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!

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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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Tales Grow Taller On Down the Line

Funny story: I went online a few days ago to buy tickets for the Gin Blossoms at the Deadwood Grand Casino in October but ended up with REO Speedwagon tix for a December show instead.

I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to get the Gin Blossoms tickets anyway. Tara isn’t much of a fan and their heyday was a good 20 years ago, but I like them well enough and was itching for some live music. But looking at the list of upcoming shows I noticed the REO Speedwagon concert and couldn’t resist. $39 a pop seemed like a good deal for a classic rock group of their magnitude. Well, technically they cost $47.50 because I opted for ticket insurance. I’ve never bought it before, but Deadwood in December can be a tricky proposition. I’d hate to lose my money because a snowstorm prevented us from making it, so I figured it was a good investment for peace of mind. We’re both fans; I especially like their older stuff, songs like “Lightning” and “Golden Country.” But you can bet your ass I’ll unashamedly sing along to “Take It On The Run,” too.REO

Our fifth wedding anniversary was Friday. Once upon a time we were planning a big road trip to Alaska to celebrate, and had been saving money for that, but when we decided to move to the Midwest, our Alaska fund morphed into a South Dakota fund. We’ll get out there one of these days, though. Maybe for our 10th anniversary.

We’d talked about spending the weekend in Sioux Falls to celebrate, or maybe taking an overnight trip to Devil’s Tower, but in the end decided to keep it simple (and cheaper) and just do a little bar-hopping in Rapid City. So we hit up a few of the local joints, sat on an outdoor patio beside a blazing fire eating Mexican food, and ended the evening playing arcade games at Press Start.

Saturday we drove down to Hot Springs, a quaint little town in the southern Black Hills where we’d also tentatively talked about spending the night. It’s quite the charming place – lots of historic buildings, coffee shops, antique stores, and actual hot springs, in a scenic setting. Definitely whets our appetite for more.

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After killing a few hours in Hot Springs we drove through Wind Cave National Park. We’d planned on doing a cave tour, but the only tickets available were for the last tour of the day at 4:30. That would have left us with almost two hours ti kill and we’d have gotten home late, so we decided to save the tour for another time. Picked up Jimmy John’s on the way home and watched “Darkest Hour.” Gary Oldman is unrecognizable (and fantastic, actually) as Winston Churchill.

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There are bison everywhere in South Dakota.

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Calamity Jane got drunk, tried to steal a horse, and wound up in jail one night in Hot Springs.

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Best store name ever.

Today will be pretty low-key. There’s a Broncos game this afternoon and we’re grilling chicken kabobs.

It’s been very summer-like the past week. Sunny and warm-to-hot; it actually hit 94 degrees one day. But it’s supposed to cool off this week and they’re forecasting showers and a few thunderstorms. Thank god: I’m ready for fall. And it’ll give me the perfect excuse to make Italian Wedding soup.

“We’re Not Tourists!”

I dropped my parents off at the airport yesterday after a four-day visit. They were our first official South Dakota guests, and we had a great time hanging out with them and showing off our little slice of America. Although it’s hard to show something off when there is more than a passing familiarity. I’d been carefully planning each and every day to ensure they got to see as much as possible until my mom reminded me, “We’re not tourists!”

Oh. Right. They lived here from 1983-1986, too.

Be that as it may, we didn’t want to just hang around the apartment for four days, so we made sure there was plenty to do. They arrived Thursday evening around 9:00, after a 45-minute flight delay. (Actually four days and 45 minutes, as they were originally supposed to come out the preceding Sunday but couldn’t find space on the flights, it being Labor Day weekend and all. The delay worked out for the best though; our new king bed didn’t arrive until Wednesday, so we avoided a few nights sleeping on an air mattress. Further proof that everything works out as it’s supposed to.)

Side note: Rapid City Regional Airport is the cutest thing ever. I just wanted to pinch its little cheeks.

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Friday, my parents wanted to visit Ellsworth AFB. I’d taken the base tour back in August, but was confined to a bus. Because they have their military IDs, we were able to wander around at will this time. Our first stop was the street we lived on 30+ years ago.

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Sadly, our house is no longer there. They tore down all the old brick houses about 15 years ago and replaced them with much nicer dwellings. Covered porches? Garages?? I wish we’d had those amenities when we lived there!

Afterwards, we hit the base exchange and commissary to stock up on a few items. Groceries are a lot cheaper on base.

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Tara had to work that day, but we met up with her at Firehouse Brewing in Rapid City when she got off, and enjoyed a nice few hours of conversation, wine, beer, and food. The Firehouse is quickly becoming our favorite spot, I think.

Despite my mom’s protestations over not being tourists, we did end up doing a few touristy things with them. No Mount Rushmore or Crazy Horse, but we hit Sylvan Lake and the Custer Wildlife Loop on Saturday, and I took them to Wall Drug and the Badlands on Monday. Sunday was our one low-key day; we watched the first Broncos game of the season and cooked up some homemade fried chicken and macaroni and cheese.

My favorite part of their trip was probably our visit to Miner Brewing and Prairie Berry Winery in Hill City on Saturday. We spent a few hours sampling spirits and had an excellent lunch. It was nice and relaxing, and the weather was perfect.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. They are back in Washington now, and we are trying to get back into the routine of not having guests. It’s strangely jarring, returning to an empty apartment after entertaining for several days.

Actually, the whole experience was a novelty. I’m so used to living 10 minutes from my parents’ that playing host feels strange. I have to remind myself that way back when I lived in the PNW and they were still in California, there were nine years’ worth of long-distance visits where they were houseguests. That feels like a lifetime ago, and in many ways, it is.

The rest of the week I’ll be busy with work and running errands. Friday, Tara and I celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary! Once upon a time we were planning a road trip to Alaska, but we decided to move to the Midwest instead. So we’re going to hang around downtown Rapid City, doing a little bar-hopping and hitting up the local video arcade. Then this weekend we’ll be playing tourists ourselves and checking out Wind Cave National Park. Ooh, fingers crossed – maybe we’ll see a buffalo.

Thanks for a great visit, mom and dad!

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