Western Hiking Trek: Narrow Scrapes, Fantastic Caves, and More (Guest Post)

I’m pleased to announce that several upcoming posts will be guest written by my longtime friend and avid hiker Keith Shaw, who is trekking the trails out west. He’s sending email reports to his friends, but the writing and photos are so good I wanted to share them with you all, and he’s given his blessing.

What Keith is doing is remarkable for several reasons. He’s a large person who has no fear of hiking narrow trails that lead to high places. And he’s had some physical challenges resulting in his losing the feeling in both feet. Yet he not only retrained himself to walk again, he’s boldly covering terrain even yours truly the ultrarunner fears to tread.

His three-week trip started in Rapid City, SD (Badlands, Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Devil’s Tower), Scott’s Bluff in Nebraska, then on to explore Grand Teton and Yellowstone and loop back to Rapid City.

A couple of quick notes: the bolded text in his reports are mine – they are what I find to be particularly noteworthy. I may also make minor edits for length and to fix typos.

And now, here’s Keith!

Trek 2017 – Day One

Hello dear friends,

This is my first entry on this year’s trip. The flight into Rapid City, SD was uneventful, but I was a bit tired as I arrived about 1 a.m. and then spent two hours reorganizing everything from travel mode to use mode. BTW, Detroit was something like 94F when I left for the airport, but when I arrived in RC it was 38F and raining. What a difference!

As the first two days are predicted to be rain and heavy overcast skies (read that as poor photography), I decided to visit the two caves in the area and enjoy some of the “stimulating” drives that the mountains so joyfully provide.

Will my car fit?

First on the agenda was Needles Highway. Calling it a highway is a bit of a stretch. While paved, it is very narrow, so when two cars meet, the sideview mirrors almost have to touch, while the outer third of the passenger-side tires are off the road, and no guard rails to the valley below. The Needles are vertical granite spikes, some even with a thread slot in them due to wind erosion. The old tunnels are only one-way, so opposing traffic must take turns. When going through the one shown I think I had 8-10″ clearance on each side of my rental black Chevy Malibu. I saw a pickup truck before me scrape a side mirror, so I was very careful not to follow his example.

This led me down to Wind Cave NP (national park). The overland geography is rolling open pastures with few trees but mucho wildlife. Who would believe that underneath it is the third longest cave in the world? Something like 140 miles of cave trails documented so far, all within ONE square mile of land. The 3D map looks like a ball of spaghetti! It is also the only cave system in the world to have boxwork formations, effectively negative space shapes of dried up cracked river beds. The were formed when harder calcite rock formed over softer limestone that was the original sea bottom. The earth heaved up when the mountains were formed creating cracks and fissures, which then flooded with highly acidic water. The water ate away the soft limestone, leaving the strange boxwork patterns on the ceilings and some walls of the passageways.

Some of the “boxwork”

Leaving Wind Cave via the Wilderness Loop road showed the abundance of said wildlife, with herds of bison (buffalo), elk, deer, and many birds. The final leg of the journey was on Iron Mountain Highway for another bout of enjoyable steering wheel exercise. Sadly, the much-touted scenic overlook at the apex was actually up in a cloud, so the panorama was limited to about 25 feet of distance. 😦

Half a ton of pot roast!

Tomorrow will be Jewel Cave, Mt Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments.

Stay tuned,


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