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By Staff | Jul 13, 2012

The Black Hills, as their name implies, are quite hilly. It’s not uncommon for one’s ears to pop while walking across a parking lot. Denizens of the Hills have calf muscles the size of five-gallon pails.

Whenever we flatlanders venture out to the Black Hills, we marvel over the majestic hilliness of the area. Perhaps long-time residents of the Black Hills drive across our prairies and marvel over how majestically flat things are.

During our most recent foray to the Black Hills, my wife and I visited the Sylvan Lake Lodge. It truly is a sylvan setting, that is, beautifully wooded and idyllic.

In the midst of it all, high above the lake, sits the lodge, a massive pile of stone and lumber, looking as if it somehow spontaneously sprouted from the rocky hilltop. That, I knew, wasn’t true, which left me marveling over the amount of engineering and effort it took to construct that structure back in the mid-1930s.

We drove through the Needles and I wondered who the heck had taken the trouble to stack up all those massive rocks. We stopped so I could snap a picture of the Eye of the Needle, a picturesque natural formation that looks – surprise – like the eye of a needle.

Except it’s a needle made of granite and is of a size that might suit Paul Bunyan.

We drove through a narrow tunnel that had been blasted out of the granite. I won’t say it was a tight fit for our car, although I wished we had brought along our giant shoehorn. And a bucket of grease.

The roads in that area are extremely curvy, full of hairpin turns, doglegs, tunnels and pigtails. As you drive, your eyes are pulled from the road by the breathtaking scenery.

“Look at that view,” I said to my wife as we rounded a high and tight curve. “There must be a hundred foot drop-off on your side. And no guardrail.”

“Shut up and drive,” she replied through clenched teeth. I later noticed that her fingers had left deep grooves in the armrest.

It probably didn’t help that I was imagining that we were in a Formula 1 racecar, a fantasy that was enhanced by the motor noises and tire screeches I made with my mouth as we hurtled around the precipitous curves.

We eventually had to pull over to clear the windshield of sound effects spittle and let our car’s overworked compass cool down.

My wife and I enjoy the odd and the out-of-the-way, which is why we toured a factory that makes Black Hills gold jewelry.

The tour was interesting but for the fact that they kept going on and on about their lost wax. I didn’t get a chance to ask, but did they check behind the couch? Or under the fridge, or maybe in my ears? There are any number of places where that lost wax might be hiding.

But the biggest disappointment came at the end of the tour. You know how it’s customary for factories to give out small samples at the end of their tour?

No such luck when it comes to Black Hills gold jewelry factories!

My wife next made a suggestion that caught me totally off-guard.

“How about we do a drive-through tour of Bear Country USA?”

Whoa. Do I have a great wife or what? I’d never been to a nudist camp.

Turns out that I had the wrong kind of bear in mind. Bear Country USA features bears, not people who are bare. Although none of the animals were wearing clothes, so my assumption was partially correct.

My wife has oft compared me to a bear, mostly on the basis of hairiness and body odor. She has also dropped some broad hints regarding some of my more ursine moods.

We drove along a road that featured numerous bored-looking bears lolling about in the roadside grass. One especially hairy character sat on his haunches, enthusiastically scratching his nether regions.

“Look at that,” chuckled my wife, “Put a beer in his paw and sit him in front of a TV and he could be your twin.”

The highlight of our Bear Country USA tour was the Babyland area. We saw a whole slew of baby animals but lingered longest at the bear cub pen. Nothing says “cute!” like tussling baby bears.

As we watched the cubs, a bevy of teenaged girls walked by. “Oooh, look,” cooed one of the girls. “Baby bears. They’re so adorable, I want to take one home.”

I felt the same way. But according to my wife, one smelly ol’ bear hanging around the house is enough.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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