Ben and I celebrated our two year anniversary this past January, and I wanted to make it special!. In December I had the hankering to plan a surprise getaway for just the two of us. I get weak at the knees when I get to surprise people. It’s like the ultimate thrill to me, I know, party animal over here. The more I researched, the more excited that I got, and I just knew that I had to make this happen. Ben and I have taken a few trips together in our time, but they were always tropical! My gruff, masculine, hunk of boy loves the mountains, and we had never gone together! It was way past due! I imagined us snowed in somewhere in a cabin on a hillside, so I literally Googled “cabin rental in snowy mountains”. The first VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) cabin that I happened upon was darling, but upon emailing the owner, I found out that it was booked. I came across another rental in the same area, and fell in love with the fireplace in the master bedroom. I gave this owner a try, and to my excitement, it was open, and they were ready to help me book! I sent my money over in a hurry, and scribbled the date on my planner. This was happening, and I felt so sneaky and elated! I didn’t think I would be able to wait until the day of our departure, but I did, thank goodness. I was able to use our AA Citi Card miles to book our flight. Like I paid $20 for taxes, and that was all! I spent a lot of time pinning down a “tentative schedule” which consisted of reserving a snowmobile, checking the weather to decide what would be best on what days, researching the state park highway system, reading restaurant reviews, booking our rental SUV, and locating the nearest grocery stores, ,making a shopping list, and things of this nature. I MapQuested all of our routes and printed hard copies in case our phones lost service at any point in time so we would still know exactly where to go. I also created an outline describing the cities of Deadwood/Lead (the area that we would be in) its rich history, the weather forecast for the week, photos of our cabin and the area, and neat facts that I had found. The schedule of events was also printed out, and I had all of these papers handy in my carry on to give to Ben when the time was right.
I obviously had to tell Ben that we were going on a trip so that he wouldn’t schedule any jobs around this time, but I led him to believe that we were just going a few towns over for a couple of nights. I had a small backpack in the backseat (the luggage was hid in the trunk) so he had no suspicions. As I was driving to the airport the morning of he was speaking to a customer and even commented that we would be back from our “little bed and breakfast or something like that” in a few days. When we drove into the airport he kept telling me that I made a wrong turn (my navigation system’s make a U-turn demands weren’t helping the case). I just smiled and after a few seconds he realized that I knew where I was going. “The airport?” he said with emphasis and surprise. “Where in the world are you taking me?” was his next response, but thankfully, it was followed by a chuckle. I prompted him to just play along, and he was the best sport. He ran to the restroom while I checked our bags, so I was able to keep our destination a secret still (since we had to connect in Dallas/Fort Worth before heading to South Dakota). My husband is the social butterfly of his generation, so of course he made plenty of friends on our 30 minute flight, to which he would respond to their “Where are you headed?” questions with a shrug and an honest, “I have no idea”. Once at DFW we grabbed lunch at TGI Friday’s and I asked him if he wanted to know where we were going. “YES” was his reply. I gave him the papers and told him all about our trip. He was tickled pink, and had a million questions. I was just super thankful for the time that I was able to have him to myself, even if it was in a small airport cafe!
We arrived to a frigid South Dakota wind, and hopped in a shuttle provided by our rental car agency to grab our 4×4 for the week. Once we made it to our car, we hopped on the interstate and headed towards the black hills, and our cabin! As we drove, the road became snowier, and snowier. We turned off onto several “back roads” and headed uphill, entering the private grounds that our cabin sat on. Towards the top the road was completely snowed over, as were the trees, it was a sight to be seen! Our cabin was adorable, the firewood was lit in the stove, the heat was set to “super cozy” and everything was perfect! After a quick trip to the store for supplies, we whipped up some shrimp dip, dirty diet cokes, and sandwiches, then slipped into the hot tub to watch the sun set on the hills. Day #1 and ultimate bliss had already reached us.
The next morning we hiked a bit on the property (the owners of the cabin live a short ways down the road, but they are the only other people on all 180 acres, and the trees provide ample privacy. They are the sweetest couple, offer any advice necessary, refund your cleaning deposit if you clean up after yourselves, and even drop off canned pickles from their garden as a tasty treat! Their land even butts up against Kevin Costner’s land!). After our quick hike, we headed towards Spearfish Canyon for more hiking (but to a waterfall this time, eek!) followed by our scheduled snowmobile ride! We stopped by The Chubby Chipmunk, a chocolate shop that I had read dazzling things about. The shop is a remodeled gas station, that serves up the tastiest chocolate truffles! Even my favorite, chocolate orange! Their chocolates are served in the swag bags at the CMA’s and other high class events. Imagine that! We snacked on our chocolates, stopped off in Lead to view the open pit gold mine, then spent some time hiking in the layers and layers of pristine snow. It was a blast! We even happened upon a wide variety of animal tracks in the fresh morning snow, and Ben explained to me what each belonged to. We ate our picnic lunch before heading out for our four hours of snowmobiling, which is a story unto itself, if you can only imagine.
Ben lives on bulky things with engines. Whether it be a four wheeler, a trackhoe, a side by side, or a big diesel truck, he likes to go, and he likes to go fast! He grew up skiing every Mardi Gras, but had ironically never been on a snowmobile (I had once when I was younger in Breckenridge). He was in luck, because the Black Hills have the best snowmobiling in the country! 300 miles of GROOMED, marked, trails, with warming stations along the way. It is fabulous! We were heading towards “Cement Ridge”, a destination pointed out to us by the young man who ran the rental shop, and were doing well, until Ben hit his first patch of really soft and deep snow off of the beaten trail. We were in a doozy since only one of us could actually attempt to lift a snowmobile out of three feet of fluff, and it was me, obviously. Some nice locals stopped and helped us out, and we were on our way again! I ditched us one more time before the trip was over. Okay two more times. But we managed to exit safely. (I may or may not have driven us off of a four foot cliff…) Cement Ridge was breathtaking, and we didn’t realize that we had crossed over into Wyoming until we were looking at the map later that night. It felt like we were on top of the world, at only 6,676 feet. Don’t laugh all of you Mt. Everest climbers. We practically live below sea level, so this was HIGH! We were happy to make it back onto solid ground, and celebrated our survival with hot cocoas at the lodge. It’s a dangerous world out there folks. I said a lot of prayers on the back of that snowmobile that day!
We ended the night by dressing in our fancy threads and heading into downtown Deadwood, which is literally casino after casino after casino. Neither of us like gambling to be honest, so we went straight to our restaurant, which is on the top floor of a, you guessed it, casino! Kevin Costner owns both the casino (Midnight Star) and restaurant (Jake’s), We browsed all of the actor’s shadowboxed outfits from his movies before heading upstairs for our dinner. I had reserved the table across from the fireplace, which happened to be the most romantic setting possible for our celebratory dinner. My duck confit was divine, as was Ben’s roasted lamb. We topped off our meal with a crème brûlée that made my heart flutter! We had read mixed reviews about the quality of the food compared to the high price tag, but we loved every bite of our meals, so we gave it 5 stars, and the service was superb as well! We stopped by the Saloon No.10 (actually the namesake of where Wild Bill Hickock was killed) but left soon after, ready for movies, and coffee hot chocolate! We were baby-less, without a schedule, and in a brand new place, yet we were home before 10:00, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The plans for day #3 were to drive around the Needles Highway at Custer State Park to view the majestic grandeur of its lakes and wildlife, and to catch a glimpse of Mt. Rushmore in the process. Neither Ben or I enjoy really touristy things, our first question on our vacations is always, “What do the locals do here?”, so neither of us had a desire to do the Rushmore tour, we were happy just seeing it with our own eyes! My research of the state park never led me to believe the roads were closed, but alas, they were, which was actually a blessing because we were both super nervous driving through the first few miles of the park that were open. Twisty roads filled with ice and snow, no guardrails, and hundred foot drops were just not in our cards for the day. No sir, we like the ground flat. We backtracked, took an alternate route past Mt. Rushmore, and were able to venture through a very short track of the state park highway where a beautiful tunnel was that framed the famous mountain’s carvings. We snapped some photos in the blustering wind (this was by far the COLDEST day that we experienced) and headed back to our cabin (an hour long drive) but enjoyed the scenery on the way! We stopped at a few shops, mainly leather and antiques, and browsed to our hearts content. I had forgotten our smoked deer sausage at home so we were tracking down some smoked elk in hopes of stewing some gumbo for dinner that night, but our search ended in failure when we settled for a northerner’s version of andouille. Can a Cajun PUH-LEASE find a way to offer the rest of America some legitimate smoked sausage. They have no idea what they’re missing out on! We spent the rest of the afternoon being lazy and lounging around our toasty cabin, cooking a little gumbo and potato salad, watching movies, and cuddling! (did I just sound like Elf?) The andouille tasted ironically like hot dog wieners, so we ate around it. Our evening was topped off with another hot tub sunset. I just couldn’t get enough of our perfect getaway!
We spent day #4 on the slopes at Terry Peak Ski Resort. It took me a little time to get my footing in skis again (it had been 10 years since my last trip!) Ben kept praising me, but I couldn’t get past my nervousness! I guess I realized the reality of danger more than I did at 15! The day was perfect for carving some snow however, and I soaked up our time together! I stuck to the groomed blue slopes and whispered countless prayers, mainly for Ben, since he was venturing off to the black and un-groomed blues. I finally relaxed more towards the end of the afternoon and began enjoying our runs, but I was ready to go when Ben decided it was time to call it a day. We were both whipped! We stopped by the Chubby Chipmunk for more chocolate truffles, and browsed the Mt. Moriah graveyard to catch a glimpse of Wild Bill’s grave, then we grabbed some steaks at the market. We canceled our dinner reservations for that night since we were exhausted and grilled steaks at our cabin (that we couldn’t get enough of!) instead. More movies were watched, and more books were read (by me) next to the sweet fireplace in our bedroom. Staying in was even more yummy than going out would have been, there’s nothing better than a steak grilled with love!
We woke early on day #5, quickly packed our bags, and headed down towards another canyon for a horseback ride through the snow. Ben loves riding horses, as do I. We both grew up with horses, and I spent countless afternoons in high school at my friend’s roping pen playing buddy barrel pick up, barrel racing, and pleasure riding around their farm. Ben grew up riding horses for more work related tasks, such as working cattle on his family farm (moving them, penning them, or roping a stray here and there), but he also loves pleasure riding as well. We own two horses of our own, and have them grazing next to our house, so we were more than prepared to handle some equine for a few hours, it was the thrill of being in the mountains and snow that excited us! Ben’s favorite movie is The Man From Snowy River, and I know that he kept reliving scene after scene throughout the morning. Our guide was adorable and so passionate about his job, he made it all the more fun. We traipsed across the cutest bridges, watched small trickles of water fight their way through the frozen creeks, and caught glimpses of mountain goats, and deer here and there. We saw mountain lion tracks, ducked through frozen ponderosa pines and wondered over old gold mine shafts, left desolate and black. It was such a great morning out!
We ventured back to our cabin for the last time, grabbed our bags, changed into some comfy airport clothes, and headed back to Louisiana. We both smiled the whole flight home whenever we’d catch a glimpse of one another between the pages of our books/magazines. We felt so refreshed and relaxed! Every married couple needs a private getaway every once and again! We were eager to kiss our sweet baby, but we had taken the time to kiss one another without a care in the world or annoying cell phones or business calls for five whole days. It was perfect.
Here’s to two years, and the blessing of many more!
Big thanks to our parents for loving on our little girl and keeping her safe during our trip. She was just a tad more spoiled when we picked her up than when we left her.