Chapel In The Hills

The best things in life when out adventuring are often the things you really didn’t expect. This can come in many forms – a great meal from a greasy spoon, a meaningful conversation with a shop owner, a stunning sunset or a building that is so interesting you have to stop and explore.

Before any trip, I always do some reconnaissance work looking for off the beaten path stuff and prioritizing how to spend my time. In the process of preparing for our South Dakota adventure, I read about the Chapel in the Hills in Rapid City.

Even though I planned for it, this turned out to be one of those unexpected places, one of those special places that defy convention and become a defining memory of the trip.

It looks like someone transported an ancient Norwegian church through the ages and across the sea to the Black Hills.

Truth is, Lutherans built this incredibly ornate wooden church in 1969. It’s a replica of a stave church in Norway that dates to around the year 1200.

It’s in town but on some acreage so it feels peaceful, isolated, rustic and other worldly. It looks and feels like it doesn’t belong and yet being there is so calming it seems perfectly natural.

It’s built almost entirely with wood, including wooden dowels rather than nails to hold it together. Intricate wood carvings were created by local artists and a Norwegian expert brought in to make sure it recreates the themes found on the original Norwegian church.

The floor and foundation are stone. The sanctuary is simple. The benches look uncomfortable.

There’s a covered passageway known as an ambulatory that covers the entire exterior. This provides shelter to the foundation which is especially helpful in harsh climates and causes the sanctuary to feel somehow more isolated from the outside world.

As a person who spends much time studying churches from the outside, it was not lost on me this symbolism of providing shelter to those who don’t quite make it inside.

My adventure pal isn’t as oddly enamored with churches as I am. So she wandered off to give me a few minutes to absorb my surroundings and I was grateful for these stolen moments.

There’s a meditation trail and visitors are welcome to dwell. They host weddings and have evening services during the warm season – the casual dress of a vacationer is perfectly fine.

There’s a log cabin museum and a visitors center complete with gift shop on the property. The log cabin was built in the nineteenth century by a Norwegian prospector who came to the Black Hills during the gold rush. The visitor center is a grass roofed structure known as a Stabbur, another interesting Norwegian architectural style.

If you are ever in Rapid City, I hope you will make time to go and dwell. Stop and smell the lavender and find some inner peace. You can read more about the history and architecture at their website by clicking here.

The Best Kind of Vacation


The best kind of vacation is the one that stretches your horizons. It teaches you something about a place and its people.  You come home feeling like your world view has shifted, if only just a bit.

It’s a huge world out there and I haven’t seen most of it so when my pal Johnna suggested that I visit her in Wyoming and we journey over to South Dakota for some adventure, I was ready to go.

We spent a couple of days exploring her neck of the woods and then road tripped over to South Dakota’s Black Hills. The vacation was amazing, even if everything didn’t go as planned.

Truth be told, we only hit a few of the highlights and didn’t do everything we had hoped. There’s a lot to see and never enough hours in the day to do it. But we had a great time – partly because we did fun stuff and partly because the company was great.

As I sift through pictures and souvenirs, it becomes increasingly clear that there are many, many stories to tell from this trip. The plan is to begin sharing these tales, one at a time for as long as you’re willing to keep reading.

This trip taught me about the Lakota people and some of their traditions. I learned about how our government prohibited by law many aspects of religions and sacred ceremonies of native peoples. This impacted Native Americans, Eskimos and Hawaiians and it was within my lifetime that our government passed an act granting them the religious freedoms they deserve.

This is something that I want to revisit another day and there is nice imagery to go with it.

It taught me that sometimes a tourist trap is just a tourist trap but also gave me hope that there could be a breathtaking rainbow around the next bend.

I also learned about the rural nature of Wyoming and some of the challenges that come with living here. The western landscape is about as foreign as the surface of the moon compared to my wooded southern Ohio. The big skies, various shades of browns and the sparseness of the landscape lend a unique beauty that you won’t find most places.

Plus there were some good restaurants, interesting people and beautiful sights along the way that made each day of this adventure seem a more rewarding than the one before.

It was a great vacation so stay tuned! There’s more to come!