Tag Archives: Black Hills

More Precious Than Gold

During my trip to South Dakota, I spent a fantastic afternoon with my family on one of our Black Hills mineral claims.  Named The Razzamatazz after my parents’ dog, the claim offered easy dirt road access and a gorgeous view of both hills and meadows.  We packed enough provisions for a day of exploration and set out through the hills, singing and chattering happily.

My son enjoying a moment on a pile of stones left over from mining attempts.

My son enjoying a snack on a pile of boulders left over from past mining attempts.

After turning onto the muddy dirt track vaguely marking out a path, we spooked a doe, who melted into the trees.  A huge family of turkeys strutted across  the trail and crouched in the tall grass, eyeing us suspiciously.   We rolled down the window and yelled “Gobble, gobble!  Gobble, gobble!” Dad pointed out pastel wildflowers and we breathed in the piney scent around us.  After parking under the shade of a huge spruce, we unloaded and prepared to hike up a steep ridge so Dad could show off what he had aptly named The Hole.  He wanted a volunteer to go into The Hole, and had brought along rope to pull the volunteer back out, but the majority ruled that this sounded like a terrible idea.  Instead, my sister and son threw rocks into its never-ending darkness while I yelled at them to keep away from the crumpling edge: “Get your damn ass away from that hole!”

Raz, for whom The Razzamatazz claim is named, romping through the grass.

Raz, for whom The Razzamatazz claim is named, romping through the grass.

After the excitement and danger of The Hole wore off, we started looking for interesting rocks to take home.  Dad pointed out characteristics indicating which rocks were more likely to contain veins of gold, and showed us iron pyrite sticking out of pink quartz.  The claim we were exploring had immense reserves of schist and quartz, and had been mined in years past.  We were very likely standing on top of a huge vein of priceless minerals and gold, just deep enough to be beyond reach.  Dad believes there is more than we can imagine, but it would be extremely difficult to extract without heavy machinery and crates of explosives.

We didn’t see any obvious veins of gold in the boulders we pulled from the ground, so my father and sister hiked further up the ridge to get a view of Dad’s favorite meadow.  I helped my mother and son transport arm loads of pink and white quartz back to my SUV.  Once back at the car, we decided to take a lunch break.  I kept my eye out for mountain lions, or “MLs”, as my son calls them, while chewing my steak and red onion sandwich with horseradish mayonnaise.  It was a quiet afternoon, but on our way down the ridge we had spotted predator scat, and an animal was making faint noises in the distance.  My father and sister came back down from the ridge with tales of a colossal belt of quartz that had been pushed out of the ground by massive tree roots.  Dad was thrilled about this discovery and planned to return for more investigating.

Sword fighting on the claim.

Sword fighting on the claim.

My mother smiling and enjoying an afternoon on the gold claim.

My mother smiling and enjoying an afternoon on the gold claim.

We stopped at Dad’s camper, Chipmunk Village, as he calls it, because no matter where he parks, the camper attracts hordes of the pernicious creatures.  I needed to pick up camping gear belonging to me and my husband so we could outfit our camper (which we haven’t yet purchased).  In no hurry to leave the hills, we wandered around a field surrounding the camper and reminisced about family camp-outs from decades ago.  My sister and son fought a protracted battle over a piece of braided grass.  Mom drop kicked conks while Dad and I hauled a footlocker and folding table out of the camper.  We let the late afternoon sun seep into our bones and the smell of Black Hills Spruce trees envelope us in hazy perfume.

Nothing mattered but the feeling we felt at that moment.  We had no cell phone service and no way to get updates from the world.  For the time being, we weren’t affected by ISIS terror threats, protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the death of Robin Williams, the spread of the Ebola virus, or the stacks of bills piling up in our respective homes.  We just wanted to play out a daydream, much like my childhood full of summers camping out in pristine Idaho forests.

When it was time to go back to the real world, I don’t think that any of us really wanted to go back.  We had soaked up the sun, the smell of dry pine needles, and the memories of living a simple life, spending entire summers embracing the wilderness.  We wanted to stay in the forest, but we were out of water and food, it was time to go back, cook a big dinner, smile at all the photos we had taken, and fall asleep dreaming the dreams of children: a sunny day, a grassy field, a muddy hole and a rock perhaps hiding a sliver of gold.  We were satisfied with our consolation prize — knowing we could walk away cherishing the memory of a day that we stood on top of a priceless vein of gold that we might never possess, because we had something much more valuable: family.


At the Chipmunk Village.

At the Chipmunk Village.




Waiting Will Be The Hardest Part

Strawberry Wine3

Over the weekend I finished a bottle of exceptional strawberry wine from South Dakota, and now I must wait until summer to go back for another!  If I had known it would become a favorite after dinner sipping wine for cold evenings, I would have purchased at least one extra bottle to tide me over until June.  My husband and I found a new tasting room on a driving tour through the Black Hills.  I cannot remember the name of the place, but we never drive past a winery or tasting room without stopping!  We stayed an hour, chatting with the friendly stewards and sampling everything, then left with several bottles, among them a tart rhubarb (popular in South Dakota), a classic made of wild grapes harvested locally, and the fun looking strawberry.  I planned to do something ambitious with it since I don’t typically sip ultra thick sweet desert wines.

Strawberry Wine2

It didn’t take long for the strawberry wine to convince me that we were meant to be: flawed mortal flesh loves fruited whimsy served in a glass!  I poured the tiniest serving on Christmas Eve, and after sipping it demurely I poured a second glass and sipped it greedily.  On Christmas Day I thoroughly enjoyed a larger glass.  The wine and I made each other very happy for exactly one month, until I poured my last glass and sipped the final jammy remnants wistfully.  I think about how long it will be before I’ll have another bottle.  We will be on our summer vacation in South Dakota, I will be on a mission to fill my car with strawberry wine!

Strawberry Wine6

My wine puddle before I resorted to using a straw.

While pouring my final (sob) glass, I misjudged how much wine remained in the bottom of the bottle, and it overshot my port glass, leaving a huge blood red puddle on my counter.  Nooooo!  I wasted a giant sip!  Our house guest suddenly strolled into the kitchen and witnessed me sucking wine off the counter with a plastic straw.  He was speechless at my desperation, probably thinking: some people will do anything for wine.

Sipping the strawberry wine was like indulging in homemade preserves, but with the benefit of them being spiked by a sinful hand.  Jammy and full bodied, heavy on the tongue, with a slight tang to offset the pushiness of the sweet strawberries.  It paired impeccably with cheeses, any cheeses we could imagine!  I liked to pair it with goat cheese, which has a distinct funky flavor, but it also paired beautifully with cow’s milk cheese, particularly sharp, aged, or even sweet and creamy cheese.  Oh, it was a fine accompaniment to noshes!  Until I can be reunited with a new bottle, my strawberry wine will be (sweetly, not bitterly) missed.

— G

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When Bad Movies Happen to Great Places

A view of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of...

A view of Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. “You in there somewhere, Bigfoot?” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We (meaning my husband) just discovered that a Bigfoot movie set in the Black Hills of South Dakota was filmed in 2012.  Why has no one heard of it?  Possibly because it made at least one list of worst movies ever made (I don’t know which; we lost it in our zeal to follow a link for further information about Sharknado).  How did this all come about?  My father-in-law was watching Chupacabras Versus the Alamo (I know), and then he found Bigfoot (on cable, not in his backyard), and when he realized that the movie was set in the Black Hills of South Dakota, he called the only people who would care.

Here is the Bigfoot movie trailer in case you are intrigued.  Apparently Alice Cooper has a cameo and uses the word “hootenanny”.  I know what I am getting my husband for Valentines’ Day!


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Remembering Our Veterans

Moriah 001Nine years ago, on December 7th, I stood on Mount Moriah in Deadwood, South Dakota with two well creased pieces of paper in my hand.  I was feeling nervous and honored to be counted among a small dignified group of veterans gathered for a Pearl Harbor remembrance ceremony.  We had ridden together in a trolley to the cemetery where many other veterans had been buried after shuffling off their earthly coils, and we circled around a flagpole for a series of speeches.  A Pear Harbor survivor, among the last living in the Black Hills, was slated to speak first.  He was a tall, distinguished older gentleman in a gray coat and spectacles; probably a grandfather or maybe even a great-grandfather by then.  I imagined that when he signed up for military service he was only a teenager like I had been when I joined the National Guard.  I couldn’t even comprehend what he had been through during the attack at Pearl Harbor.

When he stepped up to the microphone and began to speak, the memories of the day, so many decades before, came flooding back and tears ran down his cheeks.  So overwhelmed by his emotions, he became unable to speak, and the MC requested that I start the ceremony.  As I stepped forward, I reached out and gave the man a big hug.  I commented to the crowd that we should all spread love and support on this day by hugging a veteran.  During my deployment I saw nothing like what this man had experienced, but I tried to honor him and his comrades with a speech on which I had spent long, tedious hours of refection.

Pearl Harbor Speech from 7 December 2004

It is a tremendous honor to be here with you today.  I am truly grateful to be among so many real life heroes!  I was asked to speak about my perspective on deployment in Iraq as well as my feelings about being a veteran.  There are endless comments I could make about my experience, so I spent several days pondering the best message to share with you before putting pen to paper.

To me, being a foreign war veteran is a very special privilege, one I never expected when I enlisted.  Veterans are part of an exclusive group because what we go through in combat situations is often so beyond comprehension to those who have never seen it that we can only connect in certain ways to our brethren.  Veterans bear scars that run deeper than the surface, emotionMy beautiful pictureal and psychological wounds that sometimes never go away.  We all come back from combat changed in profound ways and the reality is that the changes are not always for the better.  We put our bodies, minds and spirits through hell because it is expected of us, and when the mission is complete we are commended for our actions.  We act bashful and gruff because we are not comfortable with being given praise for what we do.  We separate ourselves from the rest of the human race by becoming finely tuned, hyper-vigilant machines of progress, and we accomplish nearly impossible missions by ignoring our screaming instincts.  The tempering we  go through makes us tougher than ever before, yet our innermost identities remain very vulnerable.  We can change ourselves drastically from the rest of humanity through our service, but essentially we are still the same because we are all Americans.


My favorite veteran with me at Mount Rushmore.

As veterans we have given of ourselves and given up a lot to protect our loved ones and give them a life of peace and freedom.  We’ve done our best.  You veterans in the audience need never doubt what you’ve done for your country.  You have done your best!  I am proud to be associated with you all and I am proud to have served my country as you all have done over the decades.