The Centennial Trail- Bear Butte to the Black Hills and Back…


It has been a while since I have posted anything to my blog. As noted on previous posts, I moved to Rapid City, South Dakota from Wisconsin about a month ago. These past few weeks, I have been busy settling in to my new job, looking for a new home and running. My family is still in Wisconsin so I have been able to focus on my training. However,  I would much rather have the "distraction" of my family here with me instead of having all of my free time open for running.

I am right on track for my training for the Greenland Trail 50-k on April 19th so I registered for the race last week.  I feel strong without any "twinges" suggesting an oncoming overuse injury or other problems.   Having been sidelined in the past more than once by ITB, stress fracture and other injuries, injuries are always at the back of my mind.  Now that I am older (and I hope, wiser), I pay close attention to the warning signals my body gives me. I make sure to back off of my training whenever needed.  



We had snow on Friday followed by warm sunny day on Saturday with highs around 65 degrees F. Most of it was melted by Saturday morning so I decided to run on the Centennial Trail. I chose a section just east of Sturgis, South Dakota. I would run from the parking area at the base of Bear Butte through Ft. Meade Recreation Area to the top of the first ridge of the Black Hills and back. 

This would be my last long run before starting my taper.

Part of the enjoyment of running ultramarathons is the training. I don't consider a run to really be "long" until it is at least 20 or more miles. I love getting out on the trails and experiencing nature. To hike a 20+ mile long trail would take me an entire day or even a weekend, but when I run it, I get to see all the sights in only a few hours.  

I love those few weeks when I am at my peak. I can get out to run for a few hours or even half a day. The miles just float on by. I consider these slow long runs to be my reward for being disciplined and getting up at 4 AM  to do all those less-than-fun mid-week runs during the cold, dark winter.

If it were up to me, all of my runs would be long. Of course, my schedule and my body could not tolerate that. So I religiously do my mid-week runs of more sane distances as I know I should, even if I don't enjoy them as much.


The day started out chilly, around 37 degrees with a 10 to 15mph headwind. I brought a change of clothes with me to change into as the day warmed up. On my back, I wore my Camelback backpack with 100oz of sports drink, a turkey sandwhich for lunch, energy bars/gel, emergency gear, first aid kit and extra clothing. It weighed almost 20 lbs.

I wa surprised to find so much snow on the ground. In Rapid City, there wasn't any snow at all. Only 30 miles to the north, there was still a few inches.  

I hoped the trails wouldn't be too muddy. 



Bear Butte is a South Dakota State Park. It rises about 1253 ft above the surrounding plains and is 4426 ft above sea level. Bear Butte is what geologists call a "laccolith," which is the  result of the forcible intrusion of magma into cooler rock. A similar formation is Devil's Tower in Wyoming.

To the Native peoples, Bear Butte has important religious and historical significance. Evidence of a human presence dates back ten-thousand years. To the Lakota, Bear Butte is called Mato Paha or Bear Mountain, because of how it resembles a bear resting on its side asleep. To the Cheyenne, it is Noahvose, the place where the creator imparted to Sweet Medicine sacred knowledge. Many make pilgrimages to leave prayer cloths and bundles tied to the branches of the trees on the mountain.

I did not climb Bear Butte on this trip  but am looking forward to returning and doing so in the future.



A sage grouse flew up and startled me. I looked at my heart rate monitor and saw that  heart rate immediately jumped about ten bpm.

As I headed south, I entered Ft. Meade Recreation Area, public land managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management). It was named for Ft. Meade, which was established in 1878 as a cavalry fort to protect the new settlements in the northern Black Hills, especially the nearby gold mining area around Deadwood. Now, a VA Medical Center is located on the grounds. 

With the steadily warming temperatures, the quickly melting snow was making the trail soggy. Fortunately, there was enough dry ground around the wet patches for me to slowly make my way.


Above is a trail marker for the Centennial Trail.

It is known as the Centennial Trail or "Trail No. 89" because it was completed in the year of South Dakota's state centennial: 1989. The trail goes 111 miles from the base of Bear Butte through the Black Hills to Wind Cave National Park near Hot Springs.

In the distance, I heard a coyote yip and howl. I tried my best to answer back but all I got in response was silence.

Maybe I had better practice my coyote howl some more?

Or, maybe I should just keep my mouth shut?



In the distance, you can see the ridge of the Black Hills that I am aiming for.

First, I will need to head east (to the left) and go around the side of that closest hill. As the hawk flies, the distance would be much shorter, but my goal is to get to mile 13 before turning around.

The temperatures warmed steadily. I stopped to take off my running tights and take off my outer long sleeve shirt.


It felt much better to feel the warm spring breeze on my skin!


Above is a photo of yucca. The tips of the leaves are needle-sharp and can surprise you if you are not paying attention to where your ankles are.  With the proper preparation, the fiber in yucca leaves can be turned into string or rope. Another name of yucca is the "Soap Plant" from the fact that the saponins in the roots, if pounded with a rock, will make soapy-suds, useful in the past for cleansing in the days before grocery stores.

In the foreground, you can see a few small orange-red berries which are rose-hips. If crushed and steeped in hot water, they will make a mildly-tart brilliant red tea which is delicious as well as high in vitamin C.

To the uninitiated, the prairie may have a barren appearance, but it actually is a diverse and rich area… ecologically, geologically and historically.   



Now at mile 4.8, I had a stream to cross.

Because the Black Hills have been in a drought for 7 years, many normally flowing creeks are bone-dry.

Not this one!

Fortunately, there were boulders that allowed me to cross without wetting my feet more than they already were.

Note the pale Wisconsin-white of my legs…


I crossed highway 34.

As I headed south I decided to stay on Old Stone Road, a dirt road that was still muddy, but less so than the hiking trail which it paralleled. I was going long today so I didn't feel guilty for opting for the more easy route.

We ultra-trail runners may be insane but we are not stupid, we try to use the land to its advantage to save energy and time whenever we can. 

Besides being a cavalry outpost in the 19th century, Ft. Meade served other purposes in the past as well, including a Civilian Conservation Corp camp, Army National Guard officer's training site and WWII camp for German POWs.

Here, around mile 5.5, we see the Long Stone Building built in 1940 to replace an older wooden structure. It served as a storage building for targets for the 1000-inch (25 meter) shooting range.  Firing from close range at smaller targets allowed soldiers to train without  going to a full-size range. The terraces (off to the right and just out of sight) are where the targets were placed.  


Just another 1/2 mile down the road, I came across the Ft. Meade National Cemetery, used from 1878 to 1943.

The first soldier was Sgt. Charles Hess who died in the construction of Ft. Meade. About 200  soldiers and others are buried here, including a Medal of Honor recipient, military family members and civilian fort employees.

I was surprised by how many children were buried there. In our time of modern health care, vaccinations and antibiotics, we forget how high childhood mortality was only a few generations ago. 

Off in the distance is Bear Butte; the buildings in the foreground are old Ft. Meade, the VA Medical Center and Sturgis High School.

It was 12:30 PM. I was feeling hungry so I ate half of my turkey sandwhich for lunch before heading on.


Despite the snow, the day was quite warm. In the trees out to the wind, I felt hot. By the time I came back this way on my return trip, most of this snow would already be gone.  

I came out to an opening and felt the wind blowing in my face. It was more difficult running into the wind but I looked forward to having a tailwind on my return trip back to the car.


At Alkali Creek,  located at the end of this road (mile 9.6), there was a sign marker for the 1906-07 campgound of the Utes.

Several hundred Ute indians left their Utah reservation in hopes of finding land on the Sioux or Cheyenne lands. They peacefully made their way through the West and the Army was sent to bring them back. They were finally captured in southeastern Montana and brought to Ft. Meade. Not exactly prisoners but not free either, they waited for a location on a nearby reservation while camped on this creek.

When that did not work out, they returned to Utah.


You might wonder why I took this photo of these leafless gray shrubs.

This is a wild plum patch, one of the many that I ran past. Seeing this brought back memories of the time my family and I lived in Wyoming. We had a thicket of wild plums  growing on our ranch. One year we had such a bumper crop that we harvested them by the 5 gallon bucketful. Some we made into jam. The rest were juiced and fermented into a delicious sparkling pink plum wine with a trace of sweetness.

It was like soda-pop for grown-ups!

I will certainly be back here late next summer to check on these patches.


These ruts are from a former stagecoach trail. Several Stage trails passed through Ft. Meade on the way to the Gold fields of the Black Hills. This one came from Sidney, Nebraska to Deadwood, South Dakota. The stage carried supplies, prospectors  and settlers to the last gold rush in the lower 48 states.

I continued on.

Instead of my usual ultra-run-walk strategy, I was proceeding in a more of a run-and-then-stop-to-take-a-photo manner. That was fine with me, as the headwind, muddy road and trails made the going slow and tiresome. The stop-and-go did well at keeping my heart rate down.

Us ultrarunners care more about the total distance traveled and duration of time spent than our pace anyway.



At mile 10.1, here is the gravemarker for Curley Grimes, a local outlaw and suspect in stagecoach robbery. It reads:

          … buried with his head down, just as he fell, the whispering pines will never tell….

In December 1879, federal law officers shot and killed Curley Grimes in a supposed escape attempt. The two were arrested and held at the fort while the matter was investigated. An Army detail buried Grimes "facedown as he fell." The two law officers were tried and eventually acquitted. They were also tried and acquitted in another trial in Pierre, South Dakota of the death of another prisoner under similar suspicious circumstances.


Now at about mile 10.6, I could see my final destination, the top of the first ridge of the Black Hills. This is a tunnel built under Interstate Highway 90.

As I left the open prairie, I started heading upwards.  Just as I entered the trees, a herd of deer was startled and ran off.


I was glad to be out of the wind but I was not happy that the snow deepened as I entered the trees. Looking back down the trail, you can see how short my stride had become.


I kept slipping and sliding in the slush. My feet were soaked. My last 2 miles until the turnaround were soon slowed to a hike instead of a run. 

Oh well, it won't be far now, I thought.



I came out into an open area on top of the first ridge of the hills. My GPS said that I was at 4152 ft and my mileage was 13.2 miles. You can see the dark top of Bear Butte peeking over the horizon. 

I stopped and ate the other half of my sandwich and a CLIF energy bar.

Earlier, a couple of horse riders warned me that this ridge was where a mountain lion and her two kittens had spent the winter. I didn't pay too much attention until I came across a set of melted tracks. They were either a very large dog or a mountain lion. Because there were no claw marks, I must assume they were feline rather than canine.  

Though the risk is slim, every year a few runners are taken my cougars. My pepper spray seemed to be pretty meager protection compared to any hungry mountain lions that might be wandering around out there. I wished that I had my dogs with me but they are back with family in Wisconsin.

Time to be moving on, I thought! 


Although I have run similar distances frequently in the past, it is difficult to get a real understanding of what the distances truly are like in the flat Midwest where there are no open vistas or high points to climb and gaze from.

Here in the West, I can see exactly what thirteen miles looks like. It is a really long way, especially when I have just traveled that far and must go back.

The run downhill was a joy. I looked forward to getting out of the slush and snow and trees and back onto the prairie.

However, I had only run 50 yards out of the snow pack when I felt a sharp pain on my ankle.


Instinctivelly, I reached down but then I stopped myself. It was good that I did or I might have had some prickly pear cactus spines in my fingers as well as my ankle. I looked around for a stick to use in plucking this cactus pad out. Instead I found a pine cone that worked as well. 

I rolled down my gaiter and sock. Luckily, there were only a few superficially-embedded spines that I pulled out before I went on my way.

On my return trip, I passed by all of the sights I had seen earlier in the day. I was looking forward to finally having a tail wind on the way back.

But luck was not with me.

The 15 mph southernly headwind  soon changed into a 30+ mph headwind out of the northwest by afternoon. With the wind in my face on both the out and the return runs, it literally felt as if I had to run uphill both ways!

At mile 16.3, my feet began to bother me. I felt hot spots on the soles of both feet. Although the road was much drier than it was earlier, the moisture from earlier in the day were beginning to take effect. I was worried. Even though I had a small blister treatment kit with me, I did not have enough supplies to cover the soles of both feet.

I stopped in a sunny sheltered spot in the trees and took off my shoes and socks to take a look. My feet were wet but I had stopped in time.  I ate another energy bar and some gel. I heard a turkey gobbling in the distance. The dry wind was helpful in this case because in only 15 minutes my socks were mostly dry. Although they would soon be wet again from my shoes, at least they dried out enough to allow me to make it back to the car. I was wearing outer INOV-8 gaiter socks and an inner Injinji  liner socks.

I had purchased a few pairs of the Injinji socks earlier in the year. Initially, I was skeptical.  Like a glove for your feet, each toe has it's own separate finger. Although I had worn them on on other long runs, I had not really put them to the test.  Other ultrarunners swear by them for blister prevention.

After seeing how wet my feet were, I am convinced too. Had I not been wearing them, I am sure I would have already had blisters before I stopped.



At mile 19.1, some prairie dogs "barked" at me as I passed by. Large communally-living ground squirrels, they bark out a warning, whenever danger threatens.

As slowly as I was slogging into the head wind, I couldn't imagine how they could see me as much of a threat.


I stopped and tried to get some photos but everytime I turned to see a head poking out of its hole, it ducked back in. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement and another little head peaking at me. But it also ducked back in too as soon as I tried to get the camera focused.

After a few minutes, I soon tired of that game and pressed on.

The above is photo (not mine) of what they look like when not hiding in their burrows.

I finally made it back to the car. My GPS said 25.8 miles but with those last miles of headwind, it felt much longer. I had consumed all of my sports drink by mile 20 and was thirsty. I enjoyed the cool beverage waiting for me. After changing into some clean and dry clothes and fresh socks and shoes, I headed home.

That night, I was so hungry, I ate an entire large pizza.  This morning I awoke famished and had a big breakfast. According to my running calculator, I burned an estimated 4400 calories. The other extremely enjoyable aspect of ultra-trail running is replacing the caloric deficit afterwards.

Feed the engine! 

Today, I am only a little sore in my calves. I know I will be ready for the Greenland Trail 50-k in a few weeks. Now I will begin a few weeks of taper. Of course, the 50-k is really only a "training" run hopefully to be followed by succes at the Wyoming Double Marathon on Memorial Day Weekend. 

I talked my best friend Haliku into running the 50-k with me; we are very much looking forward to sharing this experience. We had hoped to have his younger brother run with us too, but it sounds like he will be sidelined due to a previous injury. I will need to make sure to run it slow so I don't hurt myself before my 52.4 mile adventure in May.

If I successfully complete the Wyoming Double Marathon… who knows what will be next? 100-k? 100-m? 

We shall see, first things first. I think that it's time for me to eat again.  

Inyanka yo!


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9 responses

  1. Thanks for this post and all the included photos. Your info on the local history added even more flavour.

    March 31, 2008 at 10:15 am

  2. Thanks! I love learning about the history, ecology and geography of an area. It also gives me that much more to think about when I am out there running for hours and hours.

    March 31, 2008 at 5:56 pm

  3. I only just joined this group, and this is the first post I see – all those photos are gorgeous.. I'm a fairly new runner and it's scenery like this that makes me want to keep going!

    March 31, 2008 at 10:11 pm

  4. Thank you. I love trail running so much more than running along the side of the road because of all that I get to see and experience.
    Best of luck on your running… only five years ago when I re-discovered running I was overweight and so out of shape that I could barely go 1/2 mile (0.8 km) without stopping to catch my breath.
    Now I can run 50+ miles (80km); I cannot believe how far I've come. It is amazing what can happen with a little time and training.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:31 am

  5. Awesome post. Thanks for all the great photos. Glad you did not impale yourself worse…. Best wishes for your Ultra. Still just working on the Marathon for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    April 2, 2008 at 9:51 pm

  6. Thank you. There is definitely a lot more to see and to photograph here than in Wisconsin!

    April 3, 2008 at 5:55 am

  7. I meant to comment on this the day you posted it.Thanks for taking the time to share these fantastic views with actually inspire me to think I may run trails… as you know I am a keen hiker, but as you mentioned, hiking can take entire weekends that you just dont always have.I was hiking to one of my favorite huts a few weekends ago when the runners participating in the Tararua Mountain Race started passing me going the other way. They were very pleased to have somebody cheer them on and give them estimates on how far they had to go! The Southern Crossing (the Tararua mountain Race route) is a hike Ive been wanting to do for a while now and it got me wondering if I could run it.. It would certainly solve the logistical problem of getting dropped off at one end and picked up at the other as well as carving out the time to fit it in by just doing it in one 7 hr run..

    April 6, 2008 at 10:50 pm

  8. I am glad to possibly be a source of inspiration. If you like to hike, trail running is only a small step up from that. Most of us long distance trail runners do more of a run-hike pattern when covering rough ground anyway.
    Running on trails is definitely slower and more difficult. I do find that the irregular terrain is better for my body and helps me avoid repetitive overuse injuries that I get if I run on the side of the road too much.
    Plus, there is the scenery!
    You might start with an 80:20 ratio of mostly hiking with some running on flatter terrain and then slowly increase your ratio towards more running over time.
    That Tararua Mountain Race sounds awesome. I checked out the website. When I saw it as "only" 35.4 km, my first thought was, "well, that can't be so tough."
    But then I checked out the elevation gain-loss.
    There are so many ultra and trail races in the US, I don't think I will ever run out of new events to try. I have thought about trying ultras in other countries some day. One is the Comrades in South Africa. I think the Tararua Mountain Race is now on my list too.
    I don't know if I'll ever get to any of the races on that wish list, but it is nice to dream.

    April 7, 2008 at 7:26 am

  9. It you have correctly told ๐Ÿ™‚

    May 21, 2010 at 6:23 pm

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