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Backpacker Magazine – June 2009

The Peak: Harney Peak, SD

Explore South Dakota's 7,242-foot high point in a weekend or a day.

by: Shannon Davis

PAGE 1 2
Harney Peak Lookout (Tom Bean)
Harney Peak Lookout (Tom Bean)

Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux medicine man who fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, climbed Harney Peak on a vision quest when he was only 9 years old. When he came down, he called the mountain–not far from the precise geographical center of the United States–the "center of the universe." Black Elk later commented that he "saw more than he could tell" from its summit, which is reasonable, since no other peaks east of the Rockies reach higher than its 7,242 feet.

Get Black Elk's view on a 10.5-mile circuit with 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It makes for an epic day or a blissfully easy weekend. Link up four trails–Iron Creek, Norbeck, Grizzly Bear Creek, and Centennial–from the Iron Horse Camp trailhead in Custer State Park, 41 miles south of Rapid City.

On a sunny day, the trail glitters with fragments of mica–like a path lined with gold. Three miles from the trailhead, you'll hit a spur trail and begin gaining elevation in earnest, climbing 1,000 feet in the next 1.5 miles to the summit. A granite firetower built in 1940 tops Harney Peak and gives cover if weather rolls in. There's plenty to explore up here: pools perfect for meditating by (or skipping rocks), secret nooks that provide shelter from the wind (and occasional crowds), and horizon-to-horizon views of granite spires. After descending, turn left onto the Grizzly Bear Creek Trail and cruise by ponderosas and wheat-colored buttes and rock towers. Search for tent sites on the north side of GBCT if you're on the weekend plan. Otherwise, beat feet four miles to the Centennial Trail to close the loop.


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Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

jacob
Feb 16, 2012

i think in our minds it still is the highest ;)

Anonymous
Aug 22, 2011

Rick McMorran
Aug 18, 2011

Regarding the highest "point" east of the Rockies in the United States, Vollmer Hill is the highest, at 7704' and located northeast of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Nothing else east of the Rockies tops that.

GAY JACOBSON
Jun 13, 2011

THE IMPORTANT POINT IS THAT IT IS, AS DESCRIBED BY BLACK ELK, THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE.

Robert Emery
Nov 30, 2010

When speaking of the highest point east of the Rockies we are usually speaking of the United States and Mexico doesn't figure. Some people say the Black Hills of South Dakota are part of the Rockies. Those people have usually been people on the East Coast who want this title for the Appalachians (sp). However, the geographers and the experts say the Black Hills are not part of the Rockies. The Black Hills rose much earlier and that is why they are not as high as the Rockies. Some people say that these peaks of the Guadalupe Mtns. in west Texas are also not part of the Rockies so they can claim the title. But the geographers say the Guadalupes are indeed a part of the Rockies. Perhaps the wackiest one is when Colorado tries to claim this title for some mountain because it is east of I-25! Bottom line is the consensus pick remains Harney Peak, Black Hills, South Dakota.

Jared Fuchs
Sep 02, 2010

I guess if you are not including all of North America, you may have a good debate, but Mexico has the highest Eastern North American mountains, check it out.

willert richard w.
Jul 04, 2010

what is the highest peak or hell range in western sd?

TravisNWood
Dec 25, 2009

Harney Peak is PART OF the Rocky Mountains. The Black Hills, as a Laramide mountain range, are PART OF the Rocky Mountains. Other Laramide mountain Ranges include: Wind River Range, Bighorn Mountains, Medicine Bow Mountains, etc.

Doug Louie
Nov 03, 2009

Well Brian if you check out a globe you would realize that all the peaks you listed are west of Harney Peak.

Doug Louie
Nov 03, 2009

Well Brian if you check out a globe you would realize that all the peaks you listed are west of Harney Peak.

Shannon
Aug 12, 2009

I emailed the forest service for clarification on their "highest point east of the Rockies" claim. Here's the official response:

I thank your for your inquiry and I apologize for the delay in answering it. I totally expected my source would give me further information, however, his response so far is what is given below.

Greetings,

I've done some checking for you regarding the "furthest east claim". The official USGS and U.S. Board on Geographic Names response would be something like this:

No official designations exist for regions at any level of government. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN), which is responsible by law for standardizing geographic name usage throughout the Federal government, is often asked for official names and boundaries of regions, but does not and cannot provide them.

Regions are application driven and highly susceptible to perception. Individuals might agree on the core of a region, but agreement deteriorates rapidly outward from that core. The criteria or application would have to be defined, such as physiographic (this would include parts of States, but there is more than one system); political (definite disagreement based upon perception); cultural (unlimited variables); and other applications.

Geographers apply four generic requirements for a region to be formed: area, boundary (or transition zone), at least one factor of homogeneity or sameness, and a process to drive the region or to keep it functioning as a region. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has taken the same approach. Regional definitions applied by any organization reflect their particular needs or application, not a government standard.

I know that doesn't help much. Neither does the U.S. National Atlas, although it does contain Nevin Fenneman's 1928 Map of Physical Divisions of the U.S. which classifies the mountains of Texas as a part of the Basin and Range province and has the Black Hills well east of the Rocky Mountains in the Great Plains Province.

If you go strickly by longitude, Harney Peak is well east of Guadalupe Peak, but slightly west of Emory Peak (7825') in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park.

I'm sure some would argue that the Chisos are still associated with the Rockys, while others would not. That's why BGN stays out of such issues. I've run out of time today, but will try to look a bit more in the morning to see if I can find anything in print from a goverment source that shows the Chisos as part of the Rocky Mountains.




This gentleman is USGS Geospatial Liaison for South Dakota.

As he implies, the question you ask may be unanswerable without further research and a lot of interpretation of the data.....Good Luck on that.

I think I will still say that Harney is the highest peak east of the Rockies.



Sincerely,



Black Hills National Forest Supervisors Office
1019 North 5th St.
Custer, SD 57730-8214

Brian Johnson
Jul 19, 2009

Harney Peak is NOT the highest peak east of the Rockies. Texas is east of the Rockies, and Texas has any number of peaks higher than Harney's 7,242, including Guadalupe Peak, El Capitan, Emory Peak, Mount Livermore, etc.

Brian Johnson
Jul 19, 2009

Harney Peak is NOT the highest peak east of the Rockies. Texas is east of the Rockies, and Texas has any number of peaks higher than Harney's 7,242, including Guadalupe Peak, El Capitan, Emory Peak, Mount Livermore, etc.

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