February 20, 2015

How To Do The Black Hills in 3 Days

The Black Hills of South Dakota are one of our most favorite vacation spots. We try to go at least once a year. It's only five hours away.

A few months ago, our good friends Joe and Cindy invited us to join them for an adults-only winter weekend in the Black Hills. We reserved a cabin in the woods that had a fireplace and a hot tub, and we planned on spending 3 days snowmobiling and skiing our way through the mountains.

When it came time for the trip, we woke up that Friday morning at 5am and it was 17 degrees outside. After driving five hours west, it was 70 degrees!  Clearly God had other plans for our weekend. We were stoked!

We found the office, situated inside a small family-run convenience store on the resort property. The kind couple told us stories of how they came to manage the land and we discovered that our good friends had helped them! Small world. And total brownie points for us.

It was time to get our vacation on.

Some of us got settled in immediately.

We spent much of the weekend doing wine tours and beer tasting because, why not? Walking distance is amazing.

I love Cindy. Not only does she have depth, but the woman made us GLUTEN FREE LASAGNA on night one. And she sent me the recipe and grocery list ahead of time because she was afraid of hidden gluten (she's right, modified food starch is the devil and it is an ingredient in most ricotta/cottage cheese brands). It was seriously so considerate, she totally cemented herself into my heart valves right then. Plus, it was amazing.

After dinner, we swam in the hot tub and played dominoes and laughed until we cried. Joe Joe even put electrical tape on his head.

The cabin had four bedrooms, and we loved ours. We had a perfect view of the mountains and the valley. The first night we knelt beside our bed and prayed together in the moonlight.

Saturday morning, Joe woke up early and started on breakfast. He brought so much pig he wanted to manage it, so he cranked up the music and sang his way through Grandma Janelle's eggs, sausage, and bacon.

Taking coffee outside was spectacular. I was barefoot the whole time! Don't let the little spots of snow fool you; it was 58 by 9am.

On day 2, the managers rented us a Can Am and handed us a map. They pointed west with a smile and said, "keep going that way."

So we did. Ten minutes in and we passed a nest of bald eagles.

Even at 6,000 feet up there was barely any snow.

We ended up just a few miles from Wyoming.

The slate mountains were stunning. I kept thinking 'even the rocks will cry out to Him.' And they do!

We mudded our way back down through the trails and saw dozens of white tail deer and mountain lion tracks. Mountain lion season was in full swing (to give you an idea of the population, 2 years ago there were about 80 in the area. Now there are over 400.)

Over and over again our breath caught in our throats at the beauty of it all. It made absolutely no difference being there in the "off" season. Even with the dormant, brown grass, there is no "off" season in the Black Hills. There is only peace and beauty. Tranquility. The air is so fresh and green, you can't help but feel alive when you breathe it.

We also spent a few hours that afternoon checking out the rock place I'd found and doing a beer tasting. Well, I wasn't beer-tasting. My gluten-free ass was driving for that portion.

We had a ball. Bryon's favorite new beer is called Panty Dropper, if that gives you any idea.

Later that night, we took the Can Am back out the other direction, toward the Elk Retrieval zone. Elk, we did not see. But we did see another dozen white tail (seriously, Cindy is coming hunting with me; she has the best eye!) and some horses.

The weather shifted a bit by the time we got back to the cabin and some clouds rolled in to rain. I don't think 100 drops fell before it had gone right over the top of the mountain and left behind a purple sky and the most jaw-dropping rainbow. HE IS ALIVE. Amen!

The next morning we locked up the cabin and left our keys on the dining room table. We decided to drive out through Custer State Park and do the wildlife loop before heading home.

Stockade Lake was frozen this time, but just as beautiful as it was when Bryon and I fished there this past summer.

The Hills are holy. They truly, truly are. They are a peaceful reminder of all that is good in life.

The animals were on the move that morning as well. Buffalo and wild donkeys everywhere.

We might have only been gone 72 hours but it felt like the most delicious pause. We are so, so grateful to have been invited - and to those who helped us make it happen.

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