Wall, South Dakota

Drove through the Badlands National Park yesterday.

Stunning vistas and very diverse topology.


When we drove through the Badlands of North Dakota last month after lots of rainfall, the dirt was heavy clay and felt similar to wet Play Dough.  There hasn’t been much recent moisture here in South Dakota, and the dirt is hard as rocks.

We were lucky to see a pair of Rocky Mountain big horn sheep grazing right near the road.


We did see a handful of buffalo and dozens of prairie dogs along with big warning signs that the prairie dogs have the plague. I wondered if the idiots who got within five feet of the mountainsheep got that close to the prairie dogs…

There were lots of lookouts to pull off to get a better look. One of them was surrounded by grass which the deer just loved.


But we didn’t quite understand why the deer walked to the edge of the canyon to poo. There were only a few droppings in the grass and dozens on the dirt.


After some discussion we figured it was one of two things:

The deer were tourists who just stopped for quick bite and wanted to take in the view.


The deer were graffiti artists marking the territory as theirs.

Whacko Weather

Wall, South Dakota

We moved from Spearfish to Wall yesterday to sit out an early brief fall storm.

Snow is predicted in the higher elevations, and we’d rather be safe than sorry.

I remember a saying about Nevada weather from when we moved there in 1964. “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes because it will change.”


We had moved to Reno from Sacramento, and the climate in Sacramento was much milder than the volatility of the weather I came to love in Reno.

Because my strongest and longest weather memories came from Reno, I was rather naive and didn’t realize that all places claim to have exotic weather.

In Wall, South Dakota, today’s high will be 90. In two days, the high will be less than 50.

While 40 degrees in 48 hours is a lot, Spearfish, South Dakota, takes the top prize for quick weather change.


Spearfish holds the world record for the fastest recorded temperature change.

On January 22, 1943, at 7:23 a.m. the temperature was -4 degrees Fahrenheit. The Chinook wind picked up speed rapidly and two minutes later the temperature was measured at +45 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a 49 degree change in those two minutes!


The winds continued until 9:00 a.m., and the temperature topped out at +54.

The winds suddenly stopped, and the temperature plummeted to -4 again. That 58 degree drop took 27 minutes.

The sudden temperature drop caused glass windows to crack and windshields to instantly frost over.

I think Spearfish can safely say they have the most changeable weather in the world.

*Information from Wikipedia. And special thanks to the volunteer from Texas who pointed the display to me at the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery. 🙂

Wall Drug

Wall, South Dakota

Surprise! It’s supposed to snow in the area for the next few days, so we’ve taken a bit of a detour. That’s a big benefit of having a home on wheels and traveling when reservations are not necessary.


Several people we’ve talked with have mentioned that they were going to stop at Wall Drugs.

We had no idea what they were talking about until we finally Googled it after hearing out so often.

Wall Drug Store, commonly called Wall Drug, initially opened in 1931. Ted Hustead was a pharmacist who was looking for a small town with a Catholic Church in which to establish his business. Wall’s population at the time was 231.

“Business was very slow until his wife, Dorothy, got the idea to advertise free ice water to parched travelers heading to the newly opened Mount Rushmore. From that time on, business was brisk. ”

Wall Drug draws over two million visitors each year and over $10 million in sales.


How’d it get the word out? Billboards, lots of them.

Initially the billboards focused on the fee ice water.


Over 650 miles of interstate house thousands of billboards that cost Wall Drugs $400,000 each year. Not only are the billboards in South Dakota, they are scattered across the USA and the world! Here is one in Amsterdam.

562124277_7b2fcb089d_zWall Drugs is now a shopping mall that consists of a drug store, gift shop, restaurants, and other stores. All entities are under the Wall business domain.

They still offer free ice water to all who visit.

They also offer a free coffee and a donut to honeymooners, priests, hunters, truck drivers, and service men and women.

*Information and quotes taken from Wikipedia.

PS I now know how they made so much money… Made in China and overpriced. 🙂

The Dirt

Spearfish, South Dakota

We’re making friends as we travel. Some just for a day or two. Some for a week. And others that we will keep in touch with for a long time.

It’s interesting to see what questions come up based on the level of friendship anticipated…


The shorter the anticipated friendship length, the more direct the questions are.

So given that most reading this blog are very close friends and/or relatives, my guess is that y’all have questions… 😉

So today, I’ll answer the three questions that most frequently get asked..

1. Do you know where you’re going?

We have a basic outline for the next four months.

During September we hope to travel through northern Wyoming and Yellowstone, weather permitting.

We will be back in Boise for some appointments for the first two weeks in October.

After that we’re heading south. We have booked a spot in Gold Canyon which is east of Phoenix by the Superstition Mountains. Our friends (and former neighbors) Dean + Lil stayed at the resort and recommended it.

We hope to travel through Utah and see some of the National parks on our way down to Phoenx, but it all depends on the weather. So we are not exactly sure when we will get there.

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The RV Resort in Gold Canyon had a special promotion so we got October through December for a little more than one month’s rent. Their peak season doesn’t begin until after the holidays, so we have a spot until January 15.

After that we have no clue where we are going. We are staying there to see how we like staying in one place. I’ll be playing pickleball nearly every day, and Rich will be working in their wood shop on some projects to make Homer better.

2. How’s Your Marriage Holding Up?

Surprisingly well. And we’re rather surprised at that.

I’m the type that prefers a bit (well, truthfully a lot) of alone time. I try to take advantage of any opportunity I get to go for a walk, a jog, or a bike ride alone. Sometimes Sophie comes with me, sometimes not. Depends on how hot it is.


Rich is happier now that we’ve activated DISH and he can watch NASCAR and NHRA. I’m thrilled because football has started, and I can watch it. Because football’s on more than racing, Rich wins control of the remote when there’s a conflict.

We do have a bit of trouble sometimes making decisions, but that’s not new for us. I have noticed that we each are getting more comfortable saying what we want to do.  Then we compromise as needed.

3. How Long Are You Going to Live in Homer?

That’s something we haven’t decided. We are committed at least through March of 2015. We don’t want to move into a place during the winter. It would be too hard to live somewhere where we’d be battling frozen pipes.

Occasionally we will play what we call Stupid What If games where we talk about the future and just throw random ideas out. The agreed upon rule is that the other person can’t say, “Well, that’s a stupid idea!” You can think it; you just can’t say it. Hee hee…

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We are no closer to deciding what to do after life in Homer than we were three months ago… 

Bear Lodge

Spearfish, South Dakota

Took a tour around some beautiful ranching area on our way to Devils Tower yesterday. The picture below is from about 20 miles away showing the tower in the distance.


Devils Tower (which was supposed to be named Devil’s Tower but a typo years ago set the current name in stone) is called Bear Lodge by  some Native American tribes.


It is a HUGE geologic feature in northeastern Wyoming. “Devils Tower is a stock–a small intrusive body formed by magna which was colors underground and was later exposed by erosion. ”

“As the rock cooled, it contacted, forming hexagonal columns separated by vertical cracks. These columns are similar to those found at Devil’s Postpile National monument in California but those at Devils Tower are much larger.”

I remember visiting the Devil Postpile in California as a kid and was awestruck by it. Devils Tower elicited those same emotions.

In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument. Earlier in 1872 his actions made Yellowstone the first National Park. Both firsts can be claimed by Wyoming.

We took a walk around the base of the tower. That walk is 1.3 miles long. The boulders that have fallen off of the tower to the base are ginormous.


The tower is big! It is 867 feet tall. The circumference around the base is nearly 5300 feet. And the plateau at the top is about 200 x 400 feet in size.


While we were walking around the base we saw six climbers on their way up. You can just see one of them on the right side of this picture about a third of the way up the columns.


The tower and the area around it is sacred ground to the Native Americans. They hang prayer cloth or bundles on trees where they have offered a prayer.


Because the Native Americans are upset with people climbing the tower, visitors are asked to voluntarily not climb it during the month of June. Since beginning this, there has been an 80% reduction in climb numbers for June. (Remember the Pareto Principle?)

The area around Devils Tower is very geographically diverse as shown below.



All About Fish

Spearfish, South Dakota

Right next to our campground in the middle of Spearfish is the D.C. Booth Historical National Fish Hatchery and Archives. Because it is staffed with volunteers who know their stuff, we learned oodles about hatcheries.

The Booth Hatchery was built to propagate, stock, and establish trout populations in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming.

The hatchery ceased operations in the mid 1980’s. It reopened with a partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife and serves as a living fisheries museum.

First stop was the museum. 


It was chock full of original tools, furniture, and supplies. The cans below were used to transport the fish to remote lakes and streams. The cans were either carried by horseback or on hikers’ backs.


Next was a replica of a train car modified to transport fish by rail car. The car housed workers in sleeping berths above the fish tanks. (I don’t even want to think what that car smelled like…)


I was surprised to see the the Department of Commerce oversaw the Bureau of Fisheries’  operation.


Of course, there were lots of fish at the hatchery…

0904141511And a wistful and wonderful bronze called Generations showing a father and daughter going fishing.


Spearfish Canyon

Spearfish, South Dakota

We went for a drive and a hike up the Spearfish Canyon which runs up Spearfish Creek.

Very stunning, especially with the slightest blush of fall showing.


The water in the creek is incredibly clear. That’s because it is completely fed by springs–51 to be exact.

Many parts of Dances with Wolves were filmed in areas near there.  In fact, Kevin Costner owns several business ventures in the area.


Trout were planted in the creek until the 1970’s. Now all trout in the creek are wild. We saw some trout and even saw a fisherman reeling one in.

The 1000 foot canyon walls are a combination of Englewood limestone (10-400 feet thick and reddish in color), Deadwood shale (30-60 feet thick and dark brown in color), and Paha sapa limestone (300-700 feet and buff colored that weathers to a dull gray).


The road is winding and a perfect ride for all the motorcyclsts in the road.

And there are several waterfalls to take short hikes to and visit.


It’s a Numbers Game

Spearfish, South Dakota

We traveled just a short while today from Hill City to Spearfish which will be our base while touring the northern Black Hills area.

There are lots of state highways to choose from we travel, and today was no exception.

I’m finally figuring out how those highway numbers work. Even numbered roads run east and west; odd numbered roads run north and south. Most drivers know that…

But what I recently read taught me lots about how the numbering system works. And yep… I’m a data geek who is fascinated by sh*t like this! 750px-FHWA_Auxiliary_Route_Numbering_Diagram.svg Within the continental US, priamary interstate highways are assigned two digit numbers under 100.

Three digit numbered highways can be decoded by separating their first digit and the last two digits.

The last two digits refer to the primary highway the road is a subroute of. The first digit defines what that subroute does.

If the first digit is even, the route goes through or around the city.

If the first digit is odd, the route is a deadend spur into the city.

In example A above, Route 210 is a subroute of Interstate 10 that goes through the city.

Example B  shows two routes. Route 310 is a spur off of Interstate 10. Route 610 is a subroute of Interstate 10 that circles around the city.

Example C shows a combination of the route in Example A and the spur in Example B.

So now the next time you’re playing Trivial Pursuit, you’ll nail the highway numbering system question.

download (5) *Image from Wikipedia.

Travelers vs Tourists

Hill City, South Dakota

We are very fortunate to be in the position we are in. We have enough money to do this for a while, and our health is as good as it’s going to be.

Rich would like to find a part time job either while we are traveling if it works out or after we are done traveling. I plan on going back to work someday to at least help pay for my health insurance and medications. I would rather not, but reality bites… 🙂

When we first started ‘traveling’ in Homer, we acted more like ‘tourists’. We rushed everywhere and researched in advance so we wouldn’t miss any important sites. We relied on those known tourist patterns of cramming as much as possible into as short a time period as possible.


It has taken almost three months to break those patterns. And it feels nice.

We now usually don’t decide what to do until each morning. Might not sound like much, but for us it’s a huge change.

We are also making decisions about what we want to see rather than what we should see. For example, we decided to not travel 100+ miles to see The Badlands of South Dakota. We saw many similar badland topography in North Dakota, and there are other things we want to see while we are in this area more.

There are still more adjustments to make, but we’re closer to being travelers and father from being tourists as we live on the road .

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Black Hills Bonus

Hill City, South Dakota

We stayed in Hill City for a week. It was our home base for touring the middle and southern portions on the Black Hills.

During our drives, we came across some interesting sights.

We traveled through the small town of Deerfield and saw this sign informing us that the population is 2 and on the weekend it’s 13.


Deerfield Lake is quite pretty, and there were lots of fishermen trying their luck.


There is a drive through Custer State Park called the Wildlife Loop. It’s a very pretty drive, and we did, in fact, see some wildlife including antelope, a marmot, and some burros.



The burros are descendants of animals once used for guided pack trips many years ago. After they were no longer needed, the animals were set loose. Now they cozy up to cars looking for handouts.



There are about a half a dozen tunnels throughout the Black Hills. Three of them frame Mount Rushmore as you drive through. (Not my photo.)


And there is one ‘tunnel’ that is a particularly tight fit!


And yet we all stupidly tried to fit through it… 🙂

There are a series of pigtails bridges, also known as spiral bridges. Picturesque and functional, these would be fun on a motorcycle. (Not my photos.)

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I would come back to the Black Hills in a heartbeat. There is so much to do here, and you can easily get away from the crowds because there are hundreds of miles of back country roads.

Fourwheelers and side-by-sides are common sights on those roads and the highways as well.