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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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.

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!

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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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.

Upgrade to a King

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. IMG_20180819_105334_295

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.

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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.

Blast from the Past Part II

Last week I took a stroll down Memory Lane.

Needing a mental break from two full days of work, on Wednesday I drove out to Ellsworth AFB, my home from 1983-86. Civilians aren’t generally allowed on military installations, but the South Dakota Air & Space Museum just outside the main gate offers a $10 bus tour of the base, complete with a visit to a Minuteman II missile silo. The lure of setting foot on base again was impossible to resist, so after checking out the museum – pretty cool in its own right, with an extensive collection of military aircraft outside and two hangars’ worth of historical displays indoors – I boarded the bus and settled in for the base tour.

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My tour guide, Garry, was great. He started out by asking if anybody had ever been out to the area before, and when I told him that I had lived on base for three years and had just moved back to the area to escape the crowds and high cost of living on the west coast, he informed me that his circumstances were nearly the same. He’d been stationed at EAFB until 1982, when he was transferred to California. After several miserable decades there, he came back to Rapid City six months ago. Said he’d been to all 50 states and this was his favorite place.

Garry and I bonded.

It was a real trip being on base again! It was like stepping through a portal and going back in time, even though most of the housing has been modernized. We drove right by Ohio Avenue, the street we’d lived on three decades earlier, and I learned the crappy duplexes we’d been stuck in had been torn down and replaced with beautiful new houses that have covered porches and garages. Garages, guys! We had to plug our car in during the winter because we didn’t have so much as a carport even. This generation of military families has it so much better.

Some things were blessedly unchanged. The movie theater was exactly as I remembered it, and the ponds we used to fish in were all still there. I swear, I had goosebumps while we drove around. It’s all still so surreal to me. A mere 14 months ago I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d be walking around Ellsworth AFB again.

The highlight of the tour was definitely the missile silo. It had been converted into a training facility complete with an actual Minuteman II inside, the size of which is just amazing. At one time 150 of these missiles were buried beneath the plains of western South Dakota, aimed at Russia and ready to launch on a moment’s notice. They were deactivated in 1991 and have all since been removed, but Garry did tell us there are currently 400 armed missiles in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. That ought to sober you up!

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Thank god we survived the Cold War without incident.

After the base tour and museum visit, I drove over to my alma mater, Douglas High School. Even though I did not graduate from DHS, I’ve always felt a much stronger kinship with that school than the one that gave me my diploma, Milpitas HS. Probably because I went to Douglas for three years and was only at Milpitas my senior year. All my best high school memories are at Douglas; I was a newcomer at Milpitas and hardly knew anybody. Anyway, I did stop by DHS on my road trip out here in 2011, but this time the gate to the football field was open so I walked around the track, absorbing all the feels. Again, so many memories came flashing back. Good ones. I was always happy living here, which I can’t say about every place I’ve been, that’s for sure.

The rest of the week – and weekend – were low-key. We set up folding camp chairs at Main Street Square on Thursday for a free Georgia Satellites concert. Remember those guys? One-hit wonders from 1986 with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself“? I can’t believe they’re still around.

Friday evening we played cards, listened to records, ate pizza, drank rum, and walked to the video store to load up on movies. The Sturgis Rally is in full swing now, and we didn’t want to venture out and deal with a million motorcyclists. I mean, they’re all over town; you walk down the street and see groups of five, 10, or 15 Harley Davidsons, one after another, roaring by. It doesn’t really bother me, but I also would rather avoid the traffic in the Black Hills. So we’ve pretty much sat around and watched movies all weekend. I envision a lot of Saturdays and Sundays like this when the temperature is below zero. Kind of a shame it was overcast and 75 today!