A Magical Winter Escape | Black Hills Travel Blog

A Magical Winter Escape

  • A Magical Winter Escape
    A Magical Winter Escape
Friday, January 14, 2022
By : 
Juliana DeSante

Escape – from the hustle, from the bustle, from “regular” life.  I need that.  As I was thinking this, one place came to mind.  I’ve been there before, but it’s been a while, and it was in the summer.  Newton Fork Ranch is nestled in a beautiful valley in the central Black Hills of South Dakota and I’m returning.  I know, it’s winter. It’s cold.  And it’s going to be wonderful.

I booked their Forest Haven cabin, packed my bags, groceries, and snowshoes for a 2-night stay, loaded up my dog Daisy and hit the road.  My purpose… relaxation, rest, and rejuvenation.  A full-digital and media detoxification.  I can’t wait!

My excitement increased as I pulled up to my log cabin at 3 pm.  The door was unlocked, the interior charming and toasty warm.  I dropped my bags and walked to the big windows overlooking the valley.  I exhaled all my worries and breathed in the tranquil scene before me.  Between the Ponderosa pines that shelter the cabin I viewed the wide meadow, its sparkling snow settled over it like a soft, welcoming blanket.  I was in a winter wonderland, the snow looked promising, and I was loving it.  After the groceries were put away, I carried my bag up the half-log stairs to the loft bedroom.

My dog wasn’t as anxious as I was to relax, so outside we went for a quick exploration around the cabin. Darkness comes quick here this time of year and with it, dropping temperatures.  After a bit we returned to a comforting warmth and I started a simple meal of sliced meats, cheese, crackers, and grapes.  Paired with a glass of Prairie Berry wine, I settled down to simply gaze out the windows and watched as the shadows deepened and the stars slowly appeared, sparkling in the night sky.

The quiet was serenely inviting, calming.  I curled up on the sofa in front of the fireplace and opened a book I’d been longing to read.  Daisy was curled up at my feet.  With no distractions such as a TV, WiFi, or a computer, I found it easy to “unplug.”  It wasn’t long before I was ready for a “long winter’s nap.”  Closing the book, Daisy and I padded up to the loft and promptly fell soundly asleep.

Morning announced its arrival with sun rays that gently fell across the floor.  I stretched and opened my eyes.  Well rested on a heavenly bed, I was a little reluctant to get up.  But as the day beckoned and there was much to explore, I took Daisy downstairs and began to cook breakfast.

The kitchen is well stocked with everything one would need to cook.  I’d brought eggs, ham, bread and of course, coffee.  Soon the delicious scents mingled, my tummy growled, and Daisy licked her lips.  After enjoying a second cup of coffee in the Newton Fork Ranch mug that the welcome note said was mine to keep, I bundled up, and out the door we went.

As Daisy bounded through the snow I followed at a slower pace.  It turns out I didn't need my snowshoes as the day had warmed considerably and there wasn't quite enough snow. But from the window of the cabin, I’d spotted a gate that opens from the ranch property onto the Mickelson Trail and headed that way.  I’d read that, for nearly 100 years, this trail was a busy train route that transported people, freight, mail, and livestock through the middle of the Black Hills.  In 1998 the 109-mile Rails-to-Trails project was completed.  It runs parallel to the ranch, 50+ miles in each direction, and exploring it during the winter was exhilarating.  

Glittering ice crystals floated through the crisp air making the experience dreamlike.  Daisy and I had a delightful time exploring the winding trail.  My boots crunched as I kept a steady pace, stopping now and again to catch my breath and snap a few photos.  After about an hour we turned and headed back.  I used to have this “thing” about going over the same trail twice, out and back, as I preferred my exploring to be a loop course.  However today, I thought “well, this trail may look totally different returning from the opposite direction.”  And, as I retraced my steps I noticed rock outcroppings, wildly formed trees and stands of aspen that I missed on my first pass.

Arriving back at the cabin a little after noon, we both had a bite to eat.  Soon we headed out for more exploring. I’d read about the history of Newton Fork Ranch, and wanted to do some off-trail exploring.  I knew the property had been in the family for three generations and was comprised of old mining claims dating back to the late 1800s when the States of North and South Dakota were simply known as Dakota Territory.

My next destination was the Original Badger Hole cabin, located on the northern edge of the ranch.  This “off-the-grid” cabin wasn’t actually built on the ranch.  It was moved from Custer State Park to its current location to preserve the history of Charles “Badger” Clark (1883 – 1957), South Dakota’s first Poet Laurate.  It offers adventurous guests a true experience of what it was like to live without any modern conveniences.  The restroom is an outhouse (with a modern composting toilet installed) and well water is available outdoors via an antique hand pump.  I’m pretty sure I would really enjoy staying there – in warmer weather.  That said, Jennie the ever-cheerful property manager, shared with me that a guest had just checked out from a three-night stay and loved it!   Perhaps keeping toasty by the restored pot-bellied stove and reading by oil lamps added to the ambiance and romanticism. 

As we headed back to our Forest Haven cabin, we walked by Grandma’s Ranch House.  Peeking around, my mind wandered back to when it was a homestead and imagined all the stories it could tell if the walls could talk.  So much history here and so many memories, from the original landowners to present day visitors.

Back at the cabin Daisy and I settled in for another peaceful evening.  As I was cleaning up dishes from my evening meal, I caught sight of a huge owl gliding between the pines outside the kitchen window. Owls have always been mystical creatures to me – I felt this was a true blessing.

After finishing my book, Daisy and I were ready for another restful sleep.  Packing up and heading out in the morning, I promised myself (and Daisy) we would return again – this time in the fall when those beautiful aspens are touched with orange and gold, and returning to the Ranch will be, well… magical.

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