Highpointing: Black Elk Peak, South Dakota

Hiking in the Black Hills has been one of my favorite highpointing experiences so far. It is such a cool place. On a side note if you have played the game Firewatch, the hike to Black Elk Peak will remind you of sections of that. One day in the area was not nearly enough. I could have easily spent a month rambling around. This was an area that I really am looking forward to getting back to.

This was the second highpoint in the epic Dakota road trip, and after the beating Dave, Laurie and I took at North Dakota the day prior we were feeling a bit worked before we stepped off to head up to Black Elk Peak. Once we got going though it was an enjoyable adventure through the woods…until I took us down the wrong trail and added on an extra two miles. Thanks to my trusty compass and a quick look at the map we were back on track in relatively short order.

At this point Laurie opted to return to Sylvan Lake and film and take photos of that area. Dave and I continued on through the pines and rock formations and once we broke through the low hanging clouds we were rewarded with one of the coolest views I have ever witnessed. The clouds hung close the ground and stretched as far as you could see, only broken by the pine covered hills or jagged rock structures of the Needles. It was amazing. (Check out the images in the gallery below!)

Those low hanging clouds were a double-edged sword, while they did make for awesome footage and views while ascending the mountain, they made it a bit more challenging when we got back down and turned to the work of filming all the remaining footage. Case in point our National Lampoon’s Vacation moment when we got to Mt. Rushmore. When we arrived the entire mountain was fogged in. Visibility was next to nothing. I found it absolutely hilarious, at least for us, since Rushmore footage wasn’t critical. Other folks were not nearly as amused.

On the way out though Dave needed to use the facilities so Laurie and I sat down and chatted. I was facing away from the monument. When Dave caught up with us I took one last look back and lo and behold, the fog had lifted and there were the presidents. It elicited a genuine “holy cow!” from me.

While we caught a break at Rushmore the clouds slowly kept piling on. In the end we just tried to use them to our advantage. It gave the whole area an otherworldly feel so by the end of the day it became a “stand in the woods and say your lines” kind of deal.

When I think about director’s cuts for episodes this one is near the top of the list. I could have easily added on Wind Cave, a drive down Spearfish Canyon, the Crazy Horse Monument, etc. As stated before, this place is a treasure trove of wonders. With hindsight this episode should have had at least two full days dedicated to it.

Surprisingly there was footage that was cut out. This episode had a section in it for the “Geographical center of the United States” at Belle Fourche, South Dakota. It didn’t quite fit in with the episode and when we arrived there the weather was cold and wet. All of us were pretty worked from the earlier filming at White Butte so while we did get footage it ended up on the cutting room floor.

Overall this episode turned out pretty well. One of the big wins was getting James “Defender Eagle” Starkey to do the voice over for Black Elk. It adds a layer of authenticity to the episode. It was important to me to have a solid narrative of events since the Black Hills are still a contentious area.

Music for this episode is from Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com,) Dan Lebowitz (lebomusic.com,) and Freedom Trail Studio. The Majestic Hills theme used during the ascent was one that I actually had earmarked for this episode way back when I was still planning out the series. The remaining pieces were all chose to help carry the weight of some pretty heavy subjects.

The Black Hills are an amazing place and the hike up Black Elk Peak is really cool. If you enjoyed this episode please consider subscribing on YouTube to the Rooftops of America channel. Click the bell icon while you are there for all the latest updates.  Also consider donating to the Rooftops of America GoFundMe Campaign so we can continue bringing you these episodes as we go highpointing across the USA. Thanks for watching!

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