Yes, we did.
Are you nuts?!
Yes, we are.
My husband and I decided we needed to get outta Dodge, as the saying goes. (Where did that saying come from? Anyone know?) And of course, we wanted to go south, where it’s warmer. So naturally, we went to South Dakota.
The Black Hills
We stayed in a beautiful cabin at Newton Fork Ranch. Long ago we gave up on hotels, because with our big family hotels are impractical. Cabins, on the other hand, are great because they can provide multiple bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen. Kitchens are a must, as one does not want to take 7 children out to eat very often.
This cabin was the highlight of our trip for the children because it sat right on the side of forested “mountain” complete with a trickling stream. They all insisted that their favorite part of the whole trip was throwing sticks and rocks into that stream and climbing that mountain. In fact, they made both my husband and I do just that – throw sticks and rocks and hike the hill, which I found rather difficult and somewhat frightening.
Prairie Berry Winery
My favorite part of the trip was stopping at Prairie Berry Winery and drinking wine. This place, thankfully, is kid friendly. It even has a table set up for checkers, which my children played. And we only had a few gaping stares from others as we traipsed in and sat down. One bold woman remarked, “Looks like you got your hands full!” To which I promptly laughed and replied, “Yes, which is why we’re here!” And I lifted my half empty bottle of wine up for her to see.
I’m not really sure that these wines should be called wine, however. Many of them are made from anything but grapes. The Lawrence Elk, for example, is made from currants. It tastes like sparkling Kool-Aid. It was very refreshing after hiking a few miles though. (My husband condescended to drink a glass of it. He gave the rest of the bottle to me.)
Chapel in the Hills
My second favorite part of the trip was the tour my aunt and uncle gave us of the Norwegian Chapel in the Hills. My aunt and uncle were once the caretakers of this place for many years, but they came out of retirement just for us. They’re the best.
This chapel is an exact replica of the Borgund Stave Church in Norway built in 1050 and still standing. So, if you can’t get to Norway, go the Black Hills and tour this one built in 1969. Of course my children liked the sliding partition for the lepers to receive Holy Communion the best.
I asked my eldest daughter what she learned from the tour, and she exclaimed, “Your aunt said that there’s no such thing as white hair. She said that she has blonde hair, not white hair, and I’m not supposed to let anyone tell me differently. Mom, you’ll always have blonde hair too, I suspect.”
As an aside, my aunt is also wearing bright red lipstick. (She is my grandmother’s daughter after all.) She kissed every one of my boys on the cheek. She laughed and laughed, as they all ran to the van, desperately looking for baby wipes to get that lipstick off saying, “Ewwww, gross!”
And finally, we all greatly enjoyed the Michelson Trail. This was once an old railway that ran through the Black Hills. Now it’s a multipurpose, gravel hiking trail. My husband and I have biked on it before, so we thought we’d take the children and explore a different section. We found a five-mile stretch that began a few miles out of Hills City and was all downhill. So my husband dropped me and the four older children off and met us at the end.
At first it was glorious. The sun was shining. The trees were glistening. A stream ran alongside us. Then, it was terrifying. Gentle mountainside gave way to steep, scary cliffs. There were no guard rails. My children squealed in glee at the enormous canyons below. They pointed out distant deer while the wind whipped through their hair, and we flew at a fearful pace. Visions of wipe outs and falling children splattering on rocks below absolutely terrorized me. I prayed to their guardian angels. I asked St. Michael to protect them. I begged Holy Mary to wrap her mantle around them.
And we made it.
I do not, let me repeat, do not recommend that section of the trail for children! Nope. If you have children, stick closer to Hill City.
But boy, oh boy was that ride breathtaking! It even ran through the mountain in two places. Those tunnels were awesome.