When you look out over the Stratobowl, you’ll see a large peace sign.

I’m not what one would call an “outdoorsy person.”

Don’t get me wrong: I love being outside, feeling the sun on my face, the wind in my hair. What I don’t like is the kind of outdoor activity that involves sweating or intimate encounters with large bugs.

So when I want to smell the pine trees, feel the crispness of the air and enjoy some breathtaking views, I take the short hike to the top of the Stratobowl.

If you’re not familiar with the Stratobowl, it’s a small, flat valley completely surrounded by the Black Hills where some of the first early manned balloon flights were launched in the 1930s.These flights marked the early beginnings of the space program.

While I find the balloon launch history interesting, it is not the reason that I travel to that spot.

First of all, it’s an easy hike. Frankly, I wouldn’t even call it a hike: It’s a mostly flat walk along a gravel forest road for less than a mile.

The view is spectacular. There are few places where you will see such an interesting view including pine-covered hills, wide blue skies and the small stream that winds through that peculiar flat valley nestled between the Hills.

The smell is the Black Hills at its finest — the strong scent of pine, edged with a hint of rich green undergrowth and mixed with crisp, fresh air. It’s a distinctly South Dakota smell that I’ve not found anywhere else.

The wildflowers are amazing. Last time we were up there, the pink Echinacea flowers were in bloom, and we found a few yucca plants. The field that you walk through to get to the overlook was littered with yellow daisy-like flowers.

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When you look out over the Stratobowl, you see the stream below and a handful of homes. In the center of the valley is a large peace sign. Sitting at the top, looking out over the pine-filled hills or down at the valley of the Stratobowl and its windy creek, a sense of complete calm, complete peace fills me. This is the sense of peace that I have always associated with the Black Hills.

A couple of tips before you go: It’s hot out there, so bring some water. Stick to the paths; it’s easy to get lost. It’s a long drop from the top to the bottom of the Stratobowl, so if you bring kids, keep them close.

Getting there

From Interstate 90, take Exit 57 for Rapid City. Take a left on Omaha Street. Drive .2 miles to Mount Rushmore Road. Turn right onto U.S. Highway 16 west/Mount Rushmore Road. Continue for about 11.5 miles. (The turnoff is exactly 2.2 miles past Bear Country USA.)

On your right, you will see a gravel road that is blocked off by a gate. (If you reach the interpretive lookout on your right, you just missed the turn.) Park your car by the gate. Walk around the gate to begin the trail.

After about 20 minutes, you’ll see a number of paths that veer to the left of the road.

Take any of those paths; the viewpoints are about 50 feet away from the road.

Claudia Laws is the Rapid City Journal’s online editor. Contact her at 394-8403 or claudia.laws@rapidcityjournal.com

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