Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Planning For the Eclipse

All right, folks. I'm very curious.

Who among my friends has eclipse plans?

And what are they?

This falls into the category of "things I should have been planning for awhile ago but I'm just now getting to it since it appears I'll have the free time," and while my eclipse experience may be a little ... we'll say spontaneous, I know many of you have official plans. Parking spots reserved. Lunches you plan on packing. Heck, a few of you don't need to make plans because you live in that totality path.
So I'm curious. Are you making any special plans for August 21st?

For those of you who want to learn more, check out NASA's official page (and laugh with me a bit over their website, which seems not quite as state-of-the-art as I would expect). Here you can find maps and times, places to find eclipse glasses, and great ways to explain the science of the event to your favorite non-nerd.

Now, to figure out where I'm going ... I'm so close to the totality path...

Friday, August 4, 2017

July In Review

July was a month of people.

Actually, it was so much more than that, but trying to narrow it down to a few events has proven fruitless. Bear with me. There are a lot of things to summarize.

It started with a trip to Minneapolis. Some sightseeing, food and beverages while visiting the Admiral, then a big family wedding...

Wedding survivors!

And then Mia Sorella and Jay turned up.

They had a month of in-between-ness and turned up in Rapid. Which among other things meant a lot of cat pictures.

And some enjoyment of Rapid City's downtown.

And all of the food.

Then Shorty joined us for some Pokemon.

There was boating, biking, and hiking to be had as well.

The sand mines by Deerfield.

The Strato Bowl from a new angle.

Then, just for fun, I had a mess of other friends turn up. All on the same weekend, too.

The weird part about this is that I don't have any pictures of you, Ashli. What happened there?

Finally, there was also a family reunion.

Heck, that wasn't even all of it. I've got so many pictures of meals and wine, of short hikes and open fields, blurry pictures of the Badlands going by, and even more goofy selfies. There was the fire on the 4th, the long drives, and nights spent talking until the wee hours of the morning.

It was a full and complete month, in other words.

And I'm still a little amazed that everything fit in 31 days...

Thursday, July 20, 2017


This is the most beautiful place on earth.

There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary...

- Opening lines of Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Every place you visit sticks with you in some way. Sometimes it's a specific thing -- the fo Sometimes it's negative (I have no need to return to Beijing) and sometimes it lingers (twelve years later, I'm still thinking about Saint Petersburg).
od, the people, an experience, a building.

And sometimes, you find yourself browsing the job listings, looking for a reason to stay.

I first stopped in Moab on my way back from Oregon. As it turned out, two nights in the desert were perfect for a body and soul to recover from a week and a half on the road. Sadly, my second stop was two full years later, a mere pit stop between the Grand Canyon and Denver for lunch and a stretch.

They were only tasters, but I knew I wanted to return.

Bear with me, now. I've been struggling to write this piece for the last month because quite frankly, I don't know how to convey exactly how awesome the trip was.

I suppose I'll start from the beginning.

In the middle of May, my brother called. He had a road trip in mind immediately following his graduation in Denver and he wondered if I wanted to go along. "I'm headed to Moab."

Now, we'd talked about doing this for years. As I am perpetually in flux right now, I said sure, provided something crucial didn't come up. Heck, I was even going to be in Denver for that graduation.

Lo and behold, June arrived and I found myself prepping for a return to the desert.

The trip to Denver was a story in itself; there were three carloads coming from the general Hills region, but none of those would return with the same occupants. My parents and I left at midnight, a mere ten hours before Shorty's graduation. After a long, dark drive, a surprisingly entertaining and interesting ceremony, some family time, and then some much needed sleep, Shorty and I packed up a car and aimed west.

Moab has a population of around 5,000 (depending on my source, it seems) and sits along the Colorado River at a convenient break in the banks. It grew up as a trail and river crossing in the middle of the desert, then as a uranium mining town. Eventually, the mining moved on to potash (potassium salts) and two national parks were established -- Moab is the nearest town to both the hugely popular Arches National Park and the quiet and lovely Canyonlands National Park. Now, Moab draws a large portion of its revenue from the tourists, mountain bikers, hikers, and truckers that pass through.

This was a trip that would require liberal application of the two big travel rules.

Rule One: Take your time.
Rule Two: Talk to strangers.

We arrived late on a Friday, the heat of the day finally starting to dissipate while we searched for a campsite. As popular as the area is for outdoorsy types of many persuasions, we weren't exactly surprised when that search took a bit longer than we would have liked. There are numerous BLM campgrounds along the Colorado River; everything east of town was filled. We threw around ideas that would have put us out in the open for the hundred-degree days, but in the end our patience paid off -- we found a half-full campground southwest of town (where I'd camped before) and claimed a site that was fully in the shade by 6PM and partially blocked from the wind.

Next, dinner. Moab Brewery is a go-to for both of us, and we headed directly there. From that, it was a search for water (provided by an obliging city park) and we crashed for the night.

That first morning, Shorty headed for his mountain bike trails (because he's nuts) and I aimed for town. My first stop was the tourist center at the main crossroads because there were many things I didn't know and several maps I wanted to have in my possession. By the time I left, I'd made use of their wifi, met a native South Dakotan who happened to run the place (we can always find each other), learned where to hike and where to find water, and picked up a whole stack of maps from the silly to the serious.

After this, it was time to explore.

The city has a great network of bike paths that allow you to get around on two wheels pretty efficiently. While they get used by plenty of visitors, they're also commuter paths for the locals; I spent the better part of two days using these with my (new to me) bike without ever having to hurdle anything or worry about cars. It also gave me access to things I'd missed before -- city parks I had no idea existed (including one right on the river with a bouldering playground), fun views, Milt's.

The bike path gave me opportunities to ask more questions, too. I learned about Moab Cyclery, where they have a shower that you can use for $5 that doesn't come with a time limit. I learned that the wind we were experiencing wasn't entirely normal. I learned more shortcuts through town and where the locals go to stay cool.

The next three days flew. There was more biking, some exploration of Canyonlands, and so many more conversations.

There are stories about the swimming hole...

And this time, there was a real feeling of settling in. We changed campsites and moved to the Sand Flats Recreation Area, but we allowed ourselves to indulge in the town itself ... and like so many places, it only got better and better. By the end, it wasn't just the parks and trails that had me. It was the people, the attitude, the pace -- which was perhaps why I found myself browsing the help wanted ads as I drank my coffee on the last full day.

Oy. I'm not doing it justice. The full truth is that Moab could be multiple posts all its own, whether I'm talking about my enjoyment of National Parks or the fun camping innovations we discovered or my lessons in nighttime photos with my phone.

And of course, the specific trails and the things I need to go back and try. (No skydiving yet. Next time...)

More than anything, this was an oasis at an oasis -- the city in the desert, and a vacation in the midst of a lot of upheaval. It was a week of head-clearing heat and removal from the things that kept reminding me of what I didn't have.

And nothing beats a few nights in a tent to remind you of what you do have.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Things I Learned...

... By Throwing Out My Back

1. Problems build up over time. Spraining an ankle and limping funny for awhile, moving many stacks of boxes and furniture, uneven volumes of physical exercise -- all of it can come back and bite you when you dodge pets chasing each other while you're bent over funny trying to find something.

Sick days as an adult!
2. In related news, these are the times old injuries will haunt you.

3. Injuring yourself in a house full of people is much better than injuring yourself while alone. More embarrassing, but better.

4. I am very whiny when I'm abruptly helpless.

5. My family is a group of remarkably patient humans.

6. I like chiropractors.

7. Biofreeze is weird stuff.

8. Getting stuck holding still for a day or two isn't the worst fate, but I'm going to be relieved when it's over.

9. I can't imagine how people deal with this kind of thing on a regular or constant basis. It hurts too damn much for sanity.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Universe

Today, a mild case of existential angst, brought to you by everyone's favorite animated dog-children.

[Pretty sure I've posted this here before, but then I found Animaniacs on Netflix and it wormed its way into my head again...]

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hot Summer Risks

We had a little extra excitement around here on the fourth.

It's been dry. Hot, windy, no rain -- the grass is already hitting a crackly stage that makes a girl nervous. This is the kind of summer I remember from college. The kind that sparks forest fires seemingly out of spite, without aid from lightning, humans, or even just a hot engine.

So you can imagine what happens when Independence Day rolls around and thousands of flaming sticks take flight.

We had finished supper already when someone rang the doorbell.

Or more importantly, when it rang seven times in a row.

I can safely say that when you hear the words, "There's a fire out back!" it doesn't take long to find shoes and a door.

Note: I'm standing in our backyard while taking this.

Before the fire trucks could get here, the entire neighborhood showed up. Garden hoses were unrolled and buckets were found. People clambered over the fence to start spraying down the edges, taking buckets to the visible flames and getting things contained as fast as possible.

Both Box Elder's and Rapid Valley's fire departments made it to the site in under ten minutes and within an hour, it was fully contained and limited to smoldering garbage. All told, a few acres of grass burned and a few people got very nervous -- it burned right up to the fenceline of a half-dozen houses.

And somehow, the broken down old shack was saved.

The trucks would return a couple hours later when it flared back up in two places. It was during this particular time that I realized I could have gotten a picture of them working with fireworks going off in the background a block over.

... Really, guys?

In the last week, it's only gotten hotter and drier and there have been quite a few more fires. As the worst offending day has passed, residents are getting much more careful and prepared. I've talked a bit about fire in the Hills and I'm seeing the same things this year -- contingency plans, off-site stockpiles, the usual fire bans.

It's that time of year, folks. Enjoy your camping and your trails, but please be careful and keep your eyes open.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The More You Know

Well, hello.

Yeah, I still exist. I've even got a couple posts in the works because while I've been not writing, I've been cooking food for small children or on the road.

It's been a weird summer.

I have also been watching a whole bunch of documentaries (because my hobbies are nerdful fun!) and I'm going to send you to two of them.

I admit -- it's because I get a huge kick out of watching things about places I recognize, and these both involve the Hills.

The first is a documentary currently on Netflix about the discovery and conflict over Sue the T. Rex. It's called Dinosaur 13 and ... okay, so if you haven't heard of Sue, maybe it won't interest you the way it did me. If you have any particular curiosity about the trials and tribulations of big paleontological discoveries, I recommend it. Or if you like dinosaurs.

The second is for my space nerd friends. Space Men is a PBS special, part of the American Experience series, and it's all about high altitude balloons and the contributions that those expeditions gave to the early space race.

What does this have to do with South Dakota? Well, the Explorer projects in the 1930s took off from a spot now known as the Stratobowl, which happens to lie just a couple miles from the camp. It's a fairly popular hiking spot with a fairly detailed history in stone tablets (I'm not joking) -- but what I didn't realize was that there was still film out there of the flights themselves.

That is so. Incredibly. Cool.

Okay. Back to work. I have desert photos to sort...

And bridge photos.

Everybody needs a hobby...

Monday, May 29, 2017

May In Pictures

Hikes, a birthday, some great food, and American Craft Beer Week.

Oh, and an injury.

All things considered, May was pretty okay. How about yours?

This bridge was built in 1929 and it is absolutely gorgeous.

Near the southern terminus of the Centennial Trail.

Sylvan Lake.

We found a mine!
The creme brulee process. Delicious AND fun!

I love family meals.

Buglin' Bull in Custer. I'm missing my Monte Cristo wrap in this picture, but that was tasty, too...
Hay Camp in Rapid City. Their barrel-aged beer is to die for.
Stout floats at Miner Brewing in Hill City. These are a food group of their very own. Possibly my favorite food group.