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.