A little over two weeks ago, I completed a depressing drive that has taken place on 20 separate occasions (although the first 10 times I was only a passenger). It was the drive back to eastern South Dakota away from the beautiful Black Hills. For the third consecutive summer, I had found employment at a place I first fell in love with 20 summers ago in 1992 as a six-year old, Outlaw Ranch, a church camp run by the ELCA South Dakota Synod.
Outlaw is a beautiful place, tucked away into a ponderosa-surrounded valley just a few miles West of Custer, and just East of Custer State Park. See for yourself….
If you were blindfolded and dropped into the middle of the Black Hills, you were NEVER know that you were in South Dakota. The landscape and scenery is like being on a whole different planet than the rest of the state. Granite outcroppings and hundreds of thousands of pine trees dot the horizon as far as the naked eye can squint a vision.
Nothing against living in Yankton or Southeast South Dakota, as I have grown up here and have many fond memories of this area, but waking up to crisp cool air every morning and smelling that pine scent force its way into my nose is like a gateway to heaven. I was greeted almost daily on my 5:30 a.m. runs by wild turkeys, deer, and even the occasional peacock and elk. When feeling ambitious I would run an 8-mile loop from camp, down the gravel road and across the highway around Stockade Lake and back. Seeing the mist and fog settle inches off the lake surface while rainbow trout and largemouth bass get their early morning exercise jumping about and then peering off into the foggy distance to see the cathedral spires of the Needles reaching for the sky……. I hesitate to even try to put into words what that scene is like. Some things are so beautiful that explaining what the eyes see could never do it justice.
A downside to working at camp, it pays worse than being a journalist! However, getting paid to build campfires, go fishing and hiking, lead games, eat amazing meals, meet extraordinary people from all over the world, lead and attend outdoor worships and form unique and loving communities with 100+ plus fellow Christians each week is a true blessing.
Maybe you have been to camp before, maybe you have only heard your friends talk about it. Regardless of your denomination or religion or which camp you choose, every child and adult should have an experience like this during their lifetime.
I’ve been lucky to have these experiences for 20 years. I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.