Devilishly Good Day

Saturday was pretty much the perfect day. We zipped over to Wyoming (and by the way, how cool is it that we can actually zip over to Wyoming whenever the mood strikes) to check out Devils Tower. Tara had never been and it had been over 30 years since my last visit. Fun-but-annoying fact: there is no apostrophe in the name due to a clerical error when the proclamation declaring Devils Tower a National Monument was signed. Drives the grammarian in me a little nutty. I don’t know which I despise more: missing apostrophes or unnecessary one’s.

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Heading northeast the clouds thickened and it was snowing lightly by the time the monument loomed into sight, prompting fears that we might not even be able to see it. Fortunately this was not an issue as the visitor’s center is right there. Despite the cold and snow, we hiked around the base of the mountain, a short but scenic 1.3-mile stroll that afforded us great views of the Tower from every possible angle, not to mention the Wyoming countryside – prairie and hills and Ponderosa pine forests, all blanketed in an early-season layer of snow.

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Afterward we made a loop through some pretty rural towns, each of them with successively smaller populations, culminating in Aladdin, WY. Population: 15. The whole town, it turns out, is for sale. For $850,000, all this can be yours:

  • 30 acres (zoned commercial)
  • House & storage shed
  • Trailer park
  • Post office, general store, & gas station
  • Liquor license

The general store was awfully cute and charming. I was thinking somebody should make a television show, a fish-out-of-water sitcom about a big city couple who buys a quaint rural property and has wacky interactions with the colorful locals, but then I remembered this had already been done with “Newhart.” Oh, well.

Back in South Dakota, we took the scenic route through Spearfish Canyon, where the snow picked up a bit. It sure was beautiful; all the colorful autumn leaves from a month ago are gone, but we were treated to dramatic frozen waterfalls and pretty much had the entire canyon to ourselves. More kudos for the offseason! By 4:00 we were hungry and it was already growing dark, so we stopped for an early dinner at Cheyenne Crossing, a cafe and former stagecoach stop along the Cheyenne to Deadwood route in 1878. Tara got an Indian taco and Bud Light, I ordered a buffalo burger and glass of Malbec, and we watched the snow through the window as twilight deepened. It was falling pretty thickly driving through Lead and Deadwood, but petered out by the time we reached I-90. When we got home we watched “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” as an homage to Devils Tower.

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Today will be much less exciting. Unless you consider trips to Target fun, in which case, it’s going to be a blast! Tara’s making homemade clam chowder, which will be the perfect antidote for our cold weather (and possible snow this evening). It actually got down to zero on Friday! Well technically, it was half a degree. Our high was 21. This is how crazy the weather in South Dakota is: it’s going to reach 31 on Monday, 64 on Wednesday, and 42 on Friday.

At least it’s never boring.

Tara’s got tomorrow off for Veteran’s Day but alas, the work of a freelancer is never done. At least as long as the projects roll in, so I’m not complaining! I’ll either work a few hours in a coffee shop in the morning or, if the weather is bad, hole up in the office upstairs.

Last Wednesday, Tara’s company was offering employees tickets for the Rapid City Rush hockey game. Neither of us had ever seen live hockey before, so we decided to take advantage. The Rush are the closest thing Rapid City’s got to a professional sports franchise. They play in the ECHL, a minor league with teams scattered across the U.S. and Canada. They have no NHL affiliation this season and play their home games in the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. IMG_20181107_192147_220.jpg

Despite a lack of knowledge regarding hockey rules – I’m still not sure what constitutes “icing” unless we’re referring to a cake – we had so much fun! And our seats were great: third row next to one of the goals. Those players were bouncing off the plexiglass just a few feet in front of us, which was both exhilarating and a little frightening. Before long we were stomping our feet and chanting “Let’s go, Rush!” with the cowbell-ringing crowd. We even bought Rush gear and within minutes felt pride for our home team even though we had never paid much attention to them before. We’re already looking forward to going back for more games. The season lasts until early April, so we’ll have plenty of opportunities.

In other news, we already have our turkey for Thanksgiving. Which is next week. Yikes!

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Celestial Jackpot

I rarely get so sucked into a book I can’t stop reading it, but I’ve been forcing myself to turn off the lights every night and put down “Dark Matter” for fear I’ll never go to bed and it will suddenly be morning. Which wouldn’t be a terrible thing, but I do like my sleep!

The novel is described as “a story about a scientist who chooses love and family over scientific immortality and major awards—only to run headlong into versions of himself who made different choices” and is “cleverly imagined, dizzyingly plotted, thrillingly told.” YES. It is all those things, which is why I can’t put the damn thing down! I guess Blake Crouch is known for his “Wayward Pines” trilogy. I’m going to have to check that out soon.

Anyway. “Dark Matter” is heavy on quantum mechanics, exploring far-flung ideas such as the Multiverse, the “many worlds” theory, and parallel lives. Concepts that all found their way into my current novel, “Dream Sailors.” I eat this stuff up. I find the science absolutely fascinating and mind-blowing. The idea that a new universe is spawned for every choice we ever make in life hurts my head in the best way possible. It excites me and leads to frenzied discussions with my patient wife, who listened to me babble on and on Friday night over drinks and dinner at Firehouse Brewing about how there might be a parallel universe in which I’d chosen the Reuben over the buffalo burger instead of vice-versa (I was seriously torn, guys!), and how that Mark’s life would unspool very differently from this Mark’s – err, my – life.schrodingers cat

She’s lucky I didn’t bring up Schrödinger’s cat.

So, is the idea of parallel dimensions pseudo-science, wishful thinking, or something else entirely? As far-fetched as it all sounds, it’s theoretically possible, and many esteemed scientists – such as Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson – were/are proponents. Even now, I find myself wanting to talk about how we live in a universe with an expansion rate that’s neither too fast nor too slow, an electron that’s not too big, a proton that has the exact opposite charge but the same mass as a neutron, and a four-dimensional space in which we can live. Consider this: if the electron or proton were just 0.2 percent larger, they would be so unstable they would break apart into smaller particles, atoms could never form, and we would not exist. I mean, what are the odds?! Some would say that’s strong evidence of a divine being, but for atheists a Multiverse makes equally perfect sense. With an infinite number of universes, once in a great while you’ll find one with the exact right conditions to support life as we know it. The very fact of our existence kind of feels like we played the lottery hit the celestial jackpot. Take that, billion-dollar Mega Millions winner!

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I could go on and on with this stuff. And I’d love to, but I don’t want to bore you with any more theoretical physics talk. Feel free to chime in with your opinion, though!


Halloween happened. Or so I’m told. It never actually felt like it, as we didn’t get a single trick-or-treater. It’s actually been 13 years since I’ve opened the door to somebody in costume. I’ve drawn two conclusions from this: kids avoid apartment and condominium complexes on Halloween, and nobody has once sent me a singing telegram.

Because I never left the apartment after 2:30 p.m., I didn’t even see anybody dressed up. At least Tara drove by a couple of kids on her way home. Last year we all wore costumes to work and there was the Boo Bash in downtown Camas, so I at least got a sense of the holiday. This time around, nada. At least we made sure the few bags of candy we purchased just in case were ones we liked! But because I’m so stingy with my sugar intake, I’m limiting myself to a single “fun size” Baby Ruth or Snickers bar per day, so we’ll probably be working on them until Christmas.

By the way, is one inch really a fun size??


It’s been a pretty quiet weekend. After a stretch of mild weather, it’s turned colder, which means it’s not conducive to going hiking (though I actually did go for a hike on Friday morning). We ran a bunch of errands yesterday and will be watching the Broncos game this afternoon. I’m cooking a pork/beef stew. There’s a Netflix movie queued up for later.

Oh! Speaking of Netflix, are you watching “Making a Murderer Part 2”? It has totally changed my mind about Steven Avery. After the initial series I figured, well, there are some questionable things, but the guy probably did it. Now I AM COMPLETELY CONVINCED HE IS INNOCENT. I’ve moved way beyond reasonable doubt. His attorney, Kathleen Zellner, is a beast. Mad props to her. And Brendan Dassey has always been an unwitting pawn. His conviction should have been overturned years ago.

In a parallel universe, they’re both free men…

One Down, 49 to Go

One year ago today, we went public and shared the news that we were moving to Rapid City, South Dakota. Via social media, of course, because this is the 21st century.

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We actually made our decision weeks earlier, on the first full day of our quickie weekend road trip out here. But there were i’s to dot and t’s to cross before we told everybody. Hardest of all was our parents, who really didn’t want to see us go. But we were committed and there was no changing our minds by that point. Those eight months we had to wait between announcing we were going and actually going felt like they were going to drag, and at times they did, but here we are one year later and now it kinda seems like it flew by, ha.

It also totally feels like home.

I kind of feel like we left just in time, too. I was talking with my parents on the phone a couple of weeks ago and they mentioned the Proud Boys, an alt-right group that is clashing with members of the far-left Antifa movement on the streets of Portland, resulting in a whole lot of bloodshed. And I thought, that is not the Portland I knew and loved.

They went on to talk about the homeless criss, which was always bad but now seems to be spiraling out of control. And the escalating traffic issues and rising prices. It all just sounds so unbearably bad. I’m not bashing Portland. It’ll always have a special place in my heart, and going back to visit will be lots of fun. It just doesn’t hold the same allure for me that it once did.

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This, by contrast? It’s exactly where we were meant to be. I’m not saying South Dakota is perfect or suited to everybody. But it’s just right for us, and that’s all that matters. I keep hearing “but just wait until winter!” and all I can think is, I can’t wait until winter! I think that’s the attitude you need to have to really enjoy it out here. Plus, you’ve got to enjoy a small(ish) town and be willing to sacrifice a few things (like Trader Joe’s and Costco and farmer’s markets teeming with deliciously juicy berries and Darth Vader-costumed, bagpipe-playing unicyclists). If you’re okay without those types of creature comforts, you just might thrive out here in the Upper Midwest.


Last Wednesday, we (OK, Tara) came up with the impromptu idea of driving out to the Badlands to catch the full moon. It was rising at 6:25 p.m. and we thought that would be a perfect opportunity to set up our cameras and capture some good shots in a ruggedly scenic landscape.

It was a great idea in theory, but there were just enough clouds on the horizon to mess with the view. Plus, the moon ended up rising over the parking lot instead of the craggy cliffs we’d been hoping for. And it was super windy, which made it really cold, especially once the sun went down.

But. We had the whole place to ourselves, and that alone made it kind of magical. There’s a lot to be said for going out there in the off-season! And while the moonrise might have been a dud, the sunset was spectacular.

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It was late by the time we left, and later still when we got back to Rapid City. 8:00, and neither of us had eaten in hours. So we decided to grab a bite to eat at Sickies Garage, small regional chain of restaurants (five locations in the Dakotas and Minnesota) that advertises “50 burgers, 50 brews & More!” They’re not exaggerating, either. On any of those counts. Loved the decor, the food was great, and the prices were unbeatable. Most burgers are less than $10 and include a side. In fact, dinner for the two of us – including a couple of hard ciders – was only $38.

I’m sure we’ll be back plenty of times. After all, there are 49 more burgers to try!

All in all, it was a great Wednesday, and a nice break from the regular weekday routine. Normally we’d be watching “The Price is Right” with a purring cat sandwiched between us while balancing a plate of food on our laps.

This was better.

I highly recommend getting out and living a little. It does wonders for the soul.

You’ve Been Johnnyburgered

Many years ago, my dad’s cousin Johnny came out for a visit  when we lived in South Dakota. He and Johnny are the same age and were very close growing up on the mean streets of Trenton; theirs was a friendship that continued into adulthood. Johnny is a real character. Always wears his hair greasy and slicked back, smokes like a chimney, and is the pickiest eater I have ever met. The only type of meat Johnny ever ate was beef. This would drive my mom nuts anytime he came out to visit, as it strictly limited our menu, forcing her to either make him a separate dish or devote a week to cooking nothing but red meat.

During that South Dakota visit, my parents decided to pull a fast one on Johnny. Guessing he’d never be able to tell the difference, my mom made buffalo burgers one night and presented them as angus beef. Johnny was sitting there at the dinner table, plowing through his burger with gusto, none the wiser, when my dad cleared his throat.

“How’s that burger, Johnny?” he asked.

“Delicious!” Johnny replied, never pausing from his chewing.

My dad then let the hammer fall and told his cousin that what he thought was beef was, in fact, bison. Johnny was surprised, but to his credit, finished his burger. This trickery didn’t suddenly turn him into an equal opportunity carnivore or anything, but probably made him a little more cautious when sitting down at the dining room table in our house from that point forward.

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How’s that burger, Johnny?

Ever since, I’ve thought of these little food switcheroos as “Johnnyburgers.” In fact, I’ve turned the noun into a verb when describing this act of subterfuge. One time when my kids were young, I snuck some vegetables into their spaghetti sauce. Audrey and Rusty were Johnnyburgered!

Just last week I Johnnyburgered Tara. When it comes to coffee, she is very choosy over what she pours into her mug. It’s gotta be Costco’s Kirkland brand Medium Dark Columbian Roast. Which was all well and good when we lived within spitting distance of not one, but two, Costcos, but the nearest one now is 346 miles away. Suffice it to say, that’s a long way to go for coffee! We stocked up before our move, and still have several cans left, but we go through coffee pretty quickly. The day is sure to come when we run out of the Kirkland Medium Dark Columbian Roast. Keenly aware of this, I decided to pick up a can of Maxwell House at Safeway last week when I spotted it on sale for $4.99. The next morning, after stealthily substituting Maxwell House for Kirkland, I asked my wife, “How’s that coffee, dear?”

“It’s good!” she replied.

“Would you say it’s good to the last drop?” I asked, unable to resist their gimmicky advertising slogan.

When she replied in the affirmative, I told her – rather gleefully, I might add – “You’ve been Johnnyburgered!”

To her credit, she wasn’t upset over the deceit. I think she realizes, too, that our precious coffee resources are dwindling faster than Trump’s approval rating, and certainly isn’t opposed to finding a different brand we can procure more easily. But after a few days of drinking the Maxwell House, she decided it was “too bitter” after all. I dunno about that…I think my wife doth protest too much…but, that’s fine. Back to the drawing board it is.

There’s always Folgers!


We had a nice weekend. The weather has been very pleasant, so we took advantage and hiked 5.5 miles on Saturday morning. Saw a movie in the afternoon, “First Man.” Two thoughts: man, Buzz Aldrin was a dick. But Neil Armstrong wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy either. I had no idea he suffered from so many inner demons. I googled him afterward and while most of the scenes in the movie were based on reality, the…

SPOILER ALERT!!

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DO NOT GO ANY FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN “FIRST MAN”!!

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SERIOUSLY!!!

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THIS IS NOT A DRILL!!!!!

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…part where he landed on the moon (I warned you I was giving away secrets!)…

OK, kidding. You probably already knew that unless you prescribe to conspiracy theories. I’m referring to the scene where he threw his dead daughter’s bracelet into a crater on the moon while shedding a tear. Turns out that was totally made up to heighten the emotional factor  in pure Hollywood style. And that’s fine. Never go into a “true story” expecting a completely true story!

After the movie, we went to Chili’s. Casual dining chain or not, I have missed that place! All I can say is, fajitas. (Well, I can also say Presidente margarita.) Good stuff!

Sunday we drove out to Prairie Berry to stock up on wine. They were having a great sale on their Pumpkin Bog (pumpkin/cranberry wine – yes, it’s good; no, it does not taste like a Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbuck’s): one bottle cost $17.00, two bottles cost $17.06. I mean, how could we not?!

It’s a wonder I didn’t walk out of there with a case of the stuff…

Meat and Catch-Up

I haven’t written a proper post in what seems like ages – photos of fall foliage and snow do not count – so this is an opportunity for a little catch-up! Forgive me if I jump around from topic to topic. I feel like I have a little bit to say about a lot of things.

Lessons I Learned from Our Early Season Snowfalls

Two big takeaways from our recent bout with winter-like weather:

  1. When it’s snowy, icy, or below freezing, you have to calculate extra time when making plans. Because you’ve got to scrape ice and/or sweep snow from your windshield and set the defroster to high if you want to be able to see while driving. I don’t know about you, but I find this helps prevent accidents. Speaking of scraping ice…
  2. The windshield isn’t the only thing that requires attention. We were headed out to a comedy show in Rapid City Saturday night and it took me several blocks to figure out why my headlights were barely penetrating the snowy darkness: they were coated in snow and ice. So, I had to pull over to the side of the road and take care of that.

It’s little things like these that never even crossed my mind living in the temperate PNW. On the rare occasions when it snowed in Vancouver, I certainly didn’t venture out in it. I won’t have that luxury living here, which is why I volunteered to drive us into town during our unexpected snowstorm Saturday night. I figured I’m going to have to get used to it anyway, so I might as well jump right in. Luckily, my Mazda handled the weather just fine. I could pretend I didn’t white-knuckle it the whole way, but why lie?

Also: I really want a Jeep Cherokee. But that’s another post. One that I can ignore for a while since today was sunny and 71 degrees.

Crazy Horse Progress is Measured in Inches

My favorite joke during the Saturday night comedy show went  something like this: They say the sun is going to explode in five billion years, which means they’re going to have to finish carving Crazy Horse in the dark.

The Crazy Horse Memorial, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a mountain carving honoring an Oglala Lakota warrior, Crazy Horse. The monument has been in progress since 1948 and is proceeding at a glacial pace, probably because it’s a non-profit undertaking and the Ziolkowski family refuses to take any federal or state funds. They rely solely on entrance fees, gift shop purchases, and private contributions. Hats off to them, but this thing won’t be finished in my lifetime. Or my kids’.

These photos show what Crazy Horse looked like when I visited in 2011, and again, last week.

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Hard to see any real progress. Some of the trees are a little taller, though.

This is what it’s going to look like when it’s finished:

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Crazy Horse Memorial, circa 2238

Discovering Chislic

Months before moving here, I wrote about chislic, a regional dish of cubed red meat (traditionally lamb, though beef or venison may be substituted) and South Dakota’s official state food. It is often served with toothpicks and accompanied by Saltine crackers and hot sauce.IMAG6950.jpg

Sounds weird, huh? Here’s the thing: it’s really good. Which shouldn’t be a surprise. I mean, it’s fried meat. Unless you’re a vegetarian, which I am most certainly not, what”s not to love?!

I’ve had it a couple of times now, and have yet to see either Saltines or toothpicks. Mine have always come with French fries, which makes the purist in me unhappy because it feels like my experience is a little less authentic. I haven’t had hot sauce either, come to think of it, but one place in Hill City served it with barbecue sauce and that was a pretty damn good substitute.

Though it’s more common in east river, chislic is pretty readily available around these parts, too. I intend to research the matter carefully and find the best in the west, so to speak.

I also want to make it myself and will probably try this recipe.

A Random Photo I Haven’t Posted Anywhere

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Deerfield Reservoir

The Freelance Lifestyle

I’m really diggin’ the freelance lifestyle for a couple of reasons, the biggest being the freedom to work anywhere at any time. I’m fortunate to have a steady supply of work from my former employer, and because I know the industry and topics inside and out, I usually bang it out in two days. That leaves me a lot of free time to go exploring. I try to work from a coffee shop one day a week, just to get me out of the apartment. I find that I like having a little structure, and it feels more like a real job if I have to actually get dressed and drive somewhere.

Having said that, a full-time job would be ideal because as nice as it is being an independent contractor, the benefits leave much to be desired. Probably because they’re non-existent. A couple of months ago I was offered a job as a technical writer for a local Rapid City company, and after a four-day trial period…turned it down. Umm, what?! I didn’t feel like it was a good fit at the time, but soon after had major regrets.

Now, that same company has procured my services (as a contractor) to assist in several projects that should last through the holidays. They’ve even given me an office and computer to use and only ask me to come in for a few hours a couple of times a week. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, actually. A steady paycheck (on top of another steady paycheck) without the ol’ 9 to 5 drudgery. Having said that, if this happens to lead to something permanent, I’ll be thrilled. But if not, it’s great experience and gives me more to add to my resume and portfolio.

Tara, by the way, is happy with her job. She didn’t particularly want to remain in the mortgage industry, but this position is far less demanding, which means far less stressful. She doesn’t dread going to work in the morning, which is something we should all aspire to, you know?

And, because happy wife = happy life, all is good in this hood.

One More Random (and Really Wide) Pic Before I Go

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Why I love it here, Part 37.

A Taste of Winter

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Autumn in the Black Hills sure was beautiful for the two whole weeks that it lasted.

I kid, I kid. But we definitely had a taste of winter this past week. For three straight days the temperature never climbed out of the 30s – our highs were colder than our average lows for the date! And we got 2.8″ of snow, as well. I knew it could snow in October around here. I just didn’t think it actually would!

Just when all hope of ever seeing fall again was nearly lost, today was sunny and 56. Couldn’t ask for a more beautiful day. And next week we’ll be pushing 70. Such is life on the Great Plains.

I’ll be back with a proper post next week. For now, enjoy the snow pics. Especially you, Ron!

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Downtown Rapid City

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Wilderness Park across the street from our apartment

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Canyon Lake Park

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Did global cooling kill the dinosaurs?

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So beautiful!

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We sat beneath this willow on a hot July afternoon and dipped our feet in the water

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Clashing seasons

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I should have packed a picnic lunch!

A Taste of Fall

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Saturday morning, we decided to go for a hike in the Black Hills. With snow in the forecast today, we wanted to take advantage of the nice weather. Our destination was Cathedral Spires, a short out-and-back that was less than 2.5 miles total. What it lacked in distance it made up for in scenery! Plus, it was cold AF, so that was long enough.

I know not everybody is enjoying fall-like weather and colorful foliage, but leaves are at their peak around here. They probably won’t be around much longer, so I’m glad we got out when we did. Here’s a taste of fall for those still enduring summer-like weather. I may have winter pics in a few days at this rate!

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Do Rattlesnakes Hibernate?

Have I mentioned it’s been cold here?

Well, except for that one day when it was hot. What an outlier Tuesday was! Our high temperatures for the last week have looked like this:

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By the way, I totally made this chart. Which I suppose makes me both a weather geek and a computer geek, but I don’t care. #madexcelskillz

43195835_10217131078938035_1293057117720150016_oIf I included today’s high, that line would plummet again. This was our temperature at noon, which means it was a whopping 50 degrees colder than just two days earlier. Good lord! I won’t even mention the 70-mph wind gusts that toppled our patio furniture yesterday and sent debris flying everywhere.

It’ll probably be 90 in a few days.

Actually, it won’t. We might have skipped right over fall this year, because things are looking pretty cold for the foreseeable future. Which explains why I bought a pair of snow boots and a heavy duty snow and ice scraper for my car today. I now feel that I am properly prepared for anything that Mother Nature decides to throw our way! Better safe than sorry when the forecast looks like this…

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Oh, well. Autumn sure was nice while it lasted those five or six days.

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Don’t get me wrong; there are some positives to this early onset of cold weather. At least the odds of running into a rattlesnake are much lower now.

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Sign posted WHERE I WALK EVERY WEEK. Gulp.

I’m just going to pretend that mountain lions are also averse to freezing temperatures. Humor me, okay?

Other benefits of cold weather: I’ve got a pot roast cooking in the crockpot right now, filling the apartment with a heavenly aroma. And, it made it very easy to get into the spirit of last weekend’s Great Downtown Pumpkin Hunt! Speaking of spirits, the highlight had to be the pub crawl. But the pumpkin chuckin’ contest was pretty fun, too. And we started the day with brunch at kōl, where we ordered their Brunch Pizza (garlic cream sauce, Black Forest ham, bacon, fontina cheese, shaved asparagus, and sunny side up eggs). Guys: it was amazing. Add bottomless Bloody Marys to the mix for a very reasonable price, and it’s a wonder we don’t live in that place.

 

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So it was a fun weekend, even if we paid the price on Sunday.

Tomorrow evening we are going to see Nrivana at the Loud American Roadhouse in Sturgis. No, that’s not a typo. They’re a Nirvana cover band (!) who supposedly put on a really good show. Tickets were $10 a pop, so I was all in. We stopped by the Loud American during the Rally in August on the recommendation of a coworker of Tara’s, who raved about their steak tips. They lived up to the hype, so it should be a good time! As for the rest of the weekend, it’ll be a long one for Tara, who has Monday off. We’ll probably go for a hike in Custer State Park on Saturday and hit Crazy Horse on Monday.

Weather-permitting, of course.

Oh! Exactly one year ago tomorrow, we hit the road for…drum-roll, please!…Rapid City, SD! We were just embarking on our whirlwind road trip out here to see if it was potentially a place we might want to live.

Spoiler alert: it was.

Noble Inheritance

The most miraculous canyon in the West…a South Dakota treasure of noble inheritance. Had Spearfish Canyon been on the throughway to western migration, the canyon would be as significant in public appreciation as the Grand Canyon is today.

~ Frank Lloyd Wright, 1935

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I’m certainly not going to dispute ol’ Frankie’s words. Spearfish Canyon is one of the most magical places in the Black Hills. We drove through here last October, on the way home from our whirlwind trip to Rapid City. There had been a fresh snowfall the night before – the first of the season – and the colors were vibrant. Today was so similar it felt like deja vu; there’d been a fresh snowfall overnight – the first of the season – and the colors were vibrant. Everything really does come full circle.

About that snow. It’s been really cold here – like, 20 degrees below average. Gray and rainy, too. Last night, forecasters were calling for 1-5″ of snow in the Black Hills. It was a cool 38 degrees in Rapid City this morning, and just ten minutes outside of town, the rain turned to snow.

Made for a beautiful drive.

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When fall and winter collide, Part 1.

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35 degrees meant the roads were wet but not slick.

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Rapid City didn’t get any snow, but we came close. Literally.

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Caution: wild turkey crossing.

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This campground is closed for the season. Good thing.

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When fall and winter collide, Part 2.

I had so much fun today! And to think it’s only September. We’re going to be flirting with snow for the next six months.

Bring it on.

I’m excited for tomorrow. Tara and I are planning our day around The Great Downtown Pumpkin Festival in Rapid City. It’s supposedly the biggest downtown festival of the year and includes pumpkin catapulting, a giant pumpkin weigh-off, and a pub crawl. What’s not to love?! There are even pony rides, but dammit, I’m probably too old for those.

It’s definitely feeling like fall here, and this weekend is sure to add to the spirit!

Red Squirrels & 90-Day Lessons

Today marks our three-month anniversary in South Dakota. Time flies, huh?! Feels like we were just loading up Bertha and preparing for our 1,250-mile adventure. Now we’ve experienced one full season and are preparing for the next.

There are plenty of signs of fall already. Cooler temperatures and an explosion of autumn colors.

And the forecast is trending in that direction, too.

Now that we’ve lived here for 90 days, I think it’s time to take stock of our initial impressions and talk about some of the things we have learned about South Dakota since arriving that Sunday afternoon exactly three months ago. In fact, I’m going to make it a Top 10 list, because those are always fun!

  1. The weather here is like Steve Martin: wild and crazy. We’ve experienced everything from perfectly cloudless skies and warm sunshine to violent thunderstorms with heavy rain, gusty winds, and damaging hail the size of ping-pong balls – all within the span of an hour. It can change on a dime around here. And we haven’t even experienced winter yet!
  2. The people are friendly as heck. All of them, everywhere. Convenience store clerks, restaurant servers, Instagram locals, people passing by on the street. Strangers strike up conversations and within minutes you feel like you’re old friends.
  3. There’s a surprisingly robust food scene. We’ve discovered some really good restaurants around town. Botticelli has amazing Italian food; Dakotah Steakhouse knows their way around beef (and bison); Independent Ale House only serves pizza if you’re hungry, but they have perfected that; and Kol does just about everything right. I’ve found excellent sushi and pho, too.
  4. Craft distillers, wineries, and coffeeshops are popular, too. The microbrew scene is like a mini version of Portland, with Firehouse Brewing, Miner Brewing, Dakota Point Brewery, Lost Cabin Beer Co., and Haycamp Brewing all churning out locally-made suds. Black Hills Contraband excels at flavored liqueurs and vodka, and Prairie Berry is just one of about a half dozen local wineries. There are plenty of good coffeeshops, too – maybe not one on every corner like in the PNW, but between Harriet & Oak, Revel, Dunn Brothers, Alternative Fuel, Pure Bean, Dixon, and Black Hills Blend, getting your caffeine fix around town is not hard to do.
  5. Forget about finding decent cider, though. In this area, South Dakota (so far) falls short. I’m sorry, but Angry Orchard does not count as good cider. We found a decent one at Firehouse Brewing on our last visit, so there is hope. I predict in another five years the craft cider scene will be huge here. But right now it is not. And that’s because…
  6. Rapid City sometimes feels like the land that time forgot. I mean, there’s a video rental store down the street, and it does brisk business. And the radio stations are playing the same songs they were playing when I went to high school here. It’s like an alternate universe where Duran Duran is still the biggest band on the planet. And yet…
  7. The entertainment scene isn’t the empty void I’d feared it would be. Thursday nights during the summer we had competing options downtown with plenty of live music, food, and drinks. Kid Rock, Eric Church, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foreigner, Eddie Money, Gin Blossoms, Luke Bryan, and Jeff Foxworthy all played or will be playing shows around here. We just bought tickets for REO Speedwagon. And Jerry Seinfeld is coming to the Civic Center in November. OK, none of those acts are up-and-coming, but see #6.
  8. The squirrels here are red. This one really tripped me out. I had only ever seen grey squirrels before moving here. Honestly, I had no idea they were even available in different colors. These red guys are smaller and skinnier than the greys I’m used to and seem to be a little more fleet-footed.
  9. “Hail sales” are a thing. Because the weather here is wild and crazy (see #1), the auto dealerships in town are always advertising hail sales, reducing their prices on hail-damaged vehicles. And you can’t turn on the radio without hearing an ad for a hail repair shop at least once every ten minutes.
  10. This place is freakin’ beautiful. The Black Hills are, in a word, incredible. From sheer granite cliffs and stands of towering ponderosa to pristine alpine lakes and wildflower-laden meadows, I really haven’t missed the rugged beauty of the PNW like I’d expected to. Let’s not forget the Badlands! Even the prairie is beautiful in its own way. I’ve done more hiking in the three months I’ve been here than I did all of last year.

There are little locals-only tidbits we’ve learned, too. Like the fact that this side of the state is referred to as “West River” while Pierre and beyond – anything east of the Missouri River – is called “East River.” And “The Gap” is where Rapid Creek cuts through the Hogback Ridge that splits the town in half, so you’ll hear newscasters talking about “gusty winds west of The Gap,” for instance. Good to know.

I’ll write about our favorite food and beverage discoveries in my next post. In the meantime, here’s a photo of a red squirrel we saw while hiking on Saturday.

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