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A Soulful Sojourn in South Dakota

South Dakota was never a priority on my travel wishlist. Sure, Mt. Rushmore is an engineering wonder, but did I really need to make the seemingly remote journey just to see it?

It all started in Denver, where my family had convened for a wedding. My older brother, having visited every state except for South Dakota, was eager to cross it off his list. I had other places in mind: Breckenridge, Aspen, Telluride, and even Yellowstone. But seeing his enthusiasm, I relented.

Departing Denver for a 6-hour drive to Mt. Rushmore, I soon realized this was no ordinary journey. A few hours in, the route dazzled us with unexpected marvels. Rolling grasslands danced with the breeze, leading us to the iconic Needles Highway (SD Hwy 87). Dubbed an impossible project by naysayers, this national scenic byway completed in 1922, winds through 14 miles of rugged granite mountains and colorful forests of Aspen and Birch trees. As we journeyed through Custer State Park, it felt as though the tapestry of history itself rode with us.

Needles Highway, South Dakota

Reaching our lodging at Under Canvas Mt. Rushmore was the pinnacle of our day. Twice acclaimed by Travel and Leisure as one of the world's premier hotels, its appeal was immediately clear. Tents, cocooned beneath lofty ponderosa pines, boasted comforts like plush down comforters, fireplaces, and modern bathrooms.

The Black Hills' nights are a cosmic wonder; a vast canvas of stars, uninterrupted by artificial lights. Many evenings, I'd fuel my tent's fire and be lulled to sleep by the crackling logs. One morning, the playful scamper of a squirrel atop my tent reminded me of nature's proximity.

Evenings at Under Canvas had their own charm. Visitors mingled in the main tent, bonding over meals and the gentle strumming of guitars. The setting, reminiscent of a bygone era, made me feel like a participant in an old-fashioned cattle drive. All the while, the imposing silhouette of Mt. Rushmore loomed nearby. The camp's historical aura as the site of a goldmine was delightfully juxtaposed with modern comforts, like the heated showers in my tent.

In the Black Hills, even Mt. Rushmore plays second fiddle to nature's majesty. In addition to waking up surrounded by the glorious sounds of nature. Other highlights of my trip include:

George Mickelson Trail, South Dakota

Biking the George S. Mickelson Trail: A tranquil journey where fellow travelers are few, with the Black Hills Tour Company tailoring the experience to individual preferences.

Sylvan Lake, South Dakota

As the summer comes to a close in the Black Hills late September is a magical time to visit. A must see bucket list adventure, the Buffalo Roundup is being held this year from September 28-30. The roundup, a vital event for the health of the herd, is reminiscent of scenes from the popular Yellowstone series. The spectacular sight of cowboys and cowgirls rounding up over a thousand buffalo gives a taste of the Wild West.

Buffalo Roundup, South Dakota

As I contemplate my initial reluctance to visit South Dakota, I can only say that of all my travels, South Dakota's allure was the most unexpected. Away from the urban cacophony, this wild place is a tranquil retreat well worth the journey.


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