If I ever believed in a heaven, it would look like Wind Cave.
The Lookout Point Loop quickly and gently carried me out into the plains, roads and cars erased from any view. Green everywhere, each blade of grass infused with sunlight, emerging from the wealth of clear gushing streams to wrap across the rolling hills. The grass was long, and soft, and speckled with tiny yellow flowers, the blades themselves in bloom with life.
The trail spun outward into infinity, and I followed. Into the gently waving horizon, nothing and no one surrounding me. I slowly spun in the middle of the rich emptiness, just breathing. My sun-strained brow relaxed, my shoulders loosened. I let down my final guard, and I stared.
No rushing of cars, just the wind through the grass, just the warble and trill of songbirds just as quietly happy as I was, just the air through my nose. I thought that at the end of the road, I would surely remember this place, and this moment. I engraved it all into my mind, so I could have it always for this moment and all others. If ever there was a heaven, I would like for it to be just like this.
On this hike, I met a few amazing young hikers, one of which offered me his walking stick to help me across the stream. After parting with them for a couple miles, I ran into them again, but they were stopped and waiting for a buffalo to move along out of the way of the trail. (Side note: stay away from the buffalo. For real. They don’t want to take a selfie with you.) We talked for a while, and back at the trailhead I was actually disappointed to see them go. Most of the hikers that I’ve met have just been the absolute best people, and this only reaffirmed that idea.
Out on the dustier parts of the prairie, I encountered the funniest group of creatures that I have ever seen. Prairie dogs!
I realized that all of the little mounds in the ground each contained one of these pudgy, fuzzy, chirping things. They stood up straight on their piles of dirt and glared at me from afar, a whole forest of them sounding the alarm for a lone hiker passing through their territory. An ironclad claim, surely.
When I approached within fifteen feet, they turned their little tails like lightning to duck back into their holes. I was so amused by how stupid they looked, squeaking angrily at me for walking by them. I laughed by myself in the middle of these plains, grinning idiotically. One of the funniest animals I have ever met.
I had a wonderful day at Wind Cave. And without those other hikers, I would have surely been terrified of that buffalo on the path, but with them I was entirely unafraid. Hiking in groups does have its benefits.