Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas at Community Caves

This morning we woke with the sun and headed downstairs to stoke the fire and get some breakfast going. Since we are so far from our families this year we decided to keep some traditions. We started with crepes.

I don't remember a single holiday without them so naturally they were the best way we could start our day. We topped them off with Maine-made maple syrup, apple and strawberry jams from the Laliberte's farm. After we had our fill of coffee, cocoa and crepes we were ready for an adventure.
Icicles! 12.25.11

Since this was our first Christmas on our own Josh and I thought that it was important to start some traditions of our own.  This would be the first year of our Christmas hikes. After some discussion we headed west to Spearfish Canyon to explore Community Caves. We've been there before but in the winter it was rumored to be even more spectacular.

Josh & Wu 12.25.11
The hike up takes about a half hour and since it goes strait up a ravine it can be a little taxing. We made stops every now and again to survey if it was safe for me to keep going. In a few places it was so slippery that we blazed through the fresh snow and made our own path. Wu was treating the hike like an agility course making his own path and checking out every nook. It was the perfect amount of exercise and enjoyment.

Towards the top the stream that flows over the caves was still running. It was exposing the gravel underneath so the going got much easier and once we stop to catch our breath we realized that the hike up had been well worth it. We had never expected the caves to look so beautiful with icicles frozen over the opening.

Relaxing in the Caves 12.25.11
At the top we sat for awhile and enjoyed the day. It was each moment it warming up and being under the rock shelter protected us from any wind.  It was nice to just to be the only two on the trail and to be spending our day together in the open air.  The whole world seemed calm as we sat there taking it all in. The waterfall was dripping from the overhang splashing into perfect frozen rings. It was turning out to be a perfect day. We took a few photos of the icy caves and ourselves to commemorate the day and then headed back down.

Christmas Kisses! 12.25.11
We were back in the car and winding south through the canyon when we spotted a Bald Eagle resting along the creek. He was beautiful. We turned around three times in an effort to snap a good picture but he seemed to realize what we were after and wouldn't hold still. Defeated we continued our cruise.

A few miles later we ended up seeing three whitetail does bedded down under some pines. After turning around a few times we were able to take a few pictures. Then headed home before disturbing them. The amount of wildlife in these hills never stops amazing us.

Our First Christmas Meal 12.25.11
Once we were home it was time to start cooking. A smoked ham, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and cheesy broccoli were all on the menu. We set to work and in no time we had every thing in the oven and the waiting begun.

Two hours later we were feasting on our first Davis Family Christmas meal. All the food came out delicious. Especially the sweet potatoes, which was a Davis Family tradtion. It was the best meal we'd ever cooked together and we probably ate too much. No, I'm sure we ate too much! I love Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dutch Oven Delight & Afternoon Explorations

This morning I woke up early and set to work on creating my first solo meal in my new Dutch Oven. The plan was to make Apple Turnovers- I figured that it sounded easy enough. I read through the recipe and noticed that the only thing we didn't have on hand was Mt. Dew. After a quick trip down the hill to the store I was ready.

Above Step 1, Steps 2 & 3 below. 12.18.11
First thing I attempted to do was to light the charcoal. This wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I started in a traditional charcoal starter with newspaper and lighter fluid but it wouldn't catch. After two failed attempts I pulled out a metal cake pan, lined up my charcoal and hit it again with the lighter fluid. There seemed to be some hope of it igniting but I still wasn't having any luck. It was becoming ridiculous. What was I doing wrong? My neighbor, Monte, stopped in to deliver a load of wood and miraculously was able to get the charcoal to light and stay lit. I was on my way.

Josh and Nate were still sleeping at this point so my plan was still on track. I really wanted to surprise them with a sweet and delicious breakfast. I foiled and sprayed the DO and set to work on the recipe. Rolling the apples in the croissants was easy and after doing about 12 I realized that there wasn't any way I was going to fit all 16 my 4-quart Dutch Oven. So I prepared a 8x8 pan that I would be able to bake in the oven.

Once I had melted the butter I mixed in the sugar and cinnamon. I poured it over the croissants in the DO and the 8x8. It was a gooey delight. Then I topped the whole thing off with a bottle of Mt. Dew.

When the coals were ready I counted out the number I needed for the top and the bottom and got it situated on the gravel. It's amazing how much there is to cooking in a Dutch Oven. I really learned a lot in the Dutch Oven Cooking course I took at the Becoming An Outdoor Woman Workshop and this was my opportunity to put it to use.

After 15 minutes I turned the top 1/4 clockwise and the bottom 1/4 counter clockwise. I did this two times to make sure that the heat was even. Then it was done.

Apple Turnovers! 12.18.11
By this time Josh and Nate were awake and making coffee. They were starting to split wood when I came out with bowls, forks and a spatula and served up golden brown Apple Turnovers. They were perfectly cooked and incredibly sweet. It was really satisfying that they came out so well.

After eating breakfast, the guys split and stacked the wood and I set to cleaning the house. After a couple hours and some serious team work we had all the work done. It was adventure time!

We hopped in the Jeep and headed out to Camp 5 Road to check the status of our geocaches. The road was snowy but we weren't the first ones to travel this way. After checking the first cache we headed up to our second one. The road here was a little more tricky and we couldn't make it all the way so we parked close and hiked up through the snow, making our own path. Wu blazed the trail, then Josh, then me, then the new pup, Samsquanch before Nate. The puppy was on his first real adventure and he was having fun. He would later take a long, satisfying nap to recover.

Josh & Nate at Cache #2. 12.18.11
Both of the caches were in good shape and unaffected by the snow. Awesome. Getting to each had been easier and quicker than we had thought and we wondered what to do with the rest of our day.

We headed towards I-90 and turned onto Cooke City Road. It's a small back highway that leads to Whitewood. It winds through prairie and forest all the way there. It was a perfect day to drive with the windows down and enjoy the fresh air. While on our cruise we decided to find a couple geocaches that other people had put out. There were quite a few that would be on our loop home.

The first geocache was west of Whitewood and located across from the Frawley Ranch North Entrance. It was a small cache and a fairly easy find. Before we knew it we were back in the car and on our way. Our next stop was at a small bridge a few miles down the road. With the sun quickly setting we checked the hint; nuts. We were thinking that it was in a tree until we saw all the hardware on the bridge. All three of us were looking with our eyes wide open. We finally found a tiny micro cache and were delighted when we realized it was disguised as a nut and bolt. It was the coolest container we'd ever come across. After logging our visit we headed home.

It had been a long and busy day and it was time to fill our bellies and watch a movie or two!

Today's Recipe.... 
Courtesy of The Patrick Sisters

                                    Apple Turnovers

               2 large granny smith apples (big enough for 16 apple slices)
               2 10oz cans crescent rolls
               1 c butter
               1 ½ c sugar
               1 tsp cinnamon
               12 oz can 7 up or mountain dew

     Cut apples into wedges. Separate dough into triangles and place 1 apple wedge on each piece of dough.  Seal the edges of the dough and place in 14 inch Dutch oven that has been sprayed with Pam, lined with tin foil and sprayed again with Pam. Stir butter, cinnamon, and sugar and heat until warm. Pour butter mixture over turnovers and then pour can of soda over all. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes at 350 degrees (17 coals on top and 11 on the bottom). Top with powdered sugar icing after baking.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Sunday Snowshoe at Roughlock Falls

This afternoon we set out in hopes of getting in our first snowshoe of the year. Not exactly sure where it should take place we headed towards Kirk Road in Lead and thought about doing part of the Mickelson Trail but for some reason we kept traveling south. We debated heading over to the Englewood Trailhead but eventually we settled on the Roughlock Falls Trail, the place we were married. 

It's a beautiful hike and offers some really great photographic opportunities. Two things we really wanted to take advantage of today.

We parked at the trailhead, strapped on our snowshoes, wrangled up Wu and headed up the trail. It was late in the afternoon and the sun had already passed through the valley leaving it cloudy but remarkably warm. The path was narrow and packed and our snowshoes weren't a must but there was no way we were going to ditch them. Instead we widened the trail a bit and enjoyed the sound of our snowshoes moving through the loose powder.

Wu was in full maniac mode. He was off; rushing through the deep snow, rolling and burrowing. We hadn't seen him this happy in awhile. Each time we stopped to take photos he would come back to us and roll around acting like a walrus.

The trail itself meanders along the creek just inside the treeline for the mile up to the falls. About halfway up there was a snowshoe path leading into the woods and we headed that way. The snow was powder and the trail lead us closer to the cliffs that surround the valley. The woods were silent and peaceful. We hiked in for about ten minutes and still hadn't met the end and decided that with the sun so low in the sky we should head back if we wanted to see the falls before sunset.

We stopped a few times to take some photos and at one point I fell backwards into the snow. Wu thought it was great fun and ran laps around me as I pulled myself up and dusted off. Josh took to opportunity to laugh and take photos. Thankfully I didn't get wet! And we were on our way again.

The rest of the hike up was amazing. The sun was setting and reflecting an orange sheen off the water. The stream hasn't frozen over and with the heavy snowfall edging the running water it was like a page out of a storybook. Pristine. We were all alone on the trail and it felt like the whole valley was ours.

We came across a group of 15 or so Mallards were paddling and preening themselves in the stream. Happy to see them and share the afternoon we watched them for a few moments and moved on. It almost felt like we were interrupting something but they hardly even noticed us. Still, for a second it was like we were part of a world far removed from the streets of town. Nature is an inspiring and spiritual place.

When we made it to the waterfalls we took a few shots and tried to master 'waterfall photography'- apparently we still have a bit to learn. Regretfully, we headed back down the trail with the sun getting lower each moment. It didn't take us nearly as long on our way out as we had thought and we wished that the sun wouldn't set so we could keep on snowshoeing. It was a perfect way to spend our afternoon.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Firewood, Firewood, Firewood

Lately we haven't had too much time for adventures because we have been so busy collecting firewood for the winter. It seems like every free moment we have on the weekends in spent off a dirt road in the Black Hills National Forest looking for dead and down tress. I'm not complaining but we wouldn't mind our cruising to be pointless and our afternoons to be ours again but all the time we are dedicating now will pay us back in moments of warmth and many beautiful fires we'll enjoy.

11.11 Josh at work
There's no shortage of firewood in these hills. When the Mountain Pine Beetle infested the Northern Hills created lots of stands of standing dead pine trees. The Forest Service made permits for folks like us to go out to collect dead and down trees or standing dead pine beetle trees within 300 feet of the road. Of course, not all roads are open to this. They choose specific areas that needed it the most. Since the National Forest is riddled with dirt roads, there are a great number of areas that we can cut within 20 minutes of our place. And since the permits are only $5 per cord we thought that it was well worth our time and effort to do this instead of buying cords of wood or paying a huge oil bill.

Collecting firewood is a task that is much more time consuming than it appears. We are using our Jeep and usually have Wu in tow so we rarely bring home a huge load but it's nice just to be outside doing it; smelling the air, walking the land and getting pitch all over us. Josh usually throws on his chaps, puts on his helmet (mostly for the ear coverage) and starts up the chain saw and Wu and I take a nice long walk.

11.11 A very happy Wu
Wu and I aren't much help until the wood is cut and even then I can't lift a decent size of green wood. But we try and maybe next year we'll look into creating a harness and putting Wu to work. When we first started it would take us about 90 minutes to cut and fill the Jeep but now we can do it and be back on the road in less than an hour. We're learning!

We've been really lucky this fall with excellent warm weather and we haven't had too much of a need for the furnace or the stove and so any wood we needed we chopped it as we went. Time has seemed to pass so quickly that all the plans we've had to chop a large quantity had gone out the window. Until this weekend.

11.11 There's something beautiful in a wood pile
On Sunday we borrowed our neighbors wood splitter and set to work. That machine was a miracle worker. Some of the rounds we were able to cut were 80-150lbs and outrageously huge. We worked for about an hour- Josh running the machine and I was stacking like a mad hatter. It was a lot of fun spending that time together and seeing each other in a new way.

All that work made us hungry and it was PB&J time. Then we hit it again and got quite a bit more done before Josh's back was screaming with pain. He's so tall that it's quite a reach down to run the machine and continuously be picking up pieces. At one point he let me run the hydraulics and he worked the rounds. I think that we got the most done doing that but it gets a little crowded and so I went back to stacking. In all we cut just under a cord. Which isn't too much but for our first day on the job it was enough. All that fresh air and hard work is exhausting and we were ready to start cooking a good meal and enjoying a nice fire.

Monday, October 31, 2011


Though we've been living in the Hills since 2009 this is the first October that we've actually been in town. Somehow we are bouncing around the east coast at this time of year and we didn't realize all the fun we were missing here in Deadwood.

Our friend, Matt Kinsey was visiting from North Dakota and it turned out that he had chosen the perfect weekend to head south. Two years ago we had spent Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts with Matt. Salem was interesting and people had been creative but we left feeling like there should have been more going on. We should have been in Deadwood.

10.31.11 Crowded at The Franklin. Photo by M. Kinsey
Saturday night we dressed up and headed downtown. I threw on a Greek goddess costume that I had worn a few years back- a long white satiny dress with gold arm bands and trim. Josh morphed into a hunter. He was dressed from head to toe in camouflage, complete with deer calls and a hunter orange wii rifle. Matt was Matt.

I don't think that the guys were all that excited until we were on Main St. There were people everywhere and dressed up as everything imaginable. It was fun just to take everyone in. We managed to cram into the Franklin Hotel just as they were announcing the winners of the costume contests. As we made it through the door we caught sight of one of the most impressive costumes we had ever seen- the Transformer, Bumblebee. Then there was the Nazgul, from LOTR who was 8ft tall. There was a real pirate with his own live macaw. I say 'real' because the man looked like he just stepped off of the ship from waging hell on the open seas.

10.31.11 There's Waldo! Photo by M. Kinsey
The Franklin was so cramped that we decided to head down the block and keep people watching. We ran into a very leggy Lt. Dangle, several Waldo's and I'm pretty sure we saw a Snooki! Or at least I hope that's what she was going for. There were pimps and ho's, devils and angels, priests, clowns, bees and a even a Santa. Everyone looked great, was in a great mood and it made the whole town feel alive.

Since we weren't drinking we spent most of our time meandering through the crowds and popping in and out of the bars. I wish I had taken a picture of the blackjack tables at Saloon #10. Where else could you see a true group of characters playing cards?

10.31.11 Best group- Green Army Men. Photo by M. Kinsey
After about an hour we decided that maybe we should head back to the house. It was becoming obvious that everyone was a few drinks ahead of us and since we weren't going to be catching up it was time to call it a night. Before we made our way back up the hill we decided to cruise down Main St. and take one last look at everyone. We ended up seeing some of the best costumes yet including a troop of Green Army Men. They were painted olive drab form head to toy and as we drove by they all struck a pose. It was the best group costume that we had seen all night.

After we had time to take everything in, we decided that we won't be missing another Deadweird! It was too much silliness and fun. Only next time we'll really do ourselves up right. Maybe we'll be characters from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (our favorite movie) or maybe we could be the cast of Game of Thrones. There's so many good ideas and too long to wait!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Owl Banding in the Black Hills

           As part of my Outdoor Education degree it's sometimes required to do service learning within the community to broaden our experiences and to also meet new contacts. The most interesting option I had heard about so far was an opportunity to go owl banding. 
Banded Owl Leg 10.11
           The Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory was looking for volunteers to help with owl surveys that they would be conducting in the Black Hills and Southwest South Dakota and so I contacted the local regional coordinator, Nancy Drilling, to set up a date that I could help out.
           That day came quickly and on Sunday I cruised down Tinton Road to find the location of the make-shift owl banding station. I made it to the parking spot around 5 o’clock and hiked around for awhile trying to find exactly where the station was set up and after a moment or two of feeling lost I saw people walking out of the woods a few hundred yards away. It was Nancy and other birders who would be helping that evening.
           After brief introductions Nancy walked me to where the nets were set up. I was disappointed that I had missed setting up the nets but it was still really interesting to see them already up. There were 9 nets in total. There were three set up in a tight triangle around an electric owl call. Another three were set around that triangle but about 8-10 ft away. The last three were set up in a straight line about 20ft away edging an old two track. I was curious about how this location was chosen and why the nets were set up like they were. Apparently the owls like areas with pine trees but also areas that have undergrowth (which can be a little hard to find in these woods). This particular spot ran along a ridge so it was more likely that they might be flying along the ridge or close enough to hear the call resonating out. The set of nets that were set in a straight line and further out were set up that way to net any owls that may be interested but skeptical of the call and not swoop right in.     
Measuring the Sew-whet's leg for a band, 10.11
I always find it interesting the tools that people use in their trade. There was a metal ruler that could be used to measure the wing length of the owls, and another flat metal ruler-like measuring device that would measure the width of the leg so that the metal band could be properly fitted. The silver bands were very interesting and were bigger than I thought they’d be and each was imprinted with a specific number. I asked where the bands came from and they are issued by a specific GFP out of Colorado, I believe. It made perfect sense after she explained that she was given a certain set of numbers and has to account for each one and that only one place issues them to prevent confusion later on. The most interesting tool to me was the used condensed juice containers that had been fashion into carriers for the owls. The old containers were so small that it really cemented it into my mind that the owls we would be working with were much smaller than I had anticipated. For some reason I had previously had visions of me wrestling a big horned owl out of the netting. I was greatly relieved when I found out otherwise. The owls that we were hoping to net were Saw-whet and quite small, about the size of a hand.
Measuring Wing Length, 10.11
At this point it was still light out and the work was pretty easy. Nancy, her coworker, Britta and another birder/volunteer, Charlie were going to be my companions for the night. We settled our chairs and prepared our snacks for the wait. About 15 minutes after sunset we walked back to the nets and opened them up. When the nets are spread out I would guess that they are between 5½ and 7ft. The walk took about 2 minutes at a fast pace and was just far enough that we wouldn’t disturb any owls that came in close. The electronic call was put into a plastic bag and hung in the center of the triangle net set up. Once it was activated it gave off a sound that sounded almost like a beeping. It went through a cycle that was maybe a minute long and then repeated. I asked why this call was chosen and Nancy told me that this was the sound males would make in the spring to let other owls know this was their territory. 
Counting wing feathers, 10.11
          We opened the nets around 6:45 PM and we noted the weather- about 45’ and calm. From this point we settled in until the next net check in a half hour which is just about the perfect amount of time allowed for the woods to be undisturbed after our checks for just long enough to lure an owl in but that it was also short enough that any owls caught wouldn’t be exposed to extreme stress. It made a lot of sense and she explained that other places do it at different time lengths but they were comfortable with this amount.
            We checked the nets every half hour until 8:15 without any luck. It was still cool to walk out there expecting to find an owl and using my flashlight to light up the nets in search. At 8:15 Britta and Charlie did their check of the nets and there was an owl!
            When they were back at the station we took the owl out and measured it’s tail, from it’s bottom to the tip. Then we weighed the owl while still contained and it weighed 98g. By it’s weight we could tell that it was a female. Apparently female Saw-whet owls weigh more than males and by using a predesignated scale we saw that she fell into the female range. Then we measured the width of it’s leg and fitted it with a band, counted the feathers on the wings and on the tall. Then we used a black light on the underside of it’s wings. Apparently the new feathers secrete a hormone that turns bright pink under a black light. By the pattern that we observed we thought that this owl was between 1 and 2 years old. It was so cool to see the hormone appear and then to find a matching pattern in a resource book. I was also able to pick out which feather were older by their wearing pattern on the edge. When we had collected all this information and recorded it we released her by setting her on an arm and she took off into the night.  
Observing the owl at the station, 10.11
            Seeing that owl up close was exhilarating. It made the hours leading up to it just disappear and I couldn’t wait until the next check. Unfortunately we didn’t see another owl and around 9 PM it began to rain. Rain is tough on owls especially if they get the flight feathers wet so we went out and torn down the nets, packed up the station and it’s gear and headed home.
            This was an amazing experience! After hearing that Nancy and Britta weren’t having too much luck at this station made me even more excited that I was part of that night. I walked away knowing so much more about owls, especially Saw-whets. Charlie, the other volunteer, was a very knowledgeable birder and told us stories of owl boxes that he had on his property. I didn’t even know that owls lived in cavities or boxes that Josh and I could make. I learned a lot about birding culture and lots of interesting facts from each person and I felt inspired to make a box or two to lure owl to our land one day. I saw pictures of baby owls in a box and feeding and realized that this is something that I would like to become more involved with. I also realized that within each owl box is a mini archaeology dig that I could do to learn more about what owls are eating, how they shed feathers and what they bring into their nests. Maybe someday Josh and I'll have the opportunity to do something like that!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Becoming an Outdoor Woman Workshop

Recently I participated in a nationwide workshop called Becoming an Outdoor Woman. It's a weekend long workshop that focuses on teaching woman a variety of outdoor skills in a positive and fun environment. The BOW workshop that I attended was in Custer, South Dakota at the Outlaw Ranch and was sponsored by SD Game, Fish and Parks. When I signed up for BOW I selected four courses that I wanted to attend and get hands-on experience with. For my first BOW I chose Wild Game Cooking, Dutch Oven Cooking, Birding and ID and Map & Compass. There were so many options that it was hard to narrow it down to just four!

The weekend kicked off with an orientation. There were about 100 women who were there to participate and probably another 30 people who were instructors. It turned out that the majority of women were attending for their first time just like me, which made me feel a bit better. After our welcome we all headed to the location of the first class. I apparently has been daydreaming when an announcement was made that my first class, Wild Game Cooking, had changed locations. I went to the old spot and waited at the picnic tables with another lady, Gerri. We started talking and exchanging stories about how we had come to be there. She was great company and before long we realized that we must have missed something. Without any trouble we were able to find the rest of our class and a weekend of fun began.

Wild Game Cooking

There were about 8 other woman enrolled in this class with me. Most of them either had a bit of experience cooking wild game or none at all. I'd had a bit, mostly deer and moose, but when I read on the brochure that snow goose would be involved I knew that this was a class where I would be learning something.

Wild Game Cooking, Retrieved from BOW Facebook, 9.11
Since the classes are 3-4 hours long we had time to prepare an entire meal. We made deer steak salad, where the deer had been marinated in a mustard sauce. We also made poppers with snow goose, some of the meat had been soaked in a milk brine and some in a salt brine. It was amazing how we could really taste the difference between the two. I also had never used a brine before and so this was a totally new way to spice up meat. We also enjoyed a pate made with pheasant. It was amazing and the recipe was very simple. I think that I could make this with wild turkey too. We learned how to make a sun-dried tomato elk tenderloin which was phenomenal. The last thing that we made was a pheasant and chukar soup. We actually got to field dress the birds that were used in the soup. That was something I had never done. It was surprising easy and really not that messy. What a skill I got to learn!

At the end they provided us with all of the recipes that we had made and additionally BOW had purchased a full Wild Game Cooking cookbook for each of us. This was a very delicious and education class! I've brought the ideas home and can't wait for some new game to experiment on!

Dutch Oven Cooking

I attended Dutch Oven Cooking on Saturday morning. The class was taught by The Patrick Sister who are two of the funniest, sweetest ladies I have ever met. They told us about their start at cooking in dutch ovens which coincidentally enough was about 10 years before at a BOW workshop.  They walked us through the history of dutch oven cooking and showed us the variety of dutch ovens out there. Then we got to cooking.

Scotch Eggs Dutch Oven Style, 9.11
There was a group about 10-12 ladies and we broke into groups of 2-3 to each make a meal. As a group we made chocolate bread pudding, scotch eggs, apple turnovers, breakfast pizza rolls and a spinach quiche. For a group of women with barely any experience we did a fantastic job. Everything came out perfectly delicious.

We each walked away with the confidence and ability to cook up a great meal in a dutch oven. The Patrick Sisters also gave us each a copy of their recently published Full Circle Dutch Oven Cookbook. I can't wait to take this class again next year!

Bird ID and Birding

Saturday after lunch I went to Birding and Bird ID taught by Lynn Purdy and Maggie Engler, two very knowledgeable women. I decided to take this class because I'm not a South Dakota native and so I'm not very familiar with the birds in the Hills. I had and still do have a lot to learn but I'm more inspired than ever. 

There were maybe 10 people in this class and after a brief orientation we grabbed a pair of binoculars we headed outside. Even though the class was mid-afternoon we were still able to see a few birds. I learned to name some birds I had been seeing around Outlaw Ranch and a bird that's only found in the Hills. It was really fun to watch the birds playing in the pasture or to try to pick them out of the thickets or just to find them eating on the ground. It's amazing what you don't see!

Birding and Bird ID, Retrieved from BOW Facebook, 9.11
After spending some time outside we ventured back to the warmth and wrapped up. Lynn and Maggie provided us with posters, birding lists and books on landscaping for wildlife in our own backyard. I learned so much and walked away with a ton of resources. I'm very happy that I took this class and had the opportunity to meet Lynn and Maggie. It was very fun!

Later that evening there was a feast prepared by the SD Conservation Officers Association. This is something that they do each year at BOW to raise awareness about events they do throughout the year and to raise money. Over the past few years whenever a bighorn or mountain goat was hit the Conservation Officers tried to save the meat for occasions like this. A few years ago a moose (which are incredibly rare in the Hills) was poached and the SDCOA salvaged it and had some meat saved for the BOW dinner. When someone had taken well over their limit on walleye and perch the fish were confiscated and saved for the dinner. That night I saw the most diverse and delicious array of wild game. They served walleye, perch, wild turkey, mule deer, moose, mountain goat, and bighorn sheep. There may have been other meats but I was so excited to try mountain goat and bighorn sheep that everything else was eclipsed. I'm pretty sure that I had elk, too, but I can't be sure. To support their cause and to show my appreciation I purchased a t-shirt for myself and my husband. There was no way that he was going to believe my night without some hard evidence.

Map and Compass

On Sunday morning I attended my last class, Map and Compass. I was pretty confidant going in that I could work with a compass because for my jobs I had always been required to keep a bearing and to draw maps but what I wasn't used to was working my way around a map and taking bearings straight from it.

We started out learning to identify map symbols and how to read the contour lines. I really learned a lot. For example, I learned how to read which was a stream flows by the contour lines that run through it. After that we learned how to take a bearing from maps and how to adjust for true north. There's a lot to think about when you are trying to get somewhere with just a map and compass!

Map and Compass 9.11
When we got that down we headed outside to try out our new skills on real terrain. First, we practiced reading the bearing and matching it to our pace. That was fun and once we got that down we were set upon a real course that brought us all around Outlaw Ranch. There were five checkpoints that we had to find and with a little group help we found all five. We had to navigate around a lake, up to a rock outcropping, across a pasture, to a small meandering stream and then back to where we had started. It was awesome! Map and compass work is a really great way to encourage team work and build confidence!

After we had completed the course we were all gifted the compass that we had worked with. This was great because the compasses were small, simple and could be used to read any 1:24,000 scaled map. I can't wait to pass on some of my new skills to my friends!

After the weekend had come to a wrap I was truly sad to be heading home. The women that I had met over the course of the weekend were all so spirited and fun that it actually brought a tear to my eye to know that I would have to wait a whole year to have another experience like this. Becoming an Outdoor Woman had been a successful weekend. I had learned several new skills and my confidence in being outside and learning new things was high. Now, I am counting down until next year and I hope that some of my friends will come with me. It's something that every woman should experience!

Thank you to all the people who made this weekend possible. Thank you to every women who brought their great attitudes and made this a great experience. I hope to see you all again!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Spearfish Canyon Revisted & the Termesphere Gallery

Annie Falls has been calling our names for a few weeks now and first thing Sunday morning Josh, myself and our friend, Matt Kinsey, made our way there. We turned off Spearfish Canyon onto Annie Creek Road and parked at a slight turnoff a couple miles in. The trail head is on the left and easy to miss.

From the natural platform at the top we were surveying the falls and the canyon. Josh took off down the crazy decline towards the fall and Matt and I spied another route down. I thought that I would try to bring Wu down this new route so that we could all spend some time playing in the creek.  Matt went down the same way as Josh to let him know that Wu and I would be attempting a new descent.

9.11 Annie Falls
The new trail is to the left of the natural platform where you can view Annie Falls. At first I didn't think that it would be so bad but it turned out to be pretty steep. Wu was a champion as we hiked down. There was a trail as the route had been used by game and a few people but it was still fairly subjective. We came to one spot where Wu had some trouble until he got the nerve to just do it.

Once we were at the creek it was considerably easier to walk and it was a nice surprise to see Josh and Matt heading our way down another waterfall. At some point there had been a rockslide and the loose rock had created a lower fall. It was awesome how the water flowed through the crevasses and pooled in basins.

It was here that we discovered the carcass of a coyote that had fallen from the cliffs above.The bones were sun-bleached and surprisingly, nearly intact. It was an interesting sight but it also put into perspective how we really needed to pay attention to our footing during these adventures. Wet rock and pine needles make things a little slick.

9.11 Matt at Annie Falls
We played around in the creek for some time. Taking pictures and exploring. At Annie Falls we found the geocache that's stashed there. Josh made the find. We all signed the log book and left a few trade items. It's a good hide and making it more difficult are the canyon walls which bounce the GPS signal around. Good times!

We took the route that Wu and I had taken down on our way up again. In only one spot (a different one than before) did Wu get nervous but he atacked it with his usual bear-ness and ran circles around us. This is a more dog friendly route than the regularly used trail but I would only recommend it for very athletic dogs who are just a bit crazy.

By the time that we were heading out a few families showed up to enjoy the falls. We took off north to Community Caves. Since it was a recent find, Matt hadn't been there before and it was on our 'to see' list.

We parked at a large parking lot about 3 miles south of the Northern Entrance to Spearfish Canyon. Before we had made it to the trail we passed a family who told us that it was quite crowed today. They were right. The hike took about 15 minutes and thankfully we were able to enjoy it without the trail being crowded. The hike up follows a ravine and is moderately difficult. The climb is beautiful: leading from a dry creek bed up to the forest canopy.

9.11 Family Picture at Community Caves
At the top the large overhang houses a number of caverns. There's a waterfall that falls over the lip and flows down the trail. We relaxed here for a bit. There's not much to do at the top beyond exploring the caverns and enjoying the views.

It's a very interesting geological feature and worth the hike. We haven't seen anything quite like this anywhere else in the Hills. But ofcourse when something is this unique word gets around and as a result there were a lot more people at the caves than we were hoping for. Our visit was short but it was still a lot of fun. 

Our last stop of the afternoon was at the Termesphere Gallery. It's tucked away on Christensen Drive on the outskirts of Spearfish. We have passed a hundred times and always said that we'd do it soon. Well, soon came Sunday afternoon.

From the road it's almost impossible to see the buildings that make up the gallery and the Termes family home but the glimpses you get allude to something architecturally unique. The dirt driveway leads up to the front doors and you finally get to see the geometric building that houses the gallery.

9.11 The Termesphere Gallery 
The Termesphere was first created by Dick Termes thirty something years ago. On a globe he paints with a six-point perspective which isn't something easily explained in words. You could say that he paints everything he sees in every direction from his one point. It's something you should see. Each Termesphere is an optical illusion and a mathmatical piece of art.

Around the Northern Black Hills there are Termespheres on display all over the place. We had seen the ones at Saloon #10, Spearfish Chamber of Commerce, the Deadwood Visitor Center, and the Spearfish City Park and each was hypnotizing. Each piece is amazing but to have the greatest Termesphere experience you should visit the gallery. A lifetime of Termespheres are on display to enjoy.

Our entrance to the gallery was by donation and they told us that they are open whenever they're home. After feeling the impact of all of the Termespheres and finding our favorites, we realized that this is one of our best finds yet and we will surely be returning!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Places We've Seen

Since Josh and I began our geocaching explorations, we have come across a few unknown spots that completely surprised us. We would be on our way to find a cache and all of a sudden there was an amazing canyon or waterfall ahead. All we could think was "How have we never been here before?" Intriguing us more was that our friends hadn't heard of these places either.

One afternoon Josh and I explored the Whitewood Creek Reclamation Area which is located behind Schade Winery, at the beginning of Boulder Canyon in Deadwood. There's a dirt road that follows the creek back towards Whitewood and it looks like it dead-ends in a storage yard but alas, it winds to the right and heads into the canyon.

We crossed a couple of trestles and slowly made our way along the creek. The canyon walls rise up hundreds of feet on the left and the creek flows on the right. There's not much for traffic in this area, because it is a dead-end which makes it even more peaceful and relaxing. Maybe two miles in there is a large man-made wall which acts as a retainer but also gives easy access to the creek. To get on top of the wall you have to drive through an 100 foot crevasse. It's awesome.

We had heard about a railroad tunnel in this area. Our eyes were pealed for any sign of it. The road continues for a few miles more but eventually ends at private property. As were were turning around I saw a large black void.

8.11 Josh at Whitewood Creek Train Tunnel  
It's at moments like this that I know Josh loves me. I started hooting about a tunnel and how we should walk to it. It was ridiculous but he obliged and we set off down the road.
8.11 Whitewood Creek Train Tunnel

We had found the old abandoned train tunnel! The entrance was gated but it was still really cool to be able to see through it and to imagine a train rolling through there. I wish that there was information on the land owner because we would love to hike above it and around the area (and obviously to get inside)!

After playing for a bit we headed back to town. On the way out we spotted several hiking trails that we had missed on the way in. We are going to go back later to hike and explore a bit more.

During the week I had been geocaching on Annie Creek Rd. and found a great spot. I didn't investigate at the time because I wanted to do it with Josh and we were able to make it there just a few days later.

9.11 View of Annie Falls from landing
Annie Creek Road is about 2 miles North of Cheyenne Crossing in Spearfish Canyon. It's a little dirt road just before a sharp corner. The road seems to be laid on an old railroad bed and in a few spots they are surfacing. There's a nice hiking trail that follows along the left side and can lead you to some great views. About a mile or so in there's a small pulloff on the right and a steep pebble path on the left.

We parked there and Josh, myself and Wu made our way down the path. For a few yards it's rocky and steep but it leads to a natural landing. Lining the edge were huge boulders that made perfect benches. Josh sat out with his legs over the edge but it was a bit too high for me.

From there we overlooked a waterfall that fell onto a large boulder and split the stream of water in two. The path down to the creek is a bit trecherous but it's worth it. There's some climbing and the pine needles can make it a little slick.

8.11 Josh at Annie Falls
It was so steep that we had to leave Wu at the top. Josh told him to stay and we hiked down. The creek was really easy to cross and we didn't get our feet wet. We enjoyed the waterfall and were in total delight over the new hike we could do here.

There a bit of space by the creek and it would be a beautiful area to eat lunch, which we will be sure to do. After taking a few photos and realizing that Wu was waiting we climbed back up.

To our delight the dog was still there and when we crested the top he let us know that he won't be left behind again. This wasn't a hike for young kids or dogs but it was a good challenge for us and we have started to try to find a route up the creek instead of down that steep incline.

We made it back to the car and kept exploring the Canyon. It was a perfect way to have started the day. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Geo-what? GeoCACHING!

This summer has been particularly tough to find time to explore with each other. It seems that when Josh is working, I'm not and when I'm working, he's not. We have come to realize that though we can't seem to get too far from home, there are still plenty of small adventures close to home. So, we dusted off the GPS and started to investigate the geocaching possibilities.

Geocoin & Travel Bug
I first started geocaching in 2007. I can't remember who told me or where I came across the game but it sparked an interest immediately. Basically, it's a worldwide treasure hunt played with GPS units. Cachers navigate to specific coordinates and then try to find a small camouflaged containter (the geocache). Then the Cacher logs their find online.

In the geocache are various trade objects; marbles, keychains, fishing tackle. You never really know what you are going to find but the coolest things are Travel Bugs and Geocoins. A Travel Bug is a dog-tag that's attached to an object and a geocoin is unique coin, both are numbered. They travel from cache to cache around the country and people log them so everyone can see where they've been. It's a little dorky. We know. But it's also kinda fun!
50cal Ammo Box cache, Located off Maitland Rd.

When we logged into we were surprised to see that within 10 miles of our house were 64 caches. It's kind of amazing to think that within that distance there were that many treasures to try and find. So we started looking. 30 days later and we've attempted about 25 caches.

Last night we tried out first Night Cache. It was located off of Mt. Roosevelt Rd., not too far from home. We took an old two-track that we hadn't known about before. We drive Roosevelt Rd. all the time and still had missed that road. We drove down to the coordinates and waited for the sun to set. The pines rose up all around us and for being so close to town it somehow seemed like we were in our own world. We heard the insects begin their night songs as the forest came alive around us. It was very cool.

Once the sun set we started up our flashlights and began to look. It didn't take us to spot the reflectors and after a short walk we found the camouflaged cache. We signed the logbook, took a 35mm film container with a trash bag in it (to pick up trash with on your hike out) and left, in it's place, a key-chain bottle opener.

On our way home we realized how nice it was to be out caching in the evening, especially in the dark. Now that we've found a night cache we are going to start looking for more to do. Maybe even put one out ourselves. Wouldn't that be fun?!

Only part of geocaching is finding the cache. The most important part are the places that you'll see and the experience that you'll have. It's about going somewhere you may have overlooked or had never known about and exploring it with fresh eyes.

If you are interested in finding out about geocaching near your home than visit and put in your zip code. A list of caches will appear but you can also look at them on a map. If you want more of an idea of what you may be getting into watch What is Geocaching? If you'd like to go out with us than leave us a note! Either way look for us, BackroadsAdventures, on the trail!


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Loving our life! Plus a preview of our biggest adventure yet!

Today, I was looking at our blog and realized how lucky I am. I can't help but appreciate how much effort Amanda puts into chronicling our adventures. She is such a hard worker. She is a full time student, works nights, and takes care of me and our house. With all this going on she still seems to find time to plan out some truly great adventures. I love my wife with everything I am and ever will be. She is my driving force and my best friend. I love the life that we have created. And I especially love our adventures all over the USA.

Our lives have been a little hectic lately and we no longer have as much time to go out and explore like we use to. Well, I am glad to announce that this is just a temporary situation. Amanda and myself are on our way to starting our own eco-tourism business.

We've done a lot of jobs and been a lot of places, and it has become obvious that we are at our best when we are outside with each other. We've been toying with the idea of having our own business for over a year. We kicked a few ideas around, and all seemed like good avenues. The only problem was that we needed money to get it all started. So, we've been working our butts off in an attempt to get the money together to start our business.

To be honest, it wasn't looking too good there in the beginning. As is typical with us, it took a little help from nature and fate to give us our break. As you all know, we had a great wedding and a fantastic honeymoon. It was on that honeymoon that we felt the nudge we needed.

While in Yellowstone we realized our love for being outside wasn't something we could ignore. After riding around and thinking about what we could do Amanda came up with the idea of Eco-tourism. I had heard of it before but never really thought about it much. Amanda told me about what she knew and I was on board. When we got home from Yellowstone we did some research and I found that it was one of the safest business ventures there is. Relatively low start up and a large market to appeal to. This was right up our alley.

I don't wanna give any more away until we get further along in our process, but I encourage everyone who reads our blog to keep an eye out for Backroads Eco-Adventures and hopefully we'll be giving you a tour of what we call home.

Again, I can't thank Amanda enough for being so amazing, and I know that this incredible adventure we've begun is about to take a very fun turn. I love my life and I love my wife. I really am the luckiest man alive.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary & Community Caves

A few days ago I came across an article about Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary, a place open to the public as a place to reflect and be at peace. This seemed like a very cool idea and on my next day off I headed that way. Nate happened to have the day off and he came along. The dogs were in tow. I instantly realized what a special place this was and knew that I'd be back in a matter of days with Josh. It was something that he needed to experience.

Entrance to Pathways 8.11
That day came on Sunday. I had told him just enough details to get his interest peaking and we woke up early with anticipation. We were in great moods as we cruised out on Rochford Road. It's beautiful country out that way. Pathways is located on Juso Ranch Road, just across from the Dumont Trailhead of the Mickelson Trail.

We parked in the lot, leashed the dog and passed through the gate. It felt as though we were entereing a private, sacred place. We read the welcome prayer, which wasn't religious, so much as spiritual. And when we walked on I think we both felt lighter.

The Invocation, 8.11
 The walking path was wide easy to navigate and natural to follow. Our first stop was at the statue called "The Invocation".  It's a larger than life depiction of a warrior on the back of a bucking horse with only a buffalo hide between them. Raised to the sky, the warrior holds a buffalo skull. The statue has begun to patina and it was awe inspiring. It was impossible not look look at it from all sides in wonder.

The path first lead us through an aspen grove, then up a slight hill and through the woods. Along the way were nooks with plaques with quotes to contemplate and benches to sit in wonder. There were many religious quotes from a wide variety of regions, each emphasizing one-ness. It felt like a very positive place. We don't want to give away too much because it really is something to see.

Gandhi quote on the walking path, 8.11
We took our time and sat on quite a few benches. We sat and listened to a symphony of insects wake up and enjoyed the dew on our feet.  We eventually made our way back to the beginning. As we exited through the gate we promised to come back here soon. Our early morning visit had been inspiring.

Late that afternoon, after lunch and a nap, we headed to Spearfish Canyon to find Community Caves. Earlier this spring I had thought that I had glimpsed a frozen waterfall that could have been the Caves. I had asked just about every local friend and search every blog on the Black Hills and it was only a few days before when a few friends had hiked it. After a few details, we had a better idea of where we were going.

Community Caves, 8.11
We parked at the turnout that was 2.7 miles, crossed the highway and walked back towards Spearfish along the creek bed. The trail was fairly easy to find and we began the assent up a rocky ravine to the caves. About halfway up a small stream of water washes through the path and it seems as though we've stepped into another world.

Community Caves 8.11
At the top of the ravine a waterfall spills over the overhang that houses a series of small caves. Some of the caves had smoke damage and one had artwork. The water spilling over the edge was cold and we used it to cool ourselves. We hung out for awhile and enjoyed the peacefulness.

On the way home we had to pass through Deadwood, which is gearing up for Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It seemed like a nice night to enjoy a dinner at Diamond Lil's and an ice cream. We walked around town and took all the bikes in. The streets rumbled with the thunder of Harley's and it was a good way to end our adventurous day.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Honeymoon in Yellowstone

Josh & I spent our honeymoon exploring and camping in Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP and the surrounding National Forests. It was the best camping adventure of our lives. We did too much and had too much fun to put it all down in words. So, here is a slide show of some of the beautiful places we visited.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Little Bighorn NM & Cooke City-Beartooth Pass

View over Little Bighorn Battlefield
We came across Little Bighorn Battlefield on accident on our adventure west towards Yellowstone. As we were driving along Highway 212 we noticed cars on the ridge to our left and it looked like there may have been a statue. We were curious. After a little investigation with our Garmin we realized that abutting the road was Little Bighorn NM. Both of us voiced some interest in visiting the site and it seemed perfect that we happen to be driving by.

Marking the Calvary's Mass Grave
Here's a little history: At the Battle of Little Bighorn, late June 1876, George Armstrong Custer and 12 companies of the 7th Calvary went up against Cheyenne, Sioux and Arapaho warriors. It was a culminating moment in the  Native Americans struggle against the European invasion. Custer and his men were defeated and buried in a mass grave. The fallen warriors were removed by their tribes and given proper Native American burials. Within a few years the area became a national cemetery and a monument was erected on the knoll where Custer made his "last stand'. Stones now mark where soldiers and warriors fell.

From the parking lot it is a short walk through the museum to the knoll where the monument lies. As you walk slowly uphill it's impossible not to think back to what the battle must have been like. The prairie dominates the landscape for as far as you can see like an ocean of grass and woody shrubs. The sun was beating down upon our face and shoulders, warning us to seek shade and drink more water. I couldn't help but wonder if the battle was on a day like that and what it really was like.

The stones that marked where soldiers fell were white granite, all except for Custer, who's stone had a black front. Where each Native American warrior had fallen there was a dark granite stone that informed the reader that he had died 'defending the Cheyenne way of life'. We thought that was quite beautiful.

Little Bighorn NM, Walking Tour
The path lead us into a circular area with stone walls reaching 6-7 feet. Dark plaques displayed the names of the warriors lost in battle and of famous warriors who had changed the history of the people. Along one edge there was an iron statue of warriors riding into battle and through the iron the prairie flowed below. The circular construction of the area helped us to feel the place. It felt like a memorial. Silent yet intense and somehow peaceful.

This was a great surprise for us on our journey. I think that we had been so focused on what we could do in Yellowstone that we may have overlooked some things to do along the way! From here we continued to head west, getting closer to Yellowstone with each moment.

The shortest route from the Black Hills to Yellowstone is straight East to Cody and in through the East Entrance. We wanted to leave the park that way so we decided on the Northeast Entrance. This meant that most of our drive was through Montana, a state I'd never seen before. It was beautiful.

Rock Creek Vista Point Rest Area
It turns out that Highway 212 would lead us all the way to Yellowstone's doorstep. In Red Lodge, MT we stopped to fill our cooler and stretch our legs. After looking around a bit, we thought that we could definitely live there. The town is nestled in a valley and felt like a outdoor paradise. It's the end of the line during the winter months when the Cooke City-Beartooth Pass is closed. It seemed like a fun little town.

As soon as we headed south on 212 there was a change in scenery. We were entering into the Shoshone National Forest and approaching the beginning of the Pass. The mountains on both sides of us nestled closer and seemed to climb higher. We followed the valley floor for miles before we began the slow climb up the mountain side. There were so many switchbacks that I lost count before we were at the first viewpoint. As we rose out of the valley we had spectacular views to take in. The mountain peaks were covered with snow and though they had felt far away, we were suddenly on the plateau cruising on top of the world.

Gardner Lake Overlook
Josh was doing most of the driving and I was envious. The road was narrow, constantly curvy and rarely had a guardrail. I wish I could have driven to distract me from the huge drop that we were coasting along. My toes were constantly tingling.

We stopped at each overlook and gushed at the views. As we had rose in elevation the temperature dropped significantly. In Red Lodge we couldn't escape the heat but on the high plateau it was in the 60's and the wind was howling and we needed sweatshirts. The lakes were edged in ice and snow still dominated the ravines. It was like stepping back into spring.

We began to look for a place to camp that night. Originally, we thought that we were going to make it into Yellowstone the first night but we talked about it and decided that we would like to make our entrance in the morning. We checked out few camping areas but none of them seemed to be what we were looking for.

It's a odd thing to be driving to a destination but to have no plans at all. Our schedule was up in the air and our time was our own. We eventually came to a campground called Crazy Creek and decided to spend our first night in Site 11. It was far away from the mosquitoes, had a view of rocky ledges and had a path that led down to a roaring stream.

Josh on Crazy Creek
We pitched our tent, blew up the air mattress, made the bed, started a fire and set to cooking dinner. This was the first time that Josh and I had actually been camping together and we were having a lot of fun. For dinner, I think I made beans and hot dogs with bread and cheese. It was definitely a cowboy dinner. We brought our dishes to the creek and washed them the best we could. The recent rain had left the creeks at record highs and it was a sight to see with the water rushing through the rocks and debris.

With the sun beginning to set we took the opportunity to glass the rocky ridge and try to spot Bighorn sheep. We didn't have any luck but it was incredibly peaceful to be sitting under a setting sun, in the middle of the forest next to my husband. It was a great start to our greatest adventure yet.

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