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To Call It A Butte Is A Misnomer
The Lakota Indians named this feature Mato Paha, “Bear Butte”, as it resembles a sleeping bear when viewed at certain angles from a distance. The mountain has been held sacred to this day by several other Indian Nations. Actually, it is not a Butte at all. Being miles from the Black Hills, this feature was created by molten lava pushing up to form a laccolith. The lava never broke thru the surface.
During the Indian wars the Indians were all placed on reservations and this mountain fell into private hands where it remained until 1961 when the State of South Dakota purchased it and made it a State Park. While the first caucasian, a geologist climbed the mountain in 1855, it wasn't until 1965 that an official trail was constructed to the top. Once again Indians from at least fifteen tribes make regular visits for inspiration leaving prayer tags and flags on trees along the trail. Notable Indian leaders that have visited Bear Butte include Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, Man Afraid, Little Wolf, and Sitting Bull.
The hike starts from the visitor center and wastes no time in climbing up. Your destination is right in front of you the entire hike. After the first one half mile the switchbacks start. Gnarly sections of talus and scree come into play throughout the trail from this point. Two thirds of the way up, the trail narrows significantly with steep drop offs. This could be a problem for anyone with vertigo. There is an observation platform at the peak with placards and benches. Enjoy the moment and return the way you came.
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