A Door, a Window, and a Notch.

Trip Start Aug 17, 2008
Trip End Oct 2008

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Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Yesterday I did my first real exploration in the park - 2 very minor but picturesque trails (Door and Window), and one somewhat longer and fairly strenuous hike (Notch).  These three trails all have their heads right near the northeast entrance to the park, making them popular points for many visitors.  As such, the more accessible areas are pretty crowded, but as you get into rougher terrain the crowds thin out a lot.

Door and Window both start off with wheelchair-accessible boardwalks that lead out to some pretty impressive panoramas.  Door is particurly nice in that you can trek out across some much more treacherous yet still well-marked terrain that gets you out to a ery impressive cliff view.  The photos I have of Door Trail are all from this section.

Window is less impressive - not much to see off the main trail.

Next stop was Notch trail - The sign at the trailhead promised a much more engaging journey, and I wasn't disappointed.

First off, note that the first 3/4 of a mile or so are along the bottom of a steep ravine.  It was about 95 degrees yesterday, and the ravine is quite twisty - meaning there's basically no air movement in there.  So the first half of the hike was actually pretty unpleasant at 100 degrees plus.  I'd brought plenty of water, so I was fine, if massively sweaty.

Then there's the ladder, which promises to lead up into breezier climes... I took a few minutes to rest in the shade of an outcropping before starting up.  Luckily I was right, and as soon as I cleared the top edge, one of the area's famous winds kicked up and dropped the temp by about 20 degrees.  This made the rest of the hike almost obscenely pleasant in contrast to the sweltering misery of the first part.

One of the things you realize about this landscape pretty quickly is how easy it is to get lost and disoriented by the neverending canyons, spires, and switchbacks.  It's never a simple case of walking from A to B; there's always a too-steep slope or a 50-foot-deep gully between you and your objective.  This feature of the terrain gives the body of a hike a sort of timeless quality - you're moving and exerting yourself, but there's very little sense of actual motion towards a goal.  When the endpoint finally does hove into view, it's often a complete suprise.

Such was the case with this hike - just as I was starting to wonder if I was actually headed towards something, it became abundatly clear that I was.  The abrupt appearance of this breathtaking vista ranks right up there among the most rewarding experiences I've ever had as a hiker.  When you finally to reach the top and stop to take it all in, there is a beautiful silence, accentuated by the movement of the wind through the spires and the sparse vegitation.

So impressed was I by the quality of this marked and fully sanctioned view that I just had to see if there were any more up there.  The trail actually branches a few times near the top, the other paths leading to much rogher and more challenging areas.  I picked one of these routes - an extremely steep-sided washout whose bottom end was only about 3 feet across, and rimmed by jagged teeth of green rock.

What followed was a fairly tense scramble up a slope that was mostly covered in small debris, making it necessary to choose my footing very carefully.  When I did make it to the top there was a single scraggly bush clinging to the cliff face and a rock that seemed placed there to admire the view, which was from even higher up than the previous one.  The very difficulty of getting here made this one the better of the two views.

After soaking this one in for a few minutes, I started back down.  I had enough energy to try another path up, but the light was fading and I didn't want to push my luck and risk having to navigate these canyons in the dark, even with a headlamp.  The trek back down was considerably more pleasant than the one up, mostly because the setting sun and strong winds had managed to replace much of the air in the bottom of the canyon with cooler stuff.

I headed back to the car and towards the restaurant at the Cedar Point rest area on my way back to the campsite.  That's where I saw the single most horifying site of my vacation so far: The Clamato Beer.  For the love of god, it even has its own name!!
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