The Black Hills

Few transitions are quite as dramatic as the one that takes place while driving west through South Dakota in the winter. After eight dull hours of looking at flat, barren, wind-whipped land from which the only thing one finds refuge in is the nearly inexhaustible Wall Drug signs staked into it, the scenery suddenly collapses into the canyons of the Badlands and then rises inexplicably into the smoothed mountaintops of the Black Hills. Clearly, someone up top had mixed up blueprints while laying out designs for the area we thought, as the memories of the long and uneventful drive that had brought us there quickly turned to excitement for the days ahead. 

With this being our first trip since Covid-19 broke out nearly a year ago, we were a little worried about what traveling would look like amid a pandemic and whether or not we would be able to stay safe during our time in the state. The answer to the first question would be that it’d look a whole heck of a lot like it did pre-pandemic and the answer to the second would be most definitely not, at least in public spaces anyway; the reason behind both of those troubling answers being, well, the fact that we were in South Dakota.

As it turns out, along with the aforementioned geographical transformation that took place during our drive across the state, there was also an ideological one. The Black Lives Matter signs of Minneapolis dissipated the further west we drove, giving way to an outdoor museum of Trump paraphernalia. In one memorable moment, we passed a lawn lined with over twenty (or maybe thirty, we lost count) Trump flags waving ostentatiously in the wind. Yes, we were deep in Trump country, and that meant that mask-wearing was very much not a thing. So, like Puritans shuttering at the sight of a bikini, we winced away from the surplus of maskless faces bustling around us, choosing instead to spend our time exploring the inexhaustible scenery of the Black Hills, which is where you’ll find us in the photos below.

Read on for a poem by Kate:

Horsethief Trail

We pull off the road
and leave our car behind
to slip between
two boulders
and step over
the threshold
of the trail.

A downy blanket
embraces the forest,
a ribbon of untouched beauty
winds ahead, inviting us in.

All around us
a hush echoes,
rays of frigid sun
shine off marbled ponderosa bark,
illuminating tiny tracks
left by a mink,
perhaps on a trip to the icy stream
we walk along.

Leaving the path,
we climb up a craggy hill
to perch on a rock
and gaze out
at the world of trees below us.

Patches of snow
and fallen logs
reveal themselves
as we peer between the trees.

We climb down,
taking a new route.
Descending, a doorway in the mountain
fiercely swirling snow
into the gray sky
it has nothing to cling to—
around or behind.

The door looks to be a portal
to a mysterious realm.
It is alluring as it beckons us forward.
As we step through,
we realize
we’ve been walking in that realm
the entire time,
experiencing first hand
how real the magic is.