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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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!

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.