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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