TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — The Spirit Of The Mountains

I spent the last week camping alone in the Rocky Mountains. My home was three miles into the wilderness on a jarring moonscape of a Forest Service road. I pitched my tent above a stream, beneath a canopy of spruce and aspen, just me and trees and  water and mountains folded into one another for as far as I could see. Such places are a bane to writers because there are really no words that do them justice.

It was 31 degrees when I crawled from my sleeping bag the first morning, but it warmed quickly when the sun inched over the eastern ridge. I hiked to the end of the forest road, then on a trail through the forest that opened into a vast valley surrounded by jagged peaks. Again, I had this world to myself.

The next day I climbed four hours to a ridge below the summit of a 14,000-foot mountain called La Plata. The first half of the hike was through the forest. Above the tree line on the climb to the ridge, nature revealed itself ever more beautifully and fiercely with each step.

But this was a different experience, a communal one. Scores of others joined me on that trail, most of them not stopping at the ridge but aiming for the top of the mountain. I met them every few minutes, passing me on the way up or as they made their way down. They ranged in age from 10 to 70, men and women, boys and girls.

But there was something they shared, a certain inner luminosity, a quiet joy. It was acknowledged with a nod or a smile or a few kind words of encouragement for a plodding old guy like me. There was a wonderful, unspoken truth up there, something about the grandeur of nature and the expansiveness of the human soul.

After my magnificent hike, I drove into a nearby town where there was cell service and checked in with my wife, letting her know that I was OK. I also couldn’t resist checking the news, the latest developments of our public life. It was somewhat surreal that the incivility and cruelty I read about was taking place on the same beautiful planet.

It is my belief, my prayer, that someday soon the spirit of the mountains and my fellow hikers will more generally imbue the places where we are governed.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Black Butte

I crossed off another item on my North Dakota bucket list last weekend. With Lillian, her two sisters and her daughter, I hiked to the top of Black Butte, and at the top, promptly declared, to the amusement of the ladies, that I was the oldest person ever to climb to North Dakota’s second-highest point. Well, there was no one there to challenge that, so unless I see proof from some old geezer that it’s not true, that’s the way it will stand.

It was a hard hike, about 5½ miles in total, and it probably would have been easier if I wasn’t in my 70th summer, wasn’t carrying 30 too many pounds around my midsection and didn’t have a bad back and a gouty toe. But it’s not a day I’d have traded for any other I’ve had.

North Dakota;s state flower, the Wild Prairie Rose, dots the hillside of Black Butte, adding fragrance and beauty to a rocky landscape.
North Dakota;s state flower, the Wild Prairie Rose, dots the hillside of Black Butte, adding fragrance and beauty to a rocky landscape.

North Dakota’s state flower, the Wild Prairie Rose, dots the hillside of Black Butte, adding fragrance and beauty to a rocky landscape.

Three words describe Black Butte. Magnificent. Unfriendly. Cruel.

Magnificent because it is the only one of our big buttes that stands like a fortress when viewed from every direction, with sheer rock walls ascending from about halfway up the butte to the top. Black rock, hence its name.

Unfriendly because many of those rocks have crumbled down the sides of the butte, making walking very difficult. Of all the big buttes in North Dakota I’ve climbed — Sentinel, Pretty, Square, Rocky and the king of them all, Bullion — this was the hardest hike. Not because it is the biggest butte, or the steepest, but because the rocks are like a minefield, literally inches or a couple feet apart, and you have to pick your way through them carefully so you don’t break an ankle or wrench a knee. It’s just not a pleasant hike like most of the other major buttes offer. It’s unfriendly.

Cruel because of two things:

  • It’s a long hike from where you have to park your car, most of a mile away, and then you have to weave your way between wheat fields and hay meadows before you begin any semblance of ascent. That’s OK when you are heading toward the butte because you can look up in anticipation, and it really is a marvelous landscape to look at, both from a distance and up close as you approach the base. But that mile back to the car after your descent, when you just want to be done with it after a long day on the summit, is cruel.
  • The elevation changes atop the butte are severe. Unlike the flat tops of Sentinel, Bullion and Square Buttes, offering a generally leisurely stroll along the ridge crest, Black Butte is topped by hills and gullies, and there’s no great ridgeline walk on this butte. It lends itself to wandering around from side to side, to see the view in each direction, but the landscape calls for escape, not relaxation, after an hour or so atop the butte. That’s cruel.

Otherwise, it’s a great way to spend a day. It’s probably the only place from which you can see both White Butte and Bullion Butte. Black Butte was thought to be the highest point in North Dakota until the U.S. Geological Survey declared in 1962 that White Butte is 40 feet higher. Bullion ranks third or fourth. You can also see Pretty Butte, north of Marmarth, and the Rainy Buttes, south of New England, from there.

My wife, Lillian, has written a great blog and posted wonderful photos of our day. I’m going to let her tell the rest of the story. Here’s the link.

ERIC BERGESON: The Country Scribe — Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon, located north of Tucson, Ariz., in the Santa Catalina Mountains, is a favorite walking, hiking and riding recreation area for residents and visitors to southern Arizona. Just minutes away from the desert, the canyon features large waterfalls along Sabino Creek with minor bridges constructed over them. Wildlife also is abundant in the canyon, including deer, javelina, skunks, tortoises, rattlesnakes and mountain lions. Stonework on the 3.70-mile trail through the canyon was done by Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the 1930s. Eric Bergeson recently hiked the canyon, and here is what he saw.