Friday, June 27, 2014

Thunderstorms and Dry Spells

I had reached the promised land. At least, that was what I had been led to believe, but there was no sustenance here. There was no relief from my long travels. I wandered through the wasteland, hoping for something... anything that might lead me to the reward I had been promised, but to no avail. In a last desperate attempt to fill the growing emptiness, I pulled out my cell phone. As if to taunt me, the 4G symbol flashed at me for a half-second before dropping to zero bars and staying there. I reconnected to the WiFi network once again and attempted to load a webpage. "This page cannot be loaded at this time," my phone chided me. Dropping to my knees, the last of my hope finally gone, I knew the truth; this was no promised land. There was no internet here, and there never would be. But then a striking figure appeared before me, the afternoon sun glaring behind him, obscuring his face. I squinted up at this new, heroic visage, finally making out a nametag on his chest. My heart leapt. The prophecies were true! The Satellite Technician had come on the third day to restore the promised land to its former glory, and I quenched my thirst on the waters of the web.

Guess we'll leave the front shade up
That was Wednesday, so I guess we should back up a bit. When last you had news of the three Rains' travels, we were in Casper, WY, bound for the Black Hills of South Dakota, where my old folks have a home. On Saturday, June 21, we left Casper and drove northeast, arriving in Sturgis, SD around mid afternoon. Now Sturgis is only about a 30 minute drive from the house, but it is a vacation rental home 95% of the year, and it would be occupied until Monday morning. We stayed in the Sturgis RV Park in the meantime, a Passport America campground. Apparently if you are a member of P.A. it only takes two or three stays in such parks to make the membership pay for itself. Since the three of us got to stay for $15 per night, I suspect my parents' math is accurate. Anyway, the park is on a hillside, overlooking the town of Sturgis and the hills beyond, and the view is truly something to behold. We couldn't figure out why the place was mostly deserted. I guess depending on your interests, you may or may not find enough entertainment in Sturgis and the area surrounding it, but if you are ever in western South Dakota, I highly recommend it.

The Not-So-Elusive Wildlife
With half an afternoon to kill, we decided to do some sightseeing. The weather report said there would be heavy thunderstorms, but the sky was blue, with only a few wispy clouds. We laughed at the inept weathermen, loaded the dogs into the car, and drove into the hills. We were aiming for Spearfish Canyon, to drive along the Spearfish Creek and look for wildlife, but since my parents were navigating, and my parents have no idea where Spearfish Canyon is, I cannot say with great confidence that we did that. We definitely drove along some canyon, and there did seem to be a creek, but it's anybody's guess as to the name of either. As we drove, the road turned from asphalt to gravel, from gravel to dirt, but our trusty Subaru didn't skip a beat. We had no idea where the dirt road would take us, or if we would ever see civilization again, but I was happy to keep piloting the SUV, upshifting and downshifting, until we came up out of the canyon and into some hilly farmland. At this point, Mom intimated that she was getting quite hungry, and with 20 minutes of driving behind us and a complete unknown ahead, I turned around and headed back down the canyon. My parents had told me that Guadalajara's was the best Mexican food in South Dakota, and I was looking forward to a big meal. They had been there before, and we knew it was in the town of Spearfish, so I figured we'd be sitting down to eat in 40 minutes or so. Around two hours later, with empty stomachs and sour moods, we found the place. All was soon forgotten as we gorged ourselves on chile rellenos and fajitas. It definitely lived up to the hype, and we made the most of what will probably be our last chance at good Mexican food for a while. I definitely recommend the Guadalajara Special if you are in the mood to eat yourself into a coma.

As we exited the restaurant, the predicted thunderstorm finally hit. We were wet and cold by the time we reached the car, and the drive back was both exhilarating and terrifying. I could only see about 25 feet in front of the car as I drove down the highway, using the two disembodied tail lights ahead to estimate where the road was. Every so often a disturbingly close bolt of lightning would illuminate the landscape, confirming that I was, in fact, still in the right lane... and on the highway. We spent the evening with the lights in the RV off, watching out the windshield as lightning cascaded across the sky.

There's room for another face up there... just sayin'.
By late Sunday morning, the clouds had cleared, so we went out to see all the things in the area my parents had toured a year ago, but which I had never seen. Imagine watching someone else's favorite movie for the first time, and they keep saying, "Oh yeah, this is the REALLY good part," except instead of a movie, it's the state of South Dakota. I decided that it would be a shame to come through South Dakota and not see Mt. Rushmore with my own eyes, so we made that our first stop. The lighting wasn't the best, but I think even if we'd come right at dawn with the sun hitting the presidents' faces, my suspicions would still have been confirmed: Mt. Rushmore is seriously overrated. Pictures make it look much bigger than it seems when you see it as part of the entire cliff face, and it's definitely not worth an $11 parking fee for the chance to wade through a thousand tourists just to look up the presidents' noses. We passed that parking lot and went around the back where you could only see Washington, but it was free. Besides, despite what I said before, it is still a giant hulking sculpture in the side of a mountain; you don't need to pay to get a good view of it. You can see it perfectly well from two miles away.  All negativity aside, it really is an impressive work of sculpture, and I think it's definitely the best four giant heads carved into a sacred mountain I've ever seen.

Wallowing: The natural state of bison
After Rushmore, we drove through Custer State Park (named for George Armstrong Custer, because I guess once you deface... er, quadraface their sacred mountain, you can't really piss off the Lakota Sioux any more than you already have). It was a pretty drive through green forest and meadows, but the highlight was definitely our encounter with a herd of bison on the way out of the park. For those who are interested (read: nobody), while American bison are often referred to as buffalo, even by state park signs, they are only distantly related to true buffalo, which are native to Africa and Asia, making buffalo a bit of a misnomer. Anyway, what you really need to know about buffa--I mean bison is that they are around the same size as your car, there are way more of them than there are of you, and when they decide that the main highway is easier than navigating the forest, traffic definitely yields to the bison. Also, while they generally seem docile to the point of stupidity, making them the easy natural prey of the American pioneer, their heads can deliver 2000 lbs of force at 30 mph, so, you know, roll those windows up. I also once heard that they can defecate with enough force to kill a man, but now I think that park ranger may have been having fun with me.

Buffalo-sized Traffic Jam... with Bison

On Monday, we arrived at the house, and as previously indicated, discovered there was no internet. With boredom closing in on all sides, we spent Monday through Wednesday doing various chores and errands, primarily attempting to sort through a mountain of boxes in the garage left over from the move from California. We did have a few good meals though, worth mentioning. We had lunch on Monday at the Firehouse Brewery in Rapid City. It's really built in an old firehouse, and they have some great luncheon fare, as well as some good (not to mention strong) beers. We had steaks Wednesday night, at the Gem Steakhouse in Deadwood. As you may already know (if you're as smart as me), Deadwood is famous for its history in the old west, beginning as an illegal settlement on Lakota Sioux land in the 1870's. Its main claim to fame is a poker game involving Wild Bill Hickok, during which he was forced to sit with his back to a door, against his protests. During the game, Jack McCall, AKA 'Crooked Nose Jack', walked in and shot Hickok in the back of the head, leaving behind a pair of aces and a pair of eights, now known as the dead-man's hand. The town steadily declined since its heyday in the old west (and that's a long time to decline), but in 1989, gambling was legalized in Deadwood, giving it a second wind in the form of old-west-themed casinos and saloons. This leads me back to the Gem Steakhouse, which is strategically placed on the second floor of a casino, leading you past as many slot machines as possible before you reach the elevator. Once we got up there, however, the steaks were delicious. If you're interested, Dad cooked us some steaks himself on Tuesday, and while I do strongly endorse his cooking, you have to follow this blog pretty closely to figure out where he's going to be to try it for yourself.

Back Row (left to right): Victoria, Christopher
Front Row (left to right): Ziva, Abby, Biggest Hazard on the Trail
Today (Thursday) we drove back into Custer State Park to see Sylvan Lake. If you can't manage to get in a bison traffic jam, this is the next best thing in the park. It's a fairly small lake, but it's really gorgeous. The backdrop of the rock formations is almost too perfect, looking more like a Disneyland backdrop than a real natural formation. The hike around the lake is not particularly strenuous and well worth the walk. It's a great place to walk dogs too... unless your dog is Julian, in which case the hike will be a constant battle not to be pulled off a rock face or down a set of stairs to your doom. For dinner, we ate at Cheyenne Crossing, a combination general store/comfort food joint that is my parents' favorite place to eat in the area. If you need a recommendation, all I need to tell you is that they ate there four times the last time they were here, and we'll be going back for breakfast tomorrow. The owner is a really friendly guy who will most likely come and make your acquaintance at some point during your meal.

I sit now, typing this out, as the dogs cower from yet another thunderstorm. I hope the internet will last the night... or at least long enough for me to upload this. I warn you, if there's only enough webtime for this or Reddit, you may not see this for a while. You should get another post from us soon, unless we find ourselves without internet for another extended period of time... or the house gets struck by lightning tonight.

Bonus Pic: "What are you going to do about it?"

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