Friday, July 23, 2010

Bear Butte South Dakota

Bear Butte or Maho Pata

It was at a fiftieth birthday party for a friend of Kari's that I first heard of Bear Butte. The women gathered were talking about meaningful celebrations and places to go on retreat when one of them said she and her friend had gone to Bear Butte in South Dakota. They talked about how it was a sacred place, very meaningful AND very challenging to climb.

When Bud and I began planning a trip to the Black Hills in the 90's, I knew I wanted it to include Bear Butte near Sturgis, SD. Other than what I had heard at the party, I didn't know anything about the lone laccolith. At the visitor's center before beginning our midday climb, I learned the importance of the area as a religious site and landmark for the Plains Indian tribes. We were told we would see prayer cloths and bundles tied in trees near the paths and instructed to leave them alone. This wasn't some ancient sacred site but one very much in current use by the Lakota, Cheyenne and others making personal pilgrimages.

Armed with bottles of water and determination to reach the top, we set off on the nearly two mile "Summit Trail". It was easy going at first with lots of switchbacks and moderate elevations. I was fascinated at the many pieces of colored cloth tied to tree branches. It began to feel like we had already walked more than two miles when the steep part of the trail began.

Bud was eyeing the path ahead and judging how much further it was to the top, while I was begging for a rest and wondering if he should just go on without me while I waited at this gorgeous overlook for him to come back.

Then I remembered that one of women at the party had some real physical limitations - not just out-of-shape like I was. She said it had taken her four hours to make the climb but it was worth it. So after a short rest here, we went on. It really wasn't much further to the platform deck at the top. It was worth the climb. The view in all directions was amazing.
Bear Butte became a South Dakota State Park in 1961 and was registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1965. I wouldn't mind another visit to Maho Pata someday - while I'm still able to make that climb.

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