Happy Independence Day!


Some highlights from the trip…


Ray and I drove to Hot Springs, SD, so she could go the rest of the way to Flandreau for Grandparent Camp, that is, to stay with her grandparents for 10 days or so.  We left on Wednesday morning.  Sunday night, she was like, “So…what time are we leaving in the morning for Grandma Camp?”

“We’re not.  We leave on Wednesday.”

Monday morning:  “Do I have time for a shower before we leave for Grandma Camp?”

“We don’t leave today.  We leave on Wednesday.”


Eventually Wednesday arrived, she took a shower, and off we went, without forgetting anything significant.

Driving through Denver at 8:30 a.m. was something of a challenge, but we didn’t lose too much time and only had to come to a complete stop once or twice.  The rest of the drive was smooth and easy…I kept asking Ray if she wanted something to drink or to stop to use the bathroom.  No.  She did not want to delay any more than she had to.  We ate at a Burger King somewhere on the road, and she finally broke down and took a break for half an hour to play with some little kids at the playground.  And then we were off again.

We made good time to Hot Springs and called to see where everyone else was; they were in Rapid City with no air conditioning.  It had gone out on a 105F day.  But they stopped at my uncle Doyle’s auto shop, and he fixed it.  The air filter for the air into the car was packed; they hadn’t been getting fresh air at all for quite some time, which might explain a few things…

Ray swam until they arrived, although I chased her out of the pool as they were getting close, so we could go eat.  Which we did, at the Dairy Queen next door.  But didn’t have ice cream.  Now that I think back on it, I can’t see how we didn’t have any ice cream the entire trip, but there you go.

Afterwards, we went up to the Vets Home to see my Grandparents.  (A double-set Grandparent camp.)

They are older.  In fact, everyone is older.  The only person on this trip who didn’t look older on this trip was Katie, and I was still shocked to find out that she was old enough to drink.  I mean, of course she’s that old.  But it was still a shock.  I should have been over that shock when she was, oh, 22.  But no.

Anyway, Grandma and Grandpa are getting older, but not so old that they didn’t enjoy playing with Betsy’s Nook, which we left with them.  The font size adjusts, of course, so any ebook instantly becomes a LARGE PRINT ebook, which they were very excited about.

(A break to tell our cat Fafnir that Ray is not here. This information has to come about once every four hours or so, apparently.)

Back to the motel.  Good lord that kid can swim.

The next day, we drove on the Needles Highway, which is this scenic route that goes through Custer State  Park.  We started out in Custer – I have to say, this trip changed my mind about the town.  When Lee and I had gone through over a decade ago, it was a very brown, depressing, “you’ll eat it and like it” kind of place.  Now, whether it’s due to the amount of time that gambling’s been legal up in Deadwood or because the baby boomers are starting to kick their kids out of the house (and thus have spare time and aren’t feeding a van full of whiners who won’t eat anything but chicken fingers), it’s changed.

Sure, the brown, depressing places are still there (in fact, Dad, who is a notoriously picky eater, tried to make us stop at the very place that made Lee and I swear off the town, but I had prepared with the address of a place that had been recommended and insisted on not going there), but it’s sprinkled liberally with places that might possibly have food that hasn’t seen the inside of a tin can.

We ate at Sage Creek Grille; the decor is kind of weird and sparse-feeling, but the food was good.  I had salmon on an open-faced sandwich, and it was moist and flavorful.

Up the street was a bookstore; down the street was a bison statue painted with Lakota designs…and a rusted mint-and-white Studebaker.  We saw both; I begged and ordered Katie to photograph the Studebaker.  She couldn’t understand why.  I guess she hasn’t been around car buffs long enough.  I’ll have to wait to see how the pictures turned out; she has a  professional camera and a trained eye, so I know they’re better than the ones I would have taken.

Ray found three books of ghost stories, and proceeded to read them all along the Needles Highway.  Scenery.  Pfft.

We stopped at Sylvan Lake (because I begged) and walked around it.  Mosquitoes the size of IV needles.  But we went around the whole thing, walking on top of the huge boulders on the side of the lake, standing above the water.  Up into the rocks.  Ray kept bringing me all kinds of tiny flowers, including wild roses, which eventually ended up squashed inside her ghost-story books.  The lake’s small, maybe a mile or two around, but we kept going off the path.

I saw all kinds of billy-goat kids, the human ones, that made me fear for their lives, but I didn’t actually see anyone get injured jumping around.  Impressive.

We had to do some minor climbing around the backside of the lake.  I’d forgotten how terrified my mother is of heights; plus, her knees were bothering her (more with the getting old).  But she made it down the back side, which was nice, because we got to see where the water spilled over the dam holding up the lake, and we went through a cut in the rock, which smelled like caves, and then we got to splash through the lake up to the overlook on top of the dam.  I don’t know about you, but it’s not really an adventure unless your pant legs at least get wet.

And then we were off again, tooling around the mountains.  Dad was driving, which was boring, but I suppose I have to share the whole driving-around-the-mountains thing with people who can’t take off and do it whenever they feel like it.

Really, Thursday was, “We ate lunch, stopped at a bookstore, and went back to the motel.”  But ah, the road.

Pizza was had that night as an appeasement to the Father Belly.  There’s supposed to be a place called Boomer’s with good pizza, but we went to Pizza Hut instead.

Friday, we checked out and drove up the other side of the park, on the Wildlife Loop.  I had Mom with me for company (and directions).  It was more like driving in Iowa than driving in the mountains, with these winding roads and only a few tight turns and some pigtails thrown in for fun.  We stopped at the State Game Lodge and ate at their buffet…the first buffet I’ve been at that was worth a damn.  Very traditional Midwestern food (alas, no jello salad), but it was all prepared very well.  Except the green beans were a little overcooked, but if that’s the worst you can say (and they weren’t out of a can, mind you), that’s saying something.  Good fish with pineapple sauce, and bread pudding with creme anglaise.

We found out that renting a non-running-water, bring-your-own-linen cabin was about $45 a night.

We found out that Flandreau had had a horrible storm, and all kinds of power lines were down, trees down, semis tipped over…luckily, everybody was okay, but we were going to have to leave.  We made it through the rest of the loop.  Right as Mom and I were circling this tight turn overshadowed by rocks, we heard a horrible cracking sound and thought wer were going to die…but it was only thunder.

We hit the main highway, and the water let loose so hard that Dad pulled off the road and we lost him for a while.  We ended up at Doyle and Sarah’s house, and they dragged us off to Prairie Berry, because they’d wanted to take us on Saturday, but there was no way Dad would stick around that long.

Prairie Berry is this winery up in the Hills outside Hill City.  Good food, better wine, fantastic wine truffles.  I picked up some Sand Creek.  I wanted to like the chokecherry stuff the best, but it just didn’t shine.  –I have lots of fond memories of picking chokecherries for jelly during the summers at Grandma’s old house by Polo, SD.  I did get some jelly, but I haven’t tried it yet.

Doyle and Sarah had driven up in a convertible Mustang (he’s a car guy, as I think I mentioned).  On the way back into town, he pulled over and made my parents drive it, along the Skyway, which is this road that goes along a ridge through Rapid.  We followed along behind them, and they drove slowly, with the top down but the windows up.  Doyle made Katie call them to put them down, or else:  the magic of cell phones.

We stopped at the Dinosaur Park, which is old and crappy and absolutely wonderful, and watched the sunset.  Ray slipped in some mud and wanted to leave…it was surprising.  I’ve never seen her stress about getting dirty before, but apparently there’s a first time for everything.

Ray and I rode in the tiny backseat of the convertible on the way back.  She had her arms up in the air like it was a rollercoaster for most of the way, which I suppose due to the roads was not an unreasonable thing to do.

Now I want a convertible, and that’s all I have to say about that.

We went back down to Rapid and spent the rest of the evening around a fire pit, making smores and drinking dessert wine.  I managed to snag some dill-pickle-flavored chips, which I have to get from South Dakota, as I haven’t seen them anywhere else for a while (Pringles don’t count).

In the morning, Mom and Katie and I went to Storybook Island.

I have been there many times, but I’ve missed going for several years.  Ray’s nine.  She isn’t going to be young enough to go without being all sophisticated about it for much longer, so I was soaking it up, mine all mine.  She got her face painted with a white kitten and a cupcake (in honor of her favorite Minecraft video maker, Cupquake), and I got her a cherry slushee and a necklace that said snickerdoodle, which is something that Lee calls her from time to time.  She bragged about it to everyone.  We ran through the maze, climbed up the treehouse, and drove the firetruck.  She hung out with the baby goatlings in the petting zoo, which tried to eat her hair and her jacket, and showed the wee ones how to pet goats.  The day was golden and shining and balmy.  Katie took our picture at the top of the troll bridge.

And then it was time to go.  Of course I’d left stuff at Doyle’s house in the rush to get everything packed, and he had to track us down and drop it off.

I used Lee’s GPS on the way home after ending up a monastery. It’s been years since I had any idea of where anything is in Rapid, and it’s changed a lot since then.  I stopped in Hot Springs on the way back to try to find a restaurant that I’ve been wanting to try, but it’s long gone.  I ended up at a bookstore, found a couple of things I hadn’t heard of, and talked to the owner for a while.  It stills embarrasses me to tell bookstore owners that I’m a writer.  She asked for a card, but I don’t carry them around anywhere but at PPWC, so I signed up for her email list instead.  It was the Wild Burro, and she had a tight, fantastic selection of books.

She’s only now starting to feel the pinch of online bookselling, she says; it really annoys her when people come in, write down the names of books (or, worse, take pictures of them with her cell phone), and leave without buying anything.  She’s thinking about switching over to a gift shop with maybe 100 titles of books along one wall; she thinks she’ll probably make just as much money that way.

Eventually I left, got on the road, and got stuck in a hailstorm near Torrington.  The hail wasn’t the scary part; the funnel clouds starting to form were.  Anyway, I got home safely, after Lee was asleep.  The cat was waiting for me in the middle of the room, looking disturbed.  I apologized for leaving Ray elsewhere and went to bed.

Today:  off.  Tomorrow:  full speed ahead.