Saturday, November 17, 2012

How strange and wonderful

Last Sunday it was a quiet beautiful cold, and we went exploring. 

 This first remote spot was lovely and lonely and there was snow on the ground. 

The tree branches were coated, each individual needle, in a sheen of frosty ice and the only sound in that undefined lost place in the Hills was the shivering branches clinking together when the wind wandered through.

 Autumn surrenders gently, both resigned and relieved, I think.

November is charming and nostalgic like that.

And then, on a whim, on a question - What to do on a cold and beckoning day like today?- I remembered hearing of a mine I'd meant to find last spring, but didn't. And I remembered Rochford with its old timers who play their old songs, and we set out to fill the Sunday with things that would be well remembered. 

I didn't know exactly where the mine was -The Golden Slipper - or what exactly I'd heard of it, but we ventured in the general direction and with a dose of luck and some innate sense of This feels like a place once bustlingly inhabited, now abandoned we, like the miners in days of yore, struck the mother lode; they had their gold, we had our history and its treasure of desolate ruins.

We drove as far as possible on some old forgotten road, and continued on foot when the trail became impassible, walking down memory lane. Only the memories weren't ours, they were borrowed from the ghosts of long ago days, and we tried to imagine how it might have been.

This little one is a fearless explorer.
We worked our way into a valley - which served like a wind tunnel, and the wind was viciously cold and my face turned numb but we ventured on, spurred on by the discoveries that might lie just around the next corner.

(He figured out I'm addicted to seeing what's 'just around the next corner' and that I loath turning back, so whenever we would decide to forgo a gully or route we were following for a more promising direction, as soon as we'd turn back he'd say something like 'But I bet the biggest discovery was right around that corner back there..." because I would whirl back around and stand in indecision, torn by the idea that he was right and that corner was The One, and then he'd laugh and laugh. Oh he's cruel.)

The valley, we decided, would be where the town was, evidenced by the remnants of cellars and foundations we found.   

We saw something that looked promising and, following the clues, began to climb up a steep wooded hillside, out of the cold and windy valley, and that's when we found it. The remnants of the gigantic mill, the mining equipment scattered about.

One thing lead to another and we worked our way farther and farther up the hill - the tall, mostly whole structure atop the main shaft, the leftover bridge pieces of what we figure was a tramway. Minor exploratory pits were scattered everywhere, the operation was much more extensive than I'd anticipated. It was thrilling, and I'd spot something away up the hill and take off running through the snow. Well, he'd call out after me, You can run up the hill if you want, but I bet the ruins will still be there even if you walk. I know, I just get so excited! If you've never been ghost town/mine hunting, it's hard to describe just how thrilling the find is, particularly when you aren't certain what, if anything, remains to be found.

These historical mysteries are all over the hills, and so few people know to look, and little by little they're eaten by time and elements and are disappearing, and no one will know anything anymore.


(She's as elated over the finds as I am. 
She's fascinated to figure out what the excitement is all about.)

Oh this pup.

She loves the snow.

The hillsides and valley, the ruined toppled structures, all was silent and forgotten. But I could imagine the people who were there once, the men at the mine, toting their lunch pails up the road, the noise of the crushing ore, the tramway, the families waiting in the valley below, the children playing in those trees, waiting for their fathers to come home from the mine for evening dinner.

It was cold, which only added to the air of adventure, and mystery loomed over that forgotten land, once home to so many people. 

As shadows lengthened and the afternoon started fading to evening, we agreed we'd found all there was to find for the day and bid farewell to the ghosts, made our way back out of history, and went back to the land of the living.

Cold and hungry, but exhilarated with our success, we headed to Rochford for burgers, endearingly bad coffee and homemade donuts. Darkness fell before we reached the Moonshine Gulch Saloon, and a few wayward flakes of snow made an appearance.

I've talked here before about Rochford, and how I love it. There's something even more welcoming and cozy about the Moonshine on a cold winter evening. The wood burning stove, the old rustic wood walls covered in...junk, the dogs wandering about greeting you and begging for food, the old backwood folk, friendly and jolly. Maybe it wouldn't pass a health inspection, if one ever bothered to venture that far out into the hills, but it's one of my favorite places to be. Back in time when important things were important.

When we arrived, the place was bustling. The old timers sang and played their guitars and mandolins, people ate and drank beer, the dogs cavorted about. We asked Betsy, the owner, if it was OK if we brought in the pup as it was cold out, and she said yes pup could join us in the booth.

She was pleased as punch with herself, sitting like a big girl in the booth.

She behaved admirably, most of the time, even around the other dogs who clamored beneath the table for her attention, and the over stimulation of the noisy saloon. That is, until she calmly reached over and pulled those white flowers from their vase with her teeth and set them on the table. Then I was reminded that she's still only a puppy.

I will let the place tell its own story of the evening, through these videos. They're not long, but they catch the spirit of the place better than photos.

This guy was quite the yodeler...

He even kinda looks like Eric Clapton:

An interesting talent. You meet these types here:

Betsy, the owner of the Saloon, put this tether ball up in the dining area for Cubbin, her pup. Clever:

This tiny puppy. Delightful.

There you have it. A perfect conclusion to an all in all Good Decision Sunday.

When we left the Saloon Betsy the owner hugged me and thanked us for coming. 

And for that reason alone I would love that place, where the proprietor hugs her stranger patrons good night. 

For all these aforementioned reasons, I love the Black Hills.

"How strange and wonderful is our home..."

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