The world was changing. There was no way to explain to the dogs why we hadn't seen any friends in a while, or that we wouldn't be planning a big trip this spring.
However, we're extremely grateful to live in a place with easy access to the wilderness. We can still enjoy a little outdoor recreation while maintaining a safe distance from the rest of society.
We were looking for a trail that wouldn't be crowded with people. Along Highway 44 just west of Rapid City, South Dakota, an obscure gravel road led into the forest. We turned onto Log Porch Road (also called Community Hall Road or USFS Road 173 on some maps). After a short distance we came to a closed Forest Service gate. A sign advised us that motor vehicles were currently not permitted past this point. A small, empty parking area sat just to the side of the road. This seemed like a great place to start walking!
We parked the car, grabbed our gear, and began the hike up the dirt road. It was wide and easy to follow as it gently climbed uphill. We followed it deeper into the woods as the sun played hide-and-seek with us along the way.
Evergreens lined our pleasant walk through the forest. After a short time we came upon a fork in the road. We looked for signs or markers but found none. According to the old Forest Service map in my backpack, Log Porch Road continued to our right. The road to our left was USFS Road 173.1B, a short spur that led to a dead end. In the spirit of exploration, we decided to take a left.
This dirt path curved through the woods, heading generally south. After a few minutes of easy walking, an eerie sight appeared off to our left. Stone crosses rose out of the ground between the trees.
Upon nearing it, we saw that the area was fenced in and labeled with a bright yellow sign. This little plot was tended to by the Lawrence County Historical Society -it was a historical cemetery.
We had stumbled upon Big Bend Cemetery purely by chance. This small graveyard was the resting place of the Bing Family. A little bit of research would reveal that the Bings lived nearby in Rapid City in the early 1900s. Born in Norway, they moved to South Dakota at the start of a new century to raise 8 children. Andrew Bing's grave lies next to that of his wife Marie, their plots surrounded with carefully lain stonework.
Updated wooden crosses had been added (fairly recently) to Marie and Andrew's stone cross grave markers. Their daughter Ruth's grave lay at Marie's feet. Other family graves in the cemetery had crosses but no names, and some lacked any kind of marker at all.
We paid our respects to this unexpected find, then wandered over to another curious item located behind the tiny cemetery. A sign explained that the large contraption was a "guzzler". It collected precipitation and then stored the water for wildlife use.
After inspecting all the interesting things along the route, we returned to our walk. Sure enough, USFS 173.1B came to an end just past the cemetery. We turned around and made our way back to the intersection with Log Porch Road.
We continued straight ahead, now walking north. Views of the distant wooded hills appeared through the trees on our left as we trekked along.
After a short stretch we came to another fork in the road. The start of USFS 173.1A had popped up on our left. According to the map, this was another little spur that would reach a dead end after a brief distance. We decided to follow it and see what this path had to offer.
The road was in fairly good condition and led through a thick section of forest. Protruding rock formations decorated the hillsides around us. The dogs happily followed the path through the woods, stopping for enticing scents along the way. It was a beautiful woodland stroll.
We passed by a reassuring sign tacked to a tree stump. No shooting was permitted in this area. This was wonderful to see, as humans are often the most frightening animal in the forest.
The road led southwest, but wasn't much longer than 173.1B had been. When the road came to a dead end in the woods, we decided to stop for a water and treat break. The girls enjoyed the smells and sights of the forest.
We had a delightful stroll as we followed the road back out. Maggie found patches of snow to roll in along the way.
After meandering along the gravel path, we came back to the intersection with Log Porch Road. A large cattle guard crossed the road before us.
To the right of the cattle guard was a distinct unlabeled trail. It had a Forest Service sign letting us know that 'No Motor Vehicles' were allowed on this path. We decided to leave Log Porch Road and explore this mysterious trail through the woods.
Trail maps of this system can be a bit confusing, as multiple trails weave through this area. Our best guess was that we were on the southern section of a hiking and mountain biking trail known as 'Bone Up'. The path had begun just south of the cattle guard and made its way southeast through the woods, passing under large protruding rock formations.
The path was easy to follow despite its lack of trail markers. It snaked through boulders and pine trees as stone cliffs popped out of the hillside to our left. The dogs followed the trail enthusiastically, stopping on occasion to investigate a smell or darting chipmunk.
We passed through a small aspen grove. Bare white trees clumped tightly together on either side of the trail.
We continued our hike through the lovely forest. At one point we crossed another trail, but stayed on the path we were already taking, making our way south. It was a fun adventure through the charming woodlands.
Eventually our trail ran directly back into Log Porch Road. In fact, we were just north of where we had parked the car. This mysterious path had allowed us to create a loop through the area.
We hadn't come across any trail markers until we found another 'No Motor Vehicles' sign at the south end of the path. From the intersection we made our way down the wide, empty road leading back to the car. After walking for only a few minutes we were once again at our vehicle, unloading our gear.
We'd had a fabulous time wandering around the forest. Ultimately we had spent about 3 hours touring the woods.
Multiple trails ran through this system and we would gladly come back to explore more of it, if given the chance.
We hadn't encountered any other people during our adventure, but we did come across some interesting sights. This section of forest had been full of surprises. It was wonderful to get out for some fresh air and exercise in the woods, away from the stress and troubles of the human world.