Blast from the Past

First things first: I need a good oatmeal recipe. I’m used to buying Trader Joe’s frozen steel cut oatmeal. Looks like an oversized hockey puck, but it’s surprisingly delicious and simple to make: two minutes in the microwave, stir, another minute and twenty seconds, and dig in. However, there is no Trader Joe’s in South Dakota, so I’ve been struggling to find a decent alternative.steelcut

In case you were wondering, instant oatmeal in a packet is not a decent alternative.

I might add that Harriet & Oak makes an excellent oatmeal – probably the best I’ve ever tried – but it’s not always practical to run downtown whenever I want a bowl. I’d rather just make it myself (and save money in the process).

So I’ve gotta figure something out. I found a few recipes online that look promising. Like this one. But if anybody else has a go-to recipe, I’m all ears.

Tara’s birthday last Friday was nice, even if she did have to work. We met for lunch and spent the evening playing cards, listening to records, and eating pizza. Just like our old life in Washington, only we were serenaded with a thunderstorm this time. When Tara’s coworkers learned it was her birthday, they got her a cake. Nice gesture! Today marks her third day there but so far it seems like a good fit. It’s a far less stressful position than the one in Vancouver. Another benefit to living in a smaller town.

DSC_0044Our real celebration was supposed to be on Saturday. Her birthday gift was a room at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge, something I’d booked four months earlier. We loaded the truck and took our time driving up there, detouring through Lead and hiking out to Roughlock Falls and back. When it came time to check in, Tara joked that it was going to be a great evening “unless they turn us away.”

They turned us away.

I wish I was kidding, but no such luck. Remember the thunderstorm that “serenaded” us the evening before? It was screaming at the top of its lungs out in Spearfish and caused quite a bit of damage. The lodge lost power Friday night and it was still out 19 hours later when we attempted to check in. That meant they could not honor our reservation. They’d tried calling me, but my phone number changed after I booked the room, so they weren’t able to get through to me. They did send an email, but that was mid-afternoon and we were already hiking a mile from the lodge by then. Plus, we had no cell service anyway.

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I was devastated, to be honest. I’d planned this all so carefully and was proud of the fact that I’d booked us such a great getaway. To her credit, Tara was unfazed and suggested we find a Plan B. We had read about a cool, retro 1950s-themed motel in Custer that we wanted to check out someday, but I figured the odds of snagging a last-minute room on a Saturday night at the height of tourist season in a town within spitting distance of both Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore were slim to none. Somehow, luckily, I was able to get a room and salvage her birthday weekend. So we regrouped in Lead over a couple of drinks and a plate of onion rings and then drove the hour and thirteen minutes south to Custer.

The Rocket Motel certainly lived up to its hype. It was unbelievably cool! Vintage decor throughout, right down to the furnishings and tile. And it was one of the cleanest motels we’ve ever stayed in. Plus, the bed was super comfortable. You might say the place was firing on all cylinders! We wandered down to a bar and grill the manager recommended for a bite to eat, then went back to the motel. They had a covered patio and since the weather was perfect, we brought out wine and a cribbage board and played until the chilly night air drove us inside, where we played some more. I have to say, as far as Plan Bs go, this one was killer.

The next morning we grabbed breakfast at a little cafe downtown before checking out. Drove through Custer State Park next, stopping at the Mount Coolidge fire lookout tower to take in the views before heading to the Wildlife Loop.

That certainly did not disappoint! We were two-thirds of the way through and had seen the usual prairie dogs, burros, and pronghorn antelope, but hadn’t stumbled across any bison yet. And then we rounded a bend and there they were. Everywhere. There were hundreds of them, as far as the eye could see. It was a breathtaking sight, and reminded me of the scene in “Dances With Wolves” where they crest a ridge and find a veritable sea of buffalo in the valley below.

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If you’ve never been to Custer State Park and driven the Wildlife Loop, do it.

All in all, it was a pretty great weekend, even though it didn’t go as planned. But in some ways those are the best kinds of weekends, aren’t they?

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July has been unusually cool and wet. It’s weird to have triple the normal precipitation and high temperatures 15-20 degrees below average while the PNW is roasting through an extended heatwave. Sounds like they’re about to find some relief just as our temps are warming up to seasonal norms.

These next couple of weekends are going to be low-key, because the 2018 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (we have learned locals call it simply “the rally”) is about to commence, and with that comes a lot of noise and streets crowded with bikers. They’ve even put up temporary traffic lights throughout the Black Hills to help control the throngs of people. It’s great for the local economy, but not so much if you want to get out and do things. Or so we’ve heard.

I see a lot of movies in our immediate future.

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And then all hail broke loose…

I’ve said it before, though never using a fruit analogy: the weather here is bananas.

Take Tuesday, for instance. Our day started out quietly enough; we decided to go for a hike along the Sunday Gulch Trail in Custer State Park. Can I just say how different the trails are out here? No ferns or towering Douglas firs, but lots of Ponderosa pines and spruce trees, and quartz, mica, and obsidian deposits so abundant they make me want to take up rock collecting. Also: no bags of dog shit scattered about. And the scenery! It. Is. Incredible.

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This particular hike was like none I’d ever done before. You descend into a forest, cross a stream, and then there’s a steep scramble up rocks that are covered in cascading water. It was tougher than anticipated, but well worth the effort!

During our hike, I made a remark about how unfortunate it would be to get caught in a thunderstorm. No sooner had the words left my mouth than towering dark clouds rolled in, followed by rumbling thunder. Luckily, it wasn’t anything too bad; we got a little wet but were otherwise none the worse for wear.

Worse for wear came later.

After hanging out at Sylvan Lake for a little bit, we drove out to Hill City to stop at Prairie Berry Winery for lunch. We decided to eat on their covered patio, and were midway through our meal when all hail broke loose. Literally. One moment it was quiet; the next, thunder roared, lightning flashed, and a drenching rain – accompanied by hail the size of ping pong balls – came crashing to earth. It was so loud under the tent it sounded like a freight train. Suddenly, there was a river of hail sweeping through the place, and it piled up about 2′ high under the gutter. That’s feet, not inches.

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The temperature dropped about 30 degrees and we were suddenly shivering, so we made our way inside to find staff members mopping up water that was seeping into the place. And then on the way out, they were shoveling it off the sidewalk as if it were snow. Unreal!

I posted a video of the hail on Facebook; feel free to check it out for yourself!

Once the hail started coming down like that, I knew my car wasn’t going to come through unscathed. Sure enough, it’s all dinged up now. Which sucks, but at least the damage is only cosmetic. As one local on Instagram commented, “Your South Dakota christening! Now your car blends right in with the rest of us!” And while I’m busy counting blessings, thank god the storm that rolled through when we were hiking wasn’t anywhere near as bad.

So Rapid City has 5.00″ of rain so far this month. The normal is 1.00″. Crazy, huh? And we still have 11 days to go.

Sure makes for a pretty sky, though…

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In other, non-weather-related happenings, we took a trip out to Deadwood last Sunday. I think I mentioned that we’ve been catching up on the HBO series Deadwood, a perk of Amazon Prime, so it was pretty cool to hang out where all the real-life action took place and learn more about Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock. The highlight was the Mount Moriah Cemetery, where all three are buried. Calamity Jane’s dying wish was to be buried alongside ol’ Bill, and she got what she wanted.

We have also discovered the wonders of Thursday nights in downtown Rapid City, where there are dueling entertainment options through August: concerts in Main Street Square, and more concerts on the Summer Nights stage on blocked-off St. Joseph Street. And here I thought our music-going days were finished! Last night we grabbed dinner at Que Pasa and then hung out in the square, drinking beer and rocking out to an 80s cover band. By the end of their third set we were actually dancing in front of the stage. Afterwards, we headed over to Press Start and totally continued the 80s theme by sinking quarters into video arcade games. They have a Tempest machine – my all-time favorite. We’re having so much fun here!

One more quick thing to report: Tara was offered a job this morning and accepted!! She made it look real easy, huh? She’ll be a commercial loan processor for a local community bank and is pretty excited for the opportunity. Since she’ll be working F/T and won’t have any PTO for a while, she’s going to zip down to Nevada for a few days to visit family and see her new nephew. Leaving tomorrow, returning Thursday. Which means I’m on my own, I guess.

If only there were fun things to do around here…

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.