During my trip to South Dakota, I spent a fantastic afternoon with my family on one of our Black Hills mineral claims. Named The Razzamatazz after my parents’ dog, the claim offered easy dirt road access and a gorgeous view of both hills and meadows. We packed enough provisions for a day of exploration and set out through the hills, singing and chattering happily.
After turning onto the muddy dirt track vaguely marking out a path, we spooked a doe, who melted into the trees. A huge family of turkeys strutted across the trail and crouched in the tall grass, eyeing us suspiciously. We rolled down the window and yelled “Gobble, gobble! Gobble, gobble!” Dad pointed out pastel wildflowers and we breathed in the piney scent around us. After parking under the shade of a huge spruce, we unloaded and prepared to hike up a steep ridge so Dad could show off what he had aptly named The Hole. He wanted a volunteer to go into The Hole, and had brought along rope to pull the volunteer back out, but the majority ruled that this sounded like a terrible idea. Instead, my sister and son threw rocks into its never-ending darkness while I yelled at them to keep away from the crumpling edge: “Get your damn ass away from that hole!”
After the excitement and danger of The Hole wore off, we started looking for interesting rocks to take home. Dad pointed out characteristics indicating which rocks were more likely to contain veins of gold, and showed us iron pyrite sticking out of pink quartz. The claim we were exploring had immense reserves of schist and quartz, and had been mined in years past. We were very likely standing on top of a huge vein of priceless minerals and gold, just deep enough to be beyond reach. Dad believes there is more than we can imagine, but it would be extremely difficult to extract without heavy machinery and crates of explosives.
We didn’t see any obvious veins of gold in the boulders we pulled from the ground, so my father and sister hiked further up the ridge to get a view of Dad’s favorite meadow. I helped my mother and son transport arm loads of pink and white quartz back to my SUV. Once back at the car, we decided to take a lunch break. I kept my eye out for mountain lions, or “MLs”, as my son calls them, while chewing my steak and red onion sandwich with horseradish mayonnaise. It was a quiet afternoon, but on our way down the ridge we had spotted predator scat, and an animal was making faint noises in the distance. My father and sister came back down from the ridge with tales of a colossal belt of quartz that had been pushed out of the ground by massive tree roots. Dad was thrilled about this discovery and planned to return for more investigating.
We stopped at Dad’s camper, Chipmunk Village, as he calls it, because no matter where he parks, the camper attracts hordes of the pernicious creatures. I needed to pick up camping gear belonging to me and my husband so we could outfit our camper (which we haven’t yet purchased). In no hurry to leave the hills, we wandered around a field surrounding the camper and reminisced about family camp-outs from decades ago. My sister and son fought a protracted battle over a piece of braided grass. Mom drop kicked conks while Dad and I hauled a footlocker and folding table out of the camper. We let the late afternoon sun seep into our bones and the smell of Black Hills Spruce trees envelope us in hazy perfume.
Nothing mattered but the feeling we felt at that moment. We had no cell phone service and no way to get updates from the world. For the time being, we weren’t affected by ISIS terror threats, protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the death of Robin Williams, the spread of the Ebola virus, or the stacks of bills piling up in our respective homes. We just wanted to play out a daydream, much like my childhood full of summers camping out in pristine Idaho forests.
When it was time to go back to the real world, I don’t think that any of us really wanted to go back. We had soaked up the sun, the smell of dry pine needles, and the memories of living a simple life, spending entire summers embracing the wilderness. We wanted to stay in the forest, but we were out of water and food, it was time to go back, cook a big dinner, smile at all the photos we had taken, and fall asleep dreaming the dreams of children: a sunny day, a grassy field, a muddy hole and a rock perhaps hiding a sliver of gold. We were satisfied with our consolation prize — knowing we could walk away cherishing the memory of a day that we stood on top of a priceless vein of gold that we might never possess, because we had something much more valuable: family.