalent earlier in the day had given way to a more darkly overcast scene.
Lupe was still 1.5 miles from Peak 6820 as the crow flies. She wouldn’t have the benefit of a road the rest of the way. Was there still enough time remaining for all the bushwhacking she would have to do? Yeah, Loop could make it. She had been through parts of this region before.
Lupe and SPHP left South Rapid Creek Road, crossed the green field, and headed SE up into the forest.
The forest was a complete mess. Deadfall timber everywhere. Slow, slow, slow! After a long struggle, Lupe finally made it up to a clearing at the top of a ridge. She was already almost as high as Peak 6820, but still quite a distance from it. Exactly how far was impossible to tell. The flat terrain and dense forest at the edge of the clearing made it difficult to see a thing.
Peak 6820 was somewhere to the NE. Lupe and SPHP plunged into the forest again. More deadfall. Tons of it. Zigging and zagging like drunks looking for a way through. Nothing looked the least bit familiar. Everything was just a jumble of dead trees beneath the still standing forest.
Lupe came to a higher, short rocky ridge. High Point 6801? Who knew? No views were available even from here. The only other time Lupe had come to Peak 6820 from this direction was her first time up it on 10-8-14, more than 2.5 years ago. It hadn’t been this difficult then. Lupe had at least caught a few glimpses of Peak 6820 from a distance to orient by. Now, nothing.
N, E, SE – Lupe went which ever way seemed easiest to avoid the worst of the deadfall. None of the strange structures she had seen on her first trip to Peak 6820 appeared. She had to be getting close, but in the gloom of the forest, it was becoming confusing as to which way Lupe should even try to go. Speaking of gloom, the forest seemed prematurely dark.
Thunder in the distance. First drops. Rain! No matter. Onward! The rain was light, but even so, before long Lupe was wet. She reached another high point. Was this it? Had Lupe stumbled upon Peak 6820? It didn’t look right. SPHP remembered a clearing with a mud hole where Lupe had bathed both times she’d been to Peak 6820 before. Lupe searched all around the top of this hill for it. Nada. Wrong hill.
It must be farther N. Lupe went N on the big hill until she began to lose elevation. No sign of Peak 6820 here or anywhere else. Had Lupe gone too far SE earlier? SPHP led her NW down off the big hill. The deadfall wasn’t quite as bad here, but Peak 6820 did not appear. Lightning flickered in the clouds, thunder rumbled constantly. The rain remained light and sporadic, but might become a cloudburst at any time. The forecast hadn’t even mentioned rain today. Figured.
The Carolina Dog wanted attention.
What’s wrong with your senses? Don’t you hear or see anything, SPHP? Lightning, thunder! Let’s hide! A storm is coming! I’m already all wet.
Yeah, I know, but we’ll be OK. Besides there isn’t any place to hide, and we need to get to Peak 6820 soon, or forget about it. We can’t let it get dark while we sit around out here. We’ll never find a way out of this deadfall at night.
Well then, let’s get there fast! What’s in that water bottle of yours anyway? You’ve been stumbling around out here like you’re totally wasted.
I’m trying to find it, Looper.
What, the mountain?
Yes, of course. I’m just not totally sure which direction it is from here.
You mean it’s lost?
No, of course not, silly Dingo. Mountains don’t move. They always stay in the exact same place.
Oh, I get it. You mean we’re lost.
No, well, I mean we are imprecisely located right now. I know about where we are, just not exactly, which makes it hard to say where the mountain is from here, but I know it can’t be too far away.
Lupe wasn’t buying it. The Carolina Dog looked worried.
Oh, OK! I suppose you’re right Looper. Apparently it’s later than I thought. Maybe we better give up on Peak 6820. I shouldn’t have taken the long way. Let’s get out of here.
Lupe was in favor of that. SPHP led her NW through the forest. Even though this was the shortest way out, the Carolina Dog had at least a mile of bushwhacking ahead of her.
Ten minutes later, there it was! Peak 6820! SPHP saw it off to the NE. That hill had to be it, and wasn’t too far away. Lupe could make it. There was still time. SPHP turned on a dime.
Change of plans, Looper! Forget NW, we’re going NE. Peak 6820 is right over there. Come on!
Lupe led the charge through the forest. Apparently she wanted to get Peak 6820 over and done with fast. The rains came more often and harder. More lightning! More thunder! As the first tiny hailstones bounced on the ground, Lupe and SPHP both saw it. Up a short slope at the base of a limestone outcropping was a perfect little Dingo Cave. Lupe and SPHP scrambled up the bank to safety.
It hailed briefly twice, but not hard. The hail was only pea-sized at most, so it wasn’t that bad. Rain poured down, though, for 20 minutes. Never a deluge, but by the time it was all over, everything was sopping wet outside. Lupe and SPHP watched it all happen from the bone dry shelter of the Dingo Cave. Not a drop fell inside. What were the odds?
Loopster, my friend, you are one lucky Carolina Dog! We never would have found this place, even if we’d known it was here ahead of time.
Pushing past soaking wet bushes on the forest floor, Lupe still got drenched, but the top of Peak 6820 was only 5 minutes from the Dingo Cave. She did get there. This was it! The familiar mud hole in the clearing didn’t have much water in it, but what was there was fresh. Heh. As sopping wet as Lupe was, she felt no need for a bath this time around.
The top of Peak 6820 is nearly level over a large area, but slightly higher ESE of the mud hole. Lupe and SPHP went over that way to visit the true summit. Someone else had been here! Lupe came across a cairn she never seen before.
Lupe and SPHP continued E beyond the cairn. Lupe went to the spot she has always considered the summit, even though it was scarcely any higher than where the cairn was. And that was it. Success! Peak 6820 visited for a 3rd time!
Sunset in 30 minutes. Lupe now faced a race against time. The shortest route back to the G6 was to the NW. Lupe had been that way before, but it was too late to even try that direction. It was a total bushwhack through forest and deadfall timber for more than a mile to any road.
The second time Lupe had come to Peak 6820, SPHP remembered she’d followed a faint road up from the E, arriving at the N end of the summit area. Going E meant going away from the G6, but the faint road led to USFS Road No. 234, a better road which went around the W end of Swede Gulch. If Loop could make it to No. 234, she wouldn’t get stuck out here in the deadfall all night.
The road to the E was even fainter now. SPHP had a hard time even finding it at first, but it was there. Good thing! Hurry, hurry Dingo! Lupe and SPHP followed the faint road as quickly as possible. SPHP briefly lost track of the road a few times, but the American Dingo kept finding it again. The road was longer than SPHP remembered. The sun set, twilight was fading, but Lupe made it to No. 234.
Seven miles at least back to the G6. The long march began. It rained again, but not as hard as before. Lupe and SPHP found partial shelter beneath a big pine along No. 234. In 10 minutes it was over. Lupe left the road to take a shortcut through big fields heading W along Tillson Creek. On and on. A couple miles later she reached Besant Park Road (USFS Road No. 206) near the SE end of Besant Park.
The rest of the way back was entirely along good gravel roads. The Carolina Dog trotted along sometimes leading, sometimes at SPHP’s heels. It was an amazing evening. Lightning flashed among clouds in ever changing directions, but always some distance away. Now and then a brilliant bolt struck the earth. Thunder rolled louder, fainter, then louder again. Dark rumbling clouds threatened rain, but never did more than sprinkle.
Once Lupe begged SPHP to stop for a rest along South Rapid Creek Road. OK. For 10 minutes, Lupe curled up next to a tree stump, wearily licking tired, muddy paws. Rain threatened again. Still nearly 4 miles to go. Puppy ho! Let’s get this over with!
At exactly 11:00 PM (50°F), Lupe made it back to the G6. She was thirsty. SPHP gave her a big drink. Then she jumped in and curled up. Her 13+ hour adventures on Expedition No. 204 were finally over.
Or were they?
Ten minutes later, heading E on South Rapid Creek Road, the high beams illuminated something scurrying along as fast as it could. Big, furry, low to the ground, black and white. SPHP shouted a word Lupe had never heard shouted before – skunk!
Lupe leapt to her paws in time to see it. Dead ahead a huge skunk was racing E for the exact same spot where Lupe had taken her last rest break by the tree stump! The Carolina Dog barked furiously as the G6 sped by, and the skunk dashed into the darkness.
By golly, Looper, that Yellow Jacket Spring skunk is still on your trail after all these years!