A winter walk in the Black Hills near Nemo | Black Hills Travel Blog

A winter walk in the Black Hills near Nemo

  • A winter walk in the Black Hills near Nemo
    A winter walk in the Black Hills near Nemo
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
By : 
Laura T

Boots, hat, coat and walking stick in place, I set out on a winter walk. It is the same walk I always take – right out my front door and into the woods. The dogs, of course, have to come along, and after a few skirmishes to establish who’s who in the pecking order, my two four-legged frenemies lope eagerly across the field and into the trees while I, the two-legged, take a few minutes to get into the swing of things. The field is slick or crunchy, depending on where I step, but soon I too am into the woods, my steps solid in the light cover of unmarked snow. It’s easy walking the first few minutes.

The dogs have disappeared from view, but I know they know where to find me. And, there they are, waiting for me on the steep slopes of the craggy outcroppings ahead. At the start of my walk, I always say to myself, “Well, you don’t have to climb the hill. You can just stick to the old rail bed if you want to.” But as soon as I get to the bottom, I have to climb it. What am I proving? Nothing much, no doubt. Up I go, rather slowly and with my walking stick on the ready. Reaching the rocks on top, breathing quicker, I consider the old barb wire fence that curls and wrangles along the ridge. Who was it that came up here and ran fence for cattle? And how many people remember when it was open range up and down this valley? Maybe it was my neighbor, or my neighbor’s father. They are old Nemo-area cattlemen. Actually, even today more than 5,000 cattle graze throughout the Black Hills on numerous forest service livestock permits. That’s more cattle than any other national forest in the country. So, hikers into the woods shouldn’t be surprised to see or hear cattle.

The Forest Service has a strong management system in place for cattle grazing, and fencing plays an important role in making sure livestock grazing coordinates with the government’s multi-use forest plan. Over or under the wire I go. The walk down the hill has its own tricks. My walking stick is actually most handy as I teeter totter down the steep slopes, following the trails created by the area’s whitetail deer, or just as often taking a random offshoot through piles of old dead wood or rocky swales. The dogs have run off most of their energy and stay mostly in sight, sticking their noses into all their favorite holes. Rock crevasses, old bushes, rotting timbers – what woodsy secrets do their noses tell them? Below is the old rail bed that will lead me back home.

A few more minutes, and I tip myself onto its flat grassy surface. Over the steep embankment is the creek – its waters black and opaque under skiffs of thin ice. Tracks show where the deer are crossing over – it’s still winter in the valley after all. The rail bed shows its age, and not gracefully. The narrow-gauge Black Hills & Fort Pierre ran this track. Established in 1881, it had some passenger service, but was used primarily to transport ore and haul timber into Lead for use in the underground operations of the storied Homestake Gold Mine. Today, this old rail bed is rails to trails without any amenities. It’s easy walking on the banked up soil, but every 50 feet or so are piles of rocks where the cutaways have fallen in. I show my age, too, as I gracelessly bump and trip my way through. The dogs turn back and look at me with compassion. Poor old two-legged, even that third leg doesn’t help much. But now we are walking the easiest part, where the path is almost a road. The big pines shadow the way, but the sun, setting in the west, brightens the field beyond.  The dogs are already up at the house as I come across.

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