Reset Your Soul
Black Hills, South Dakota
Words and Photos by Leslie Laabs
“South Dakota… What’s in South Dakota?” No matter what, this is the response I get whenever I mention my desire to be there. For over three years, I’d been just itching to go to South Dakota, even though it meant a lot of strange looks from friends and family. Despite the number of times my hubby and I have been asked this simple—and now expected—question, we have yet to come up with the right words to answer. Sometimes words just don’t cut it.
The Black Hills, which are located in the south west region of the state, offer some great tourist attractions that are certainly worth a visit: Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, the Badlands, Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, and Custer—just to name a few. For any interested tourist, a simple Internet search will reveal the many parks, forests, and protected areas that are open to visitors, as well as a multitude of manmade attractions for all ages, like Big Thunder Gold Mine and Rockin R Trail Rides.
Upon arrival, our anticipation was stacked, and with so many places on our travel list, we decided to start with what seemed like the obvious choice: Mt. Rushmore. Heading out of Rapid City, the transition from rolling grassy fields to pristine forested mountains happened almost instantly. As we entered the Black Hills National Forest for the first time, I knew we’d made the right choice. The drive out to Mt. Rushmore in and of itself had some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.
From the confines of our rental car, I gazed out the window like a small child on her first trip to Disney World. In the distance, rocky peaks jutted toward the sky, mingling with the clouds, while walls of stone and raw earth edged the winding paved highway. While Mt. Rushmore was as magnificent as promised, I was far more captivated by its surroundings. The pure, untouched beauty was what the adventurer in me had been hoping to discover; and I’d found it.
The essence, the spirit of the Black Hills, is far too much to take in if you’re simply passing through. For the true outdoorsman, backpacking would be the ultimate way to really experience this majestic natural wonderland.
Although my heart felt most at home amid the dense trees and steep cliffs of the mountains, we traveled on to see what else South Dakota had to offer. To the east of the National Forest, we found miles and miles of grassy rolling hills that stretched out into the distance as far as the eye could see. Like an ocean of honey-colored grass that brought songs like “Wide Open Spaces” and “Home, Home on the Range” to my mind, and left a sweetness hanging in the air of raw sugar or fresh baked cookies. Save for the clock on the dash, I could almost believe that time did not exist.
By the fourth day, the rental car had become our trusty friend, allowing us to venture to the north through Deadwood and Spearfish where the word “remote” took on a whole new meaning. Our October travel date meant that many of the tourist attractions were closed for the off season, and we were too early for skiing. There were plenty of old fashioned saloons and casinos around, if you dig that sort of thing. Since I’m not much for gambling, and it was too early to drink, the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway was just about our only option—which certainly wasn’t a bad thing. Even on a dreary day, fall was in full swing. Leaves were turning shades of bright yellow and burnt orange, highlighting the brown, gray, and pink limestone cliffs of the canyon.
Perhaps the most wonderful part of escaping to the Black Hills, away from the rat race of daily life, was the proximity to Rapid City and the modern conveniences it had to offer. At the end of the day, a warm meal was always just around the corner, and for breakfast, at Black Hills Bagels, I found the most scrumptious western egg sandwich I’ve ever tasted. Packed with plenty of small town charm and friendly locals, my husband and I felt right at home—the boldly unique, made-on-site beers from the Firehouse Brewing Company also helped with that.
My thirst for serenity had been quenched. The troubles and stresses of life that had followed me off the plane upon arrival were nowhere to be found, even as I boarded the plane that would take us back home to Florida. It was as if my soul had been retuned, reset, by a few short days in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.
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