OverviewRed Canyon, along with Craven Canyon further west, is noted for Native American pictographs and petroglyphs. However, many of the locations are not widely known. An old Native American teepee (or tipi) ring is still in existence on the small flat summit area of Matias Peak.
This area of the Black Hills was fought over by various native tribes, including the Sioux, the Cheyenne, and the Crow. It is not entirely clear which of the tribes were responsible for the pictographs and petroglyphs, or for that matter the teepee rings and other artifacts occasionally discovered in the area. Some remnants of pictographs exist on the smooth portions of the canyon walls on the west side of Matias Peak.
According to Lists of John, Matias Peak has 610 feet of prominence. Topo maps show the summit is approximately 700 to 800 feet above the upper floor of Red Canyon, at the western base of Matias Peak, and approximately 700 feet above the floor of Chilson Canyon. Red Canyon Creek empties into the Cheyenne River, about 10 miles south. There are a few forest service roads through the public lands in this area, but many are not well-maintained or even marked. The thick underbrush and rugged nature of the numerous canyons and branches in this part of the Black Hills makes exploration an arduous task. Fortunately, the road that leads to the Matias Peak summit area from Highway 18 is still passible, allowing hikers an easy scramble up the grassy slopes for the last 150 feet of elevation gain.
Pictographs & Petroglyphs
The types of paints used in the pictographs are generally dark colors, predominantly reddish-brown to almost black. Some white or light-colored paints are found in a few pictographs. Unfortunately, pictographs are generally less durable than the inscribed petroglyphs, so what remains is sometimes quite weathered and incomplete.
Vandals damaged some of the Craven Canyon native artwork several years ago, which was followed by major forest fires in the area (presumed to have been ignited by dry lightning). Since then, the national forest service has closed off vehicle traffic to the Craven Canyon site as a protective measure. However, the national forest service is limited on what they can restrict, since it is public land.
The only locations that I have observed that may have pictographs are hundreds of feet up some difficult-to-reach rock walls on the western side of Matias Peak. I would speculate that the native artists may have climbed down from canyon rims to their chosen sites for their artwork.
Up until 2011, there was a business near Edgemont, South Dakota, Rock and Pine Adventures, that used to offer guided tours to sites with petroglyphs, pictographs and teepee rings. That service is no longer available, so explorers now have to find sites on their own.
Fossil Cycad National Monument
At that time the monument contained one of the world’s greatest concentrations of fossil cycads. The site was originally discovered in 1892 in the Dakota Sandstone formation. Following the discovery, numerous scientists journeyed there to study the fossils, leading to the formal request for a national monument designation.
Fossil cycads are the fossilized remains of ancient cycads. Cycads resemble ferns, though they are not actually ferns. These cycads were tree-sized. Vandals and thieves entered the site before the national monument paperwork was even completed, and stripped the site bare. Scientists hoped more fossil cycads could be excavated, but their attempts were met with almost no success. The national monument was closed in 1957. Sadly, the problems did not end then. Even to this day, area ranchers complain of trespassers still looking for fossil cycads on their land.
No doubt the examples of the Craven Canyon and Fossil Cycad vandalism described above, plus the on-going problems of “good old boys” shooting signs, building careless campfires and throwing beer bottles and cans everywhere, have all fueled a widespread reluctance on the part of area ranchers to allow anyone, including hikers and climbers, to access private land summits and canyons. The difficulty in obtaining permission to climb the Fall River County highpoint, Parker Peak, is a good example of the result of these problems.
Judging from the almost sheer canyon walls near the rim along much of the western and northwestern sides of Matias Peak, one will probably not find many possibilities less than very difficult. Compounding attempts from anywhere in this area, is thick underbrush interlaced with boulders and loose rock on the steep terrain. The rise from Road 379 to the summit would be in the 600-800 feet range. There is also a population of rattlesnakes in the canyon, and they do not feed on ticks. So there are plenty of ticks looking for victims. And if I have not yet discouraged most attempts from this area, everyone should be aware of the resident mountain lion population. Considering all risks factors combined, bushwhacking from Red Canyon is not an idea I could endorse. With all that said, if anyone still wants to try to bushwhack from this side and they not only survive, but are also successful, attaching both a trip report and a route page would be both helpful and very interesting
For all others whom I may have discouraged from such a risky bushwhacking venture, please do not think that a photo-taking trip in Red Canyon is also a bad idea. When daytime shadows are getting long, and the sun lights up those red canyon walls, photo opportunities abound. Sticking to Red Canyon Road, or even Road 379 should give all visitors plenty of great scenery to enjoy.
When To ClimbThis public land can be accessed year around. Deep snow could interfere with winter access, but most of the rest of the time there should be no problem. To check the latest weather forecast for the area, click here:
Matias Peak Area Weather
Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce Camping & Lodging
Angostura Lake Camping
800 Second Avenue
Edgemont, SD 57735