The first 18 miles of the trail were downhill so we were able to enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Just a few feet from the trailhead, we encountered patches of snow along the trail. Suddenly, we realized that the trail ahead was snow-covered. We pushed our bikes about 100 feet across the snow to the crushed limestone trail on the other side. In less than a mile, we had to cross another shorter patch of snow; Ed actually tried to ride his bike on this section, but the snow was too soft :-).
The rushing waters of Rapid Creek crisscrossed back and forth across the trail, requiring frequent bridge crossings. Lush green pastures lined the trail, and the Black Hills surrounded us on all sides.
Many people think the Black Hills are named after the shale rock; however, it’s actually the Black Cedar trees which give the mountains their dark color. In addition to the black cedars, we saw lodgepoll pine and aspens along the trail.
Occasionally, deer lept across the path as we approached, and cattle grazed only a few feet from the trail. In fact, there were numerous gates blocking the trailway, which required us to dismount our bikes, open the gate, and close it behind us. We also passed several bogs and small ponds along the trail. Stopping to watch the mallard ducks swimming, we heard a chorus of croaking frogs in the background. We looked for beavers, but only saw their dams.
When we reached the Rochford Trailhead, we took a bathroom break, removed a layer of clothes, and ate a snack. I later discovered that I laid my wireless camera remote on the picnic table while changing clothes and forgot to pick it back up when we left. After our ride, Ed and I had to drive about 45 minutes back to the trailhead to look for the remote. Fortunately, it was still laying where I left it :-).
As we approached the Mystic Trailhead, we noticed that the trail was beginning to climb. We decided to get a drink and take a stretch break. While chatting to two guys eating lunch, we realized that we had only seen four people on the trail all morning.
After our short break, we started a 7 to 7 1/2 mile climb, which proved to be more difficult than anticipated. Ed had to stop about every half mile to push his bike and stretch his legs. I lowered the gear on my bike and trudged on at a much slower pace than before. While on this uphill ascent, we rode through three short tunnels, which was a distraction from the grueling climb. To make matters worse, the trail had become more sandy, making it slippery and more difficult to maintain traction. We took several breaks along this portion of the trail and were greatly relieved when we crested the hill and started our final descent into Hill City. The last 7 miles flew by as we averaged 12-13 mph.
We rolled into Hill City about 1 PM, which was about an hour later than we expected. Although my GPS indicated that we only rode 3 1/2 hours, we must have spent the other hour and a half taking pictures, eating and resting. As we approached Hill City, the Black Hills locomotive was a welcoming sight as it blew its whistle in preparation of the next train ride.
While Ed and I were on the trail, Mary and Jim did some sightseeing (Chapel in the Hills and Fort Hays). They also bought groceries and prepared sandwiches for us for lunch.
After a brief rest, we drove to Mt. Rushmore. We paid for the audio tour and walked the Presidential Trail, which included a stop at the sculptor’s studio. The process which sculptor Gutzon Borglum used to carve the granite masterpiece interested me because of its reliance on geometry.
As we exited Mt. Rushmore, we spotted two mountain goats grazing along the sidewalk. Following our visit to Mt. Rushmore, we decided to make a quick stop at Keystone (the Gatlinburg of South Dakota). We browsed a few shops and indulged in some rocky road fudge before returning to our cabin in Hill City.
Mary cooked dinner while Ed and I drove back to the Rochford Trailhead to find my wireless remote. After dinner, I worked on my blog and went to bed exhausted but satiscontent about our trek on the Mickelson Trail:-)
Rapid Creek along Mickelson Trail
Tunnel B (I think)