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:
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.
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:
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.
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
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
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!
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!
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:
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
If 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…
Oh, well. Autumn sure was nice while it lasted those five or six days.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Today is overcast and cool. It’s early afternoon and barely 60 degrees! Summer isn’t over yet – it’ll be back in the 80s tomorrow – but this is one sure sign that it won’t last forever. Living someplace with honest-to-god seasons is going to be a novelty, too. In the PNW, our temperatures would cool and the rainy season would kick in come fall, but it was rarely anything too dramatic. Last Thanksgiving it was 65 degrees. Any random July day could be 65 degrees. Pretty mild climate all things considered, which I’m sure is one of the draws. If you don’t mind getting wet.
Out here on the Great Plains, though? Let’s just say I’d better start shopping for a good pair of snow boots.
Fortunately the weather this past weekend was nice, which made for ideal camping conditions. Our destination was Sheridan Lake, just one of many spectacular bodies of water in the Black Hills.
We had the perfect spot, too. There were just enough trees (the ever-present Ponderosa pines) to provide shade, and while we weren’t right next to the water, it was only a stone’s throw away.
Our first evening, we cooked bratwursts and beans over the campfire, enjoyed tasty adult beverages, and listened to music. Caught a pretty spectacular sunset, too:
Which was rivaled only by the next morning’s sunrise.
Saturday, after breakfast, we hiked the Centennial Flume Trail, but didn’t have a very reliable map and because it branches off in several different directions, we ended up cutting our hike short at just over three miles. Which was probably just as well, because it was warming up by then and we had Bloody Marys to drink back at the campground!
Our second night was a repeat of the first, only we had ribeye steaks and corn on the cob, and we played a game of Cribbage. We’d actually forgotten some food at home, so we ended up running back to the apartment at one point. Good thing it’s only a half-hour drive away. When we returned to camp the sky was growing dark and ominous, and we actually had to duck inside the tent for a few minutes. But after a few rumbles of thunder, some gusty winds, and a brief smattering of raindrops, the sky cleared and it went back to being perfect.
Sunday we decided to give our hike another go after learning which way to go, but this time we hit the trail super early – 6:30. It was nice and cool and the morning light on the lake was stunning.
The hike itself is pretty interesting. The Flume Trail follows the path of the Rockerville Flume, which carried water along a 20-mile stretch for placer gold mining operations in the 1880s. After dropping into the Spring Creek Canyon, the trail climbs high into the hills above, and you can see the crumbled remains of the flume itself, as well as a couple of abandoned tunnels. Warning: it’s not for the faint of heart, as the trail is pretty narrow in a couple of spots and it’s a LONG way down, plus you’re scrambling over rocks. But the views are worth it.
We were back at camp by 9:30, and enjoyed a nice leisurely breakfast and read books for a couple of hours before it was time to break down camp and head home. All in all it was a great weekend getaway, and we can’t wait to do some more camping next summer! I figure things will be a little less hectic then since, you know, we won’t be busy planning this big 1,250-mile cross-country move.
The weather has taken a definite turn the past couple of days and given us an early taste of fall. It’s going to be short-lived, but is still a nice reminder that “summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” (Sonnet 18 is the only Shakespeare work I can quote. I’m pretty sure I memorized that one to impress the ladies once upon a time, ha.) Yesterday we awoke to a cold rain and gusty winds. The high never made it above 65, which felt wonderful, to be honest.
And then this morning I was up early for a walk around the neighborhood and practically froze my ass off. I had to put on a hoodie and quickly regretted not grabbing gloves, too. Rapid City got down to 43 degrees. Brr! It’s funny to think in a few months a temperature like that will feel downright toasty.
I sometimes forget the seasons are going to change – and quite dramatically, at that. It’s been perpetual summer here ever since we arrived, so this is all I know right now. I think that’s why this morning’s unexpected chill was such a shock to the system. It’s pretty much always been 65 degrees when I’ve gone for a morning walk. Where did this come from?!
Fortunately, Saturday’s weather was perfect, so we ended up going to the Central States Fair. Neither Tara nor I had been to a fair in years, but Rapid City’s seemed so quaint and inexpensive compared to what I’m used to, we couldn’t resist! I mean, admission cost $3 per person, and there was plenty of free parking in a grassy lot just steps from the main gate. Hell, the “gate” wasn’t even an actual gate, but a couple of wooden podiums staffed by friendly volunteers. It would have cost us a total of $29.50 to gain admission to the Clark County Fair in Washington this year, so you can understand my excitement over handing them a $10 bill and getting change back.
The fair itself was your typical county fair. We strolled the midway, checked out the arts & crafts and livestock exhibits, and ate bad-for-you-but-oh-so-good fair food. We even struck up a conversation with an oil & vinegar vendor who’d come all the way from La Grande, Oregon to sell his wares. I felt sorry for the guy because he’d traveled such a distance and business wasn’t as brisk as he’d hoped. We bought a couple of bottles but he gave us one for free and would only take half price on the others. He actually said if we come back near the end he’d load us up with more bottles for free. I guess we made quite the impression!
Funny side note: I bought a bottle of strawberry and black pepper balsamic vinegar which his card touted was “Amazing in Bloody Marys!” I asked him if he’d ever actually used it in a Bloody Mary and he just looked at me and laughed. “Hell, no!” he admitted. “That’s just something I wrote to help it sell!” Well, I didn’t think it was a completely horrible idea, so the next morning I made myself a Bloody Mary using the vinegar and you know what? It was pretty damn good.
Guy’s sitting on a goldmine and doesn’t even know it.
After the fair, we came home and watched the Broncos-Bears preseason football game. It was great, right up until the last few minutes.
Sunday we bundled up against the early autumn chill and headed out to Denver Mattress to buy a king bed. It looks like we might have our first visitors Labor Day weekend, as my parents have expressed an interest in flying out here. Yay! Tara’s been wanting to upgrade to a king for years and we’ll need a spare bed for guests, so it was time to bite the bullet and get ‘er done. Found one we both liked and were in and out of the store in less than an hour. The only downside? It has to be ordered from Sealy and might take as long as two weeks to arrive, so we may have to use the air mattress for this particular visit.
(Don’t worry, mom and dad. We’ll give you the bed.)
Speaking of the air mattress, we’ll be using it this weekend because we’re going camping. I booked us a reservation at Sheridan Lake the week after we got here (something that would have been impossible in the PNW, where you have to book a spot a year in advance these days). We’re looking forward to doing a bit of hiking, enjoying a roaring campfire, and indulging in a few of those strawberry and black pepper balsamic vinegar-infused Bloody Marys! The weather looks to be perfect, too: low 80s and dry. I don’t imagine tent camping in a thunderstorm is much fun.