Spot 68: Pretty Great

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.

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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.

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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:

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Which was rivaled only by the next morning’s sunrise.

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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.

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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.

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Rally the Troops

When the Sturgis Rally came to town, we did our best to avoid it. Spent all last weekend cooped up indoors, watching movies and laying low. The constant rumble of motorcycle engines was trying, and the attendant traffic issues – all those bikers clogging the roads in and around the Black Hills – felt like a personal affront. So when Tara suggested we drive up to Sturgis Friday night and check out the rally for ourselves, I was initially skeptical. I figured we’d stick out like sore thumbs, a couple of non-motorcycle-riding new to town. Our point had been to avoid all of the commotion, so changing tactics and planting ourselves smack dab in the middle of what can best be described as a bacchanalia of hedonistic craziness and smoked turkey legs seemed counterintuitive to our agenda.

But the more I thought about it, the more intriguing the idea seemed. Tara’s new coworkers urged her to go, saying the rally is something everybody should experience at least once. And besides, I was going stir-crazy after being cooped up in the apartment for the better part of 10 days. I was ready for a break, and told her I was all in. So on Friday after work, we found ourselves heading west on Interstate 90, right into the heart of biker country.

To my astonishment, I ended up having the time of my life.

Words cannot even describe the spectacle that is the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Picture hundreds of bikes lined up in neat rows along Main Street, and thousands of people strolling around, most of them decked out in leather and wearing bandanas. Topless women – just a few, but enough to keep me on my toes – with strategically placed pasties or painted skin. And those aforementioned turkey legs, along with a collection of other deep fried delicacies that would make Crisco stockholders weep for joy. And on every corner Bud Light and Jack Daniels and Twisted Tea.

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According to the media, the modern Sturgis Rally is a lot mellower than in years past, mostly due to the fact that the hellions of yesteryear are now elderly. It’s  hard to feel intimidated by cane-wielding octogenarians, even if they have badass rides, ya know? And there were plenty of other people like us walking around – even a handful of families with kids. I never felt out of place or in danger. Quite the opposite, actually: I ended up having the time of my life.

It didn’t even matter that it was a warm summer evening – that just made our cold drinks taste even better. After strolling up and down Main Street for a while, we ducked into the Loud American, a bar Tara’s coworkers had recommended. We enjoyed live music, Bud Light and Cheladas, and just about the best damn steak tips ever. Not to mention some excellent people watching.

Then it was back to the main drag for more fun. By now the sun had gone down and the night was comfortable. We enjoyed seeing the motorcycles show off their custom lights. Among other things.

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When all is said and done, I have to admit we had a much better time than expected. I guess I didn’t know what to expect exactly; it’s not like my parents ever took us to the rally back in the 1980s. I’m pretty sure my head would have exploded if they had.

But now that it’s over, I find myself missing the hustle and bustle a little bit. I am sitting on our patio writing this post as the sun is sinking low and shish kabobs are sizzling on the grill, and it’s noticeably quieter than it has been in a couple of weeks. I mean, that’s nice, of course…but I am already looking forward to next August. I’m pretty sure the Sturgis Rally will be an annual event for us, even though we’re about as far from being the biker type as possible.

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Donut Judge Me!

I basically drove 100 miles today for a donut.

It was a damn good donut, if that helps. And that was a 100-mile roundtrip. I only went 50 miles in each direction to get it. I hope that makes me sound a little less crazy.donut

Trust me. It was worth it.

OK, I didn’t just go to Wall Drug for the donut, though that (and the 5-cent cup of coffee) was certainly the highlight. I was looking to get out of the apartment for a few hours and figured a jaunt down I-90 to my favorite kitsch-heavy drugstore mecca was just the ticket. And while I bemoaned the fact that the place was overrun with tourists at 9:30 in the morning, I walked out of there with a baseball cap, coffee mug, sticker, and bottle of hot sauce, which begs the question: even though I live here now, can I truly be considered a local if I’m buying touristy stuff myself?

In my defense, Wall Drug was a regular getaway for us when we lived here in the 1980s, and I’m finding it all sorts of fun to revisit these places from my past. I’m finding I have a whole new perspective as an adult.

Take Tuesday, for instance. It was our one-month anniversary in South Dakota (yes, it’s been that long already!) and I decided to commemorate the occasion by going for a hike. My destination was Harney…err, Black Elk…Peak. They changed the name two years ago to honor a Lakota medicine man; the Sioux consider the place to be sacred ground and it is where Black Elk had a great vision at the age of nine. I have fond memories of hiking here with my family and couldn’t wait to get back. At 7,244′, Black Elk Peak isn’t only the tallest mountain in South Dakota; it’s actually the highest point east of the Rockies and west of the Pyrenees in Europe. Which sounds like one hell of a climb, but keep in mind the elevation at the trailhead is already 6,000’. It’s about a seven-mile roundtrip and really wasn’t all that strenuous save for the last mile, where you’re traversing a series of switchbacks and stone stairs carved into the trail. I have to admit I was a little bit winded just because I’m still getting acclimated to living on the high plains after three decades at sea level, but I had plenty of water and never doubted I’d make it to the top.

It was totally worth the effort, too! Honestly, it was even better than I remembered.The scenery is off the charts. Towering ponderosa pines, purple and yellow wildflowers, sheer granite cliffs, burbling streams, and views for days. And this is what I mean about different perspectives – I don’t ever recall being blown away by it all 30 years ago as I was on Tuesday. I guess teenagers don’t have the same appreciation for the beauty of nature as adults do.

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Love this bench!

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Here’s the view from the bench. See that triangle-shaped dot near the top left? That’s the lookout tower.

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Perfect day for a hike!

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Looking east across the prairie.

Once you reach the summit, there’s a stone tower that once served as a fire lookout; one time my family had to wait out a furious thunderstorm sheltered there, and hail covered the trail during our descent. This time there was only sunshine and a few puffy clouds to deal with. The 360-degree view is incredible – you can see four states from the summit (Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota). It’s really something. It took me about four hours to complete the hike, and that includes quite a bit of time sitting on a rock outcropping gazing at the distant prairie that stretched across a seemingly endless horizon and wondering once again how I ever ended up back here. It still feels unreal! I’m not prone to Zen moments, but I came damn close on Tuesday. It definitely brought back memories and gave me All The Feels.

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Made it to the top!

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I believe that’s North Dakota off in the distance.

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Successful summiteers tie their bandanas to poles and trees.

Afterwards, I came home and knocked out a couple of work assignments. As I did today. I feel like I have the best of both worlds right now; there’s plenty of freedom without any stress over money. So this is what it’s like to be retired! Although I must admit, I do find myself losing track of which day of the week it is. It always feels like it’s a couple of days later than it really is; Tuesday feels like Thursday, Wednesday feels like Friday. I suspect that will change once Tara begins her new job tomorrow and we revert to a whole new, more normal routine.

I also have to say, I’m already lamenting what feels like the end of an era. I will always look back on our first month here as one big free-spirited adventure. But of course, I knew it wouldn’t last. Nor would we want it to, as that would mean we were jobless and destitute. Freedom isn’t much fun if you can’t afford to go out and do anything, let alone pay the rent. So this is good!

Speaking of Tara, she should be home in about an hour. When last we spoke she was in eastern Wyoming making her way back to me. I’ll be happy to see her, as the novelty of being on my own wore off days ago.

 

It’s a Wild, Wildlife

Lots of irons in the proverbial fire out here, folks. I don’t want to go into specifics so as not to jinx anything, but all the pieces seem to be falling into place. Or at least stacking up like they’re going to. For both of us.

Vague enough for you? Not to worry: all will be revealed in time.

One thing that has taken some getting used to is having so much free time. Since I’m no longer shackled to a traditional desk job, I find myself working in short but intense bursts. Mondays are my busy day; I usually put in a full eight hours and get the majority of my assignments done. That gives me a lot of flexibility the rest of the week, which allows us to run errands or go exploring. I know this freedom isn’t going to last forever, so I’m trying to take advantage as much as possible while I have the opportunity.

This week was no exception. I had a lot of work on Monday, a little bit on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then it was basically the weekend for me. So on Wednesday, we took a drive to Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills. This was our third lake in eight days; part of me feels like we should pace ourselves, but really, what’s the point? We’ve already purchased a SD state parks annual pass, giving us free access to these places for a year, and it’s not like we’re going to get tired of any of them. I mean, how could we?

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I have fond memories of Sylvan Lake from the 1980s. We’d come out in winter, and there were people who drove their cars onto the frozen lake – that’s how cold it gets, and how thick the ice is. I don’t know if people still do that, what with global warming and all, but I know ice fishing is still popular there.

There was no ice fishing taking place on Wednesday, of course. Just lots of people cooling off in the water – swimming, kayaking, and jumping from the surrounding rocks. It was all pretty idyllic. We ended up hiking the one-mile loop around the lake and marveling over the scenery.

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After circling the lake and stopping in the general store for a bite to eat, we hit the road again. We were traversing the famed Needles Highway, named for the granite rock spires that resemble needles. Specifically this one:

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This National Scenic Byway really is one of the most breathtaking roads I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving.

After snapping pics of the Needle’s Eye above, we were waiting to pass through a tunnel carved in the rock but for some reason there was a vehicle stopped in the middle of it, not moving. A few minutes later a car came through and the driver told us there was a small herd of mountain goats on the other side of the tunnel, including a baby. What?! I passed through the tunnel on foot, and sure enough…

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Now, there’s a scene you don’t see every day. These guys were close enough to touch, but I gave them respect and distance. There was an incident in Olympic National Park a few years ago in which a hiker was gored to death by a mountain goat, and while this herd was clearly used to people and seemed unfazed by our presence, I wasn’t going to chance it.

From there, we made our way into Custer State Park and decided to drive the Wildlife Loop. It lived up to its name once again. Bonus: another baby!

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Last December a wildfire tore through the park and while there is a lot of burn damage, it’s still a very beautiful place. And with all the rain we’ve had this year, it’s looking quite green and lush, with yellow and purple wildflowers carpeting the prairie.

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No wonder it was after dark before we finally decided to head home. We got back much later than planned, which forced us to change our dinner plans because nothing was open at that hour. Except for Taco John’s, that is, and while it may not have been a fancy choice, you really can’t beat their steak burritos and potato ole’s.

We made up for that on Thursday by going downtown for Rapid City Summer Nights, a free weekly festival featuring music, food, craft beer, and more. They essentially shut down a four-street intersection and put up a stage, tents, etc.

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At the same time, Main Street Square features their own entertainment just a few blocks away with Thursdays on the Square. It’s a happenin’ night in Rapid, folks! Be there or be square, as the kids say.

We had a great time and can’t wait to go again next week.

Sensory Overload

We have done so much exploring the past week, I’m experiencing sensory overload. In the best way possible.

When I last updated, we were about to head out into the Black Hills to check out Sheridan Lake, despite the fact that a Severe Thunderstorm Watch had been issued for the area. Sure enough, we encountered ominous looking clouds the moment we left, and experienced some thunder, lightning, and rain on the way to the lake. And when we got there, we were treated to the following sight:

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Those storms weren’t so bad, I thought. Little did I know they were only a preview for the main event. There was no cell service up there, so I could not access my trusty Doppler radar app. Had I done so, I’d have seen this line of severe thunderstorms bearing down on us.

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Maybe ignorance is bliss. Thinking we were out of danger, we were able to enjoy the spectacular scenery around the lake.

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Daylight was fading, so we eventually headed back to town. As soon as we had service again, I got a weather alert about the approaching storms, so we did what any sensible person would do in this situation: headed for the highest peak in Rapid City with metal tripods in gear so we could take pictures!

OK, in retrospect maybe this wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But we were hardly alone: there was quite the crowd gathered up at Dinosaur Park, watching lightning flickering constantly over the Hills as the storm approached. Soon it was all around us and thunder was booming overhead, so we decided to pack it in. Tara got this fantastic shot:

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It started raining just as we reached the truck, and for the next 90 minutes the storm raged on, with nonstop lightning, thunder, and heavy rain. We ducked into Buffalo Wild Wings for a late dinner, and even over the noise from the crowded bar, we could still hear it. What a fun night!

The next day was the 4th of July, and I was feeling especially patriotic this year. Maybe because we live in the City of Presidents now. Plus, here in the heartland, people are more unabashedly pro-America than on the West Coast, so that probably rubbed off on me, too. Normally we spend the holiday lazing around home, but this time we decided to head downtown and check out the festivities at Main Street Square. Really though, it was just an excuse to bar-hop our way around town. At least everything was within a few-block radius, so we didn’t have to worry about driving.

This gave us a great opportunity to check out some of the local bars (Firehouse Brewing, The Brass Rail, Independent Ale House), and we even played video games at Press Start. They had Tempest! My favorite game ever!

Afterwards we headed over to Founder’s Park to check out the city’s fireworks display. We had no problem finding a place to park right across the street; we spread a blanket out on the grass and enjoyed the show.

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It was such a fun holiday! Way better than staying home, that’s for sure.

Thursday felt downright tame in comparison. I went back to work, but instead of hitting Harriet & Oak or the library, I just worked from home. And had all my weekly assignments finished by noon, which means I’ve essentially had a long weekend ever since. It’s hard to wrap my head around this; almost feels like I’m getting away with something I’m not supposed to! I think the secret is, I’m just really productive when there aren’t other people distracting me. I’m going to check out a coworking space downtown called The Garage on Monday; they have a variety of different memberships available, including daily, weekly, and monthly leases; these give you access to a table or desk, wi-fi, and bottomless coffee. It’s worth the $10 drop-in fee to me, since I spent at least that much at the coffeeshop, and this way I won’t feel like I’m not supposed to be there all day. Should this freelance/independent contractor thing pan out, I might just consider signing up for a space there. At least that way I’m surrounded by other creative types, and it will feel more like “going to work.”

Friday we drove around town checking out various houses Tara had found, just to get a feel for the different neighborhoods. We are pretty much in love with this part of town, the northwest side, so when we do buy we’ll probably focus our efforts here. At least it would make our move a lot easier.

Because it was a hot day, we drove out to Pactola Reservoir in the afternoon. This lake is massive, and even though the temperature was pushing 90 degrees, the breeze coming off the water was refreshing. Plus, there were baby ducks and geese!

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We came home, listened to records, played cribbage, and grilled buffalo burgers and corn on the cob for dinner. Spent quite a while chatting with our neighbor, Cici. She is super friendly (like everybody in the Midwest), and I can see us hanging out with her and Tyler, her boyfriend, in the future. Funny, we spent four years in our last apartment and never got to know any of our neighbors.

Today is going to be really hot – they’re forecasting 100 degrees – so we got up early, took a nice, long walk around Canyon Lake Park, and are planning on holing up the rest of the day, enjoying our A/C and watching movies.

Enjoy your weekend!

Mystery Solved

Remember the mystery animal cracker that appeared out of nowhere on my parents’ front porch, leaving me and Tara befuddled and a little bit creeped out? We have an explanation, and sadly it involves neither ghosts nor aliens. My brother had texted me and said, “Hey, I think dad eats animal crackers all the time! Check with him.” So I did, and he does. Much to my chagrin. It didn’t take much sleuthing to figure out that he’d been eating them in his recliner, dropped one that fell between the cushions, and when we dragged the chair to the curb that afternoon because a stranger was on his way to pick it up, the cracker must have dislodged itself and fallen onto the welcome mat, which perfectly explains why it had not been there before. As proud as I am of our Sherlock Holmes deductive reasoning, I’m bummed that we debunked any possible paranormal activity. I always want the world to be weirder than it is.

Oh, well. The incident inspired me to write about synchronicity, a pretty interesting (and illogical) topic in its own right, so all was not for naught.

Speaking of synchronicity, I’m kind of amazed at the way dates are lining up for me. Not dates with other women – Tara might not approve – but rather, calendar dates. Our move is coinciding remarkably well with my 2011 road trip, and it’s completely unintentional. Consider the following:

  • I set out on the afternoon of June 22 and spent the first night in Spokane. We are setting out on the afternoon of June 22 and spending the first night in Spokane.
  • I drove from Spokane to Billings, MT on June 23 and spent the night there. We are driving from Spokane to Billings, MT on June 23 and spending the night there.
  • I arrived in Rapid City early in the afternoon on June 24 and checked into the Super 8 on Rushmore Road. We arrive in Rapid City early in the afternoon on June 24 and are checking into the Super 8 on Rushmore Road.

There were crazy thunderstorms a few hours after I arrived, so if this pattern continues, I guess we can expect to be greeted by some interesting weather. We shall see.


Still no change with Sydney: she just absolutely refuses to eat or drink. We are basically forcing her to swallow water through a syringe. Trust me, this is not nearly as fun as it sounds.

And yes, I know. It doesn’t sound fun at all.

The vet is still convinced it’s all stress related to the move. We told her we cannot afford to run any more tests, and she says doing so would be useless anyway, because they have all come back normal.

She still curls up on our laps, and purrs when we pet her. Other than giving us the stink eye after trying to force feed her – and the fact that she refuses all food and water in the first place – she seems okay.

So, we just don’t know. The vet is going to check in with us again on Friday.


When we decided to move to South Dakota and I began researching hiking opportunities, I was excited (and relieved) to learn there are no bears in the Black Hills. I have long been afraid of encountering a bear while hiking through the forests of the PNW, so I figured this was one less thing to worry about.

And then, a couple of days ago, some poor sap was golfing in Spearfish, SD, when he was bit by a rattlesnake and died.

Umm, what?!

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Great. A new source of nightmares.

Turns out the prairie rattlesnake is common throughout South Dakota, including the Black Hills. Hmm…that was news to this former resident. Hikers are urged to exercise caution when out and about, especially this time of year.

I guess I’m trading in one phobia for another.

Countdown: 9 Days