Black Hills Gold

This is a special trip to write about. It is almost too hard to put into words without dedicating six posts to it, but I’ll try. 4 adults and 6 kids packed into 2 minivans for 8 days doesn’t sound like vacation magic, does it? Well, it was. And we will always look back on this trip with a heightened sense of nostalgia for several reasons . . .

We traveled with another family – and we are still friends.

The Brownes.

Every family has THAT family. Or at least, I hope you do. THAT family is your family’s perfect match – you are like family without being related. The adults have the same interests and enjoy each others’ company, and the kids – no matter the mix of ages and genders – have fun together without adult intervention (or supervision). More important than fun and all getting along is the fact that you trust these people – you trust them with your kids and with your secrets. You’re not afraid to parent in front of them or wake up in front of them. You value their advice and listen to their stories. Oh yeah – and you actually really like their kids. We were lucky to find this family early on in our parenting lives – when our oldest kids were still babies. If such a family doesn’t come to mind for you, I suggest you immediately start the search. Your lives as parents – and as a family – will forever be enriched by these people. And so will your travels.

It was our first official road trip!

Sure, we had been on trips before. We knew how to pack suitcases and survive a flight with multiple kids, but this was uncharted territory. Aside from driving three hours up North to the cabin, we had never embarked on a proper road trip. And we weren’t just driving to one destination and unpacking all of our things. We would be unpacking and repacking our car several times to stay in different accommodations – including cabins, a campsite and a 5 bedroom home. We put a huge amount of research into plotting our itinerary – we wanted to make sure we got it right. Shannon and I coordinated meals and packed groceries for the first few days in Custer State Park. During the long driving hours, we listened to a lot of music, watched a ton of movies (thank god for technology), and located 49 states on countless license plates. We also whined and asked how much longer. We aced the road trip test.

We camped! (And didn’t hate it.)

Camping is not our thing. My husband likes to say that I’m the hater (which I am), but I don’t see him trying to get us on board, so my guess is he doesn’t love it either. In my opinion, camping is a lot of work for not much return. The mosquitoes are ridiculous during Minnesota summers, nobody gets a good night’s sleep, and that is just so much extra gear to own and store and haul and setup. Ugh. Not to mention the bathroom situation, if there is one. The Barsnesses just don’t camp – unless they are convinced that this is a good idea. By the Brownes. We reserved a campsite near Sylvan Lake and our lovely companions brought all the cooking gear and camp-y items. We just had to set up our tents, unpack the booze and hotdogs – and put some smiles on our faces. I actually dreaded this portion of the trip. But it was beautiful. And out-of-the-ordinary. And there were no bugs, NOT ONE. Turns out, the Barsnesses can camp and not hate it. But only in the Black Hills.

The guy on a buffalo.

Every trip has a theme song, doesn’t it? In our case, we had a song and a mascot: Guy on a Buffalo. An Austin-based band created 4 narrated songs set to clips from the 1978 movie Buffalo Rider. Genius.

We laughed over and over watching these videos during the course of the trip and after. It was even more fitting that we encountered the buffalo herd several times during our first two days in Custer.

(NOTE: Make sure to watch the one titled “Orphans, Cougars & What Not”.)

We pushed limits.

Our collective “best trip memory” was hiking to the top of Harney Peak, the highest natural point in the Black Hills – and the highest summit between the Rockies and the Pyrenees. Sounds amazing, right? Eric and I had hiked this trail after college and remembered it as pleasant – why not bring 6 kids ages 4-10 on this hike? They will love it. The trail was 3.5 miles one way and we were supposed to allow 4-5 hours for the roundtrip hike. Websites also encouraged wearing layers and perhaps rain jackets as the weather can change quickly near the top. Well, it turned out to be a blue-sky/sun-beating-down kind of day, and there was no shade for most of the trail. We realized early on that we didn’t have enough water for 10 people – meanwhile, Eric had been carrying our 4 year old on his shoulders before the first mile was even over. The heat and length of the ascent started to wear down the overall positivity. “Are we almost to the top? and “I’m thirsty!” were uttered by different voices with varying levels of whine. This was not the hike I remembered from my early 20s. We were hot and sweaty and lying to our kids: “We’re almost there! You’re doing a great job!” – to those who were clearly not doing a great job at keeping their shit together.

Finally we reached the top and were awestruck by the views. We high-fived and posed for pictures after we had eaten every crumb of every snack in our backpacks.

Thankfully, the 3.5 mile trek back down was much easier. We rewarded ourselves with the most delicious ice cream bars and beer we had ever tasted. Our kids still grumble and roll eyes when we mention Harney Peak, but none of us will forget the reward we experienced at the top: the natural beauty of the view – and a sense of accomplishment after an arduous climb.


4 thoughts on “Black Hills Gold

  1. Mom and Dad

    The last photo of Dylan on Eric’s shoulders is priceless! Everyone needs friendships like you’ve recorded – it’s quality, not quantity that counts!


  2. Pingback: Badlands + Black Hills + Devil’s Tower | vacation coffee

  3. Amber

    Hi! I caught your blog of the highland neighborhood group 🙂 We too are planning a road trip to South Dakota this spring and your talk of camping made me feel a bit better given we are novice campers too. What campgrounds did you stay at? Were the sites spread out? We are headed out with a 2 & 4 yr old so are trying to find a place with spread out sites. Love all of the detail you provided!! We can’t wait to go 🙂 Thanks!


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