It's not hard to put the Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary on a list of my favorite places in the Black Hills.
What's much harder to do is to pick my favorite time of year to visit the 80-acre oasis of silence and solitude that landowner Dave Snyder has created just south of Lead near his home on Juso Ranch Road.
I've visited Pathways in every season: on a misty spring morning when fog shrouded the surrounding forest; on a warm mid-summer day when shade cast by pine trees along the mile-long walking path was much appreciated; on a fall afternoon when quaking aspens dropped their yellow leaves on that same path; and on a snowy winter day that turned the sanctuary's open meadow into a cross-country ski trail. Choosing the best time to see Pathways is nearly impossible. Each visit offers a different lens through which to experience the beauty and tranquility of the spot.
Snyder would probably smile at my dilemma, since part of his vision in establishing Pathways back in 2010 was to eliminate differences and divisions. The sanctuary has a spiritual focus, but it is also "beyond belief" in its attempt to emphasize the connections that all major world religions and belief systems share. The place speaks of love and compassion and forgiveness and healing — literally and figuratively — through art, literature, prayer and nature.
An imposing wooden gate greets visitors at the small parking lot, but it is designed to serve as a portal to another place, not as a barrier to exclude. Walk through it, and you'll find, just around the bend, a larger-than-life bronze sculpture by Buck McCain. "The Invocation" depicts a Native American man astride a horse holding a buffalo skull toward the heavens. It is the first of many visual delights to come.
A mile-long pathway that circles a large meadow leads visitors to various benches, inspirational plaques and art pieces that offer spots to linger for reflection or meditation. There's a labyrinth to walk, a pond to sit by and wildlife to enjoy.
Snyder designed Pathways for people to use as a refuge from their busy lives. Take advantage of it and, trust me, you'll be glad you did. It's open daily through Oct. 31 to the general public and there is no admission fee.
For more information, go to pathwaysspiritualsanctuary.org.