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Eleventh Hour Gulch
Aug 14, 2013
SLOW IS BETTER IN SPEARFISH CANYON
“Fast is better” — a TV ad humorously makes the point, and as a society, they’re preaching to the choir. We want internet and cell phone service that is instantaneous, and headache pills that make the pain end in 30 seconds, not 60. Faster sounds better. But when it comes to enjoying Mother Nature, I fall back on the old slogan “speed kills” or at least a modified “speed numbs.” There’s a place in Spearfish Canyon that proves my point.
A HIDDEN ENTRANCE TO A SPECIAL PLACE
It’s like having Bruce Wayne or Ali Baba right here in South Dakota. The Eleventh Hour Gulch has a hidden entrance that only the slow and informed will see — while thousands will drive through the Canyon without a clue to the gift they have passed by. If you can see it, you’ll see a waterfall from the highway. Not the big three — Roughlock, Bridal Veil or Little Spearfish Falls — this is the fourth, the smallest, and the hardest to see.
You don’t have to know the Arabic version, "iftah ya simsim," for the entrance to the Eleventh Hour Gulch to open up to you, but you do have to drive or walk slow. In Spearfish Canyon the creek is on the east side of the highway and its turbulent trek down the canyon is spell-binding, which is the secret to the Gulch’s hidden entrance. In the creek, near milepost twenty, are the Kissing Rocks, two very large rocks in the creek that are touching (“kissing” to the imaginative). Less than fifty yards to the north of the Kissing Rocks, and on the west side of the road (look away from the distracting beauty of the creek!) you will see, for a second, an opening in the foliage — and water falling. If you are driving north you need to drive slow and look backwards to see the narrow break in the shrubbery. If you are driving south, you’ve got a better shot at noticing the entrance.
Armed with directions, we still missed the entrance on our first attempt, because it doesn’t look like there could be a gulch there. We started at a spot a quarter mile down the road, hiked in a mile, and figured that the secret entrance had escaped us. The second effort was worth the time.
When you get through the roadside foliage, you’ll see a narrow space between the rock walls, and water falling over it. The trail is simple: follow the water, hike up. There are places where the gulch is so narrow that you can touch the opposite walls of the canyon at the same time.
The hike would be more difficult if the Gulch didn’t have benefactors. In at least two places, somebody has constructed wooden ladders, and laid them in between the rocks. You’ll even see washed out and destroyed old ladders, a testimony to the persistence and care of the Gulch’s fan club. The trail goes up and beyond for as far as you care to hike, but there is a point where you have obviously climbed as high as the Canyon’s 1000 foot walls.
It’s a short hike over to the rim of the Canyon. This walk shouldn’t be taken by those with vertigo or any kind of fear of heights. This is Mother Nature at her finest — no handrails or guardrails. You are looking 1,000 feet down at roaring Spearfish Creek, as it tumbles through and past the Kissing Rocks. Spearfish Canyon abounds with breathtaking views. Roughlock Falls and the 76 Trail would make most lists, but the view from top of Eleventh Hour Gulch is on that same list, for those who slow down and take the time to find it.
ALI BABA’S GOLDEN MOMENTS
Gold and things precious come in many forms, and their value is largely defined by the seeker. Ali Baba’s gold couldn’t be any brighter or more inspiring than the treasure hidden behind the foliage in Spearfish Canyon. at the entrance to the Eleventh Hour Gulch.
Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.