September 24, 2010

Harney Range, Black Hills, South Dakota

Today was a beautiful day around 72 degrees and a great one for a hike to the highest point not only in South Dakota, but in the entire country east of the Rocky Mountains. We climbed 7,246 foot Harney Peak in the heart of the Black Hills, with views out to the vast Great Plains beyond.

I'll do a separate post specifically about the details of this lovely hike on the Hikemaster's website. But, what I want to focus on for this post is Hilina's cognition and the Mountain Pine Beetle.

First of all, Hilina had an absolute blast. She's shown signs in recent weeks of appreciating "views" and landscapes rather than just focusing on the 50 feet around her. But, today it was a different level. She was in awe of the surroundings at the summit and kept talking about the "view" and wanting to find more views. She was amazed by the rock formations and talked about the dead trees she could see in the landscape.

She thought they were dead because of fires, but when we told her that the mountain pine beetle was killing them, she was totally fascinated by that idea. She wanted to find them...

Hilina also had a recognition that the forest ended at some point on the horizon and that the tan/brown landscape beyond was the "prairie". When asked what lived on the prairie, she quickly answered "buffalo, prairie dogs, and pronghorns, but not mountain lions". Pretty good for a kid under 3, don't you think?

Anyways, the Black Hills, especially the southern portion are under seige by mountain pine beetles. They have devastated up to 1/3 of the ponderosa pine forests in the range. A combination of a hundred years of fire suppression resulting in overly packet "dog-hair" forests, drought episodes stressing trees, and global warming causing the winters to be too mild to kill the beetle eggs has contributed to this massive outbreak. They say they are desperately hoping for a really hard winter to end this epidemic.

We spoke to a couple from Iowa who come to the Black Hills every year and they said 10 years ago the entire forest was green and today, it is a very different forest.

Custer State Park and the U.S. Forest Service are involved in major salvage and thinning operations to clear the dead trees and provide space for the still living ones to be free from infestation. It is a dramatic effect, with logging operations everywhere, that they hope will return the forest to its more open, fire tolerant state.

Hilina really wants to see the "Mountain with the faces" that she's seen in brochures and billboards in the area. So, we might head on over to Mount Rushmore tomorrow.

1 comment:

Brina Z. said...

*Cue shudder* I had an experience with one of those beetles (i think it was one of them, i didn't get a good look at it) last year. We were at a large mountain (at least I THINK it was a mountain... I don't remember the name(if you can think of it it looked like a orange/tan cilender, and quite a few climbers were on it, and surronded by a forest)), me and my dad were going on a hike around it (it was probably about 2.5 to 3 miles.). Suddenly I feel a little prick in on the back of my neck. I reached back and felt something that was about the size of a pingpong on the back of my neck. I freaked out and flung it against a tree. It scared the heck out of me and I was kind of panicky the rest of the hike, and kept checking the back of my neck for beetles.