J and I both grew up on the east side of the state. We’re talking farm country, with flat fields and rolling prairie as far as the eye can see. When we moved West River just over two years ago, we both wanted to take full advantage of all the hiking/biking/Scheels-worthy opportunities that the Black Hills have to offer. So, as always, I made a list.
Our Black Hills bucket list is mostly made up of various hikes (Harney Peak, Little Devil’s Tower, Cathedral Spires, etc), and over two summers we’ve managed to hit the majority of them. This year, the hike at the top of my list was the one that has eluded us: Poet’s Table.
Poet’s Table is literally a set of chairs and a table, carried up the mountain some decades ago and perched on a hidden hilltop. Its location is a pseudo-secret (locals mostly know how to get there, but you won’t find it in a guidebook). A few years ago a friend gave me a hand-drawn map, passed on to her by a family friend. The vague directions included steps like “continue 200 paces past the foot bridge” and “go past the first rock window.” It would have been very helpful, but the Forest Service recently tore down the old trail and moved it – making the age-old directions obsolete. We didn’t discover this until last year, when we tried to follow the map and wound up a little lost and frusterated.
So…I used the Google machine and found directions that were still vague, but more recent. We set out after work last night, pup in tow, hoping to find the Table. We quickly found the lone leaning birch that pointed us up a flowery slope – so far so good!
After a 15-minute hike, we found ourselves….exactly where we got lost last time. J climbed on a rock to see if he could spot anything, and guess what? He found Poet’s Table. When we tried to find it last year, we were literally 100 feet away from it. The Table is hidden from the deer trail, so if you don’t know where to look, you probably won’t find it. But when you do, it’s like stumbling upon a happy little secret.
In addition to the rickety table and chairs, there’s a cabinet filled with notebooks of poetry and musings left by other hikers. Dozens of trinkets sit nestled along the rockwall, left as tokens of good luck or evidence that others once sat there. It’s quiet and peaceful, and I can understand why this spot has a reputation for inspiring creativity.
As we looked through the notes and tokens, we spotted a giant plume of smoke rising in the distance. Another wildfire was erupting outside the park, and it’s sad to think that parts of these beautiful hills are burning to the ground.
We left everything as we found it and trekked back down the mountain, feeling proud that we found it and happy to be in on the secret. That’s one more hike to cross off the bucket list – and one more reason we’re so lucky to call the Black Hills home.