Rough trails Blue Skies

Walter Sprague


 love nature and the unexpected that sometime grace my life. One of the surprises I’ve had over the past two and a half years has been the quality of people, good acquaintances and beautiful friendships I have encountered in Newcastle. And, of course, my job at the News Letter Journal has allowed me to experience events and places I would never have been able to otherwise.

One of those experiences came up on Saturday. The weather outlook was fantastic for the weekend, and Don Taylor had a brilliant brainstorm. Even though it was early in the season, he felt that it was a great idea to put together an ATV run. He started to organize it on Tuesday. By Saturday morning, 14 of us met in Decker’s parking lot with seven ATVs and one four-wheeler. We shortly caravanned to Sturgis, South Dakota, for a 41-mile trek through the Black Hills National Forest. R.J. Ludwick, of Sturgis, and a friend of Garrett Borton, let us park the trucks and trailers at his place, right behind the Black Hills National Cemetery, and then we were off, taking a leisure drive into the Hills.

I was privileged to be able to ride in Don Taylor’s side-by-side. I had the wrong idea about what to expect, though. Now I know these ATVs have some power. It was that fact that influenced my perceptions about what off-roading was all about. I expected everyone to gun the engines all the time, flying over hills and catching air. And while I was excited about this run, I was experiencing some apprehension because Garrett had invited me to take pictures. To be fair, he and Don had told me that this was not going to happen, but I hold on to things sometimes.

“It’s really kind of lazy fun,” Don told me, “You take your time and enjoy the mountains.”

He was right. We covered 41 miles that day, but it took hours. The first leg of the adventure was going up steep trails, sometimes rough, sometimes pretty smooth, but always at a leisure pace. I was astounded, at first, how well these ATVs handled the tracks. Not once did it feel as if we were out of control. Garrett and Holly Borton were in the lead, towing a trailer and carrying their dog, Sniper. Even the trailer never looked as if it were in danger. It was a lazy, perfect ride. It took us an hour or so to ascend about 1,300 feet from Vanocker Canyon south of Sturgis to an elevation of 5,300 feet in the Black Hills National Forest. For the record, I am hooked on ATVs. I must get one soon.

We stopped at the top of the mountain, had lunch, and the most important thing of all, we had great camaraderie. I got to meet new people and grew closer to friends I already had. More about this in a bit.

Don had brought a small portable grill, some cheddar brats and potato salad. There was also plenty of cold beers, cola and water to help wash the dust down. I’m not sure how long we all stayed on top of that mountain, but it was a nice long break, filled with good food and great conversations.

And that view! We had an almost 360-degree panoramic view of the Black Hills and the rolling plains off in the distance. Bear Butte was magnificently on display. The butte is a geological laccolith feature located near Sturgis and was made a state park in 1961. If you’ve never seen this feature, I highly recommend it. 

I’ve seen the Black Hills on several occasions, of course, but I had never viewed them like this. I’ve been to lots of mountains and forests, but there is something extra-special about the beauty in the Black Hills that has captured me. I think the jutting rock formations are the best I have ever seen. Don said that, although ponderosa pine may be sort of ordinary individually, when they are all grouped as they are there, they are magnificent. He’s right. It is quite a view.

For me, the most important and memorable part of this day was not the ride nor the raw beauty of nature. It was the people. Once again, I was able to connect with some wonderful people in this area. And I am convinced there is no place on earth where the people are more genuine and full of love for one another. I got to know Troy Cade, the Bortons, and especially Don Taylor a little bit better. And I am looking forward to more days where I will be blessed to be around such wonderful friends. It was also an honor to meet some new people, such as Karol and David Garduno, Jack and Cedar Scribner and Mike Hodge. I also got to laugh along with the children’s antics. Carlee and Braylee Borton and Tyler Mills’ daughter, Ashlynn, were a delight. Again, my perception of some wild ride and catching air was shattered. It was an event meant for simple friendships and the whole family, with plenty of fun for the kids as well.

That’s what I think will be the true meaning of what took place that day. We spent a few hours in which problems were shed. What mattered was spending time with one another. And as marvelous as it is to get away from it all and enjoy nature, the most important and lasting reason for doing things like this is just that: family and friends. Nothing else holds a candle to the bonds made among people when your goal is nothing more than just getting together and loving each other. Those are the moments I will cherish for the rest of my life.


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