Sunday, September 13, 2009

Becoming South Dakotans

Eliciting ideas from locals about where to stay, where to eat and gain insights about where we happen to be works well for us. Locals usually have, well, a good handle on all things local. Compared to the transient tourist flow coming and going from Wall, anyone who has lived in Wall for about five years, as Dave Jones has, qualifies as a “local”. Even if he doesn’t wear a cowboy hat, boots or shirts. But then lots of Wall locals don’t appear to wear western garb either. Mostly it’s just the tourists trying to look like a local.

A factoid for our postal worker friend Todd Ward: Wall, SD Post Office is a Class A office which handles 10,000 postcards a day during the high season. And all the bikers who flood Wall when the hogs rally in Sturgis? Having no room on their bikes (at least the ones who actually ride their bikes to the event instead of trailering them) mail their souvenirs home via the Wall Post Office. It’s one heck of a busy place.

Following breakfast with Dave who gave us a whole new positive perspective on life in Wall, we squeezed our way out of town. We made a relatively short jaunt to Rapid City where we dropped our trailer at the High Plains Campground located next to Jack’s Campers RV Center. The campground was pretty deserted this time of year although being parked next to row after row of new and used RV’s it seemed more crowded than it actually was.

Prior to leaving for life on the road we had signed up with America’s Mailbox, one of the businesses in South Dakota dedicated to forwarding mail for full-time RVers. They’re located in Rapid City hence our need to stop there to finalize becoming SD residents. The steps to becoming a resident of South Dakota are pretty straightforward when one actually will reside in South Dakota. But since we are only going to be residents in name only, there were a few more hoops to jump through.

Our visit lasted about an hour and a half. There were a number of twists and turns we hadn’t counted on and trying to do all the nuts and bolts via mail or phone would have been far more cumbersome. Besides Rapid City was on our way to Colorado anyway.

Following our office visit we drove over to the SD DMV to exchange our WI drivers license for South Dakota. The process took less than a half hour. We now have our SD licenses, sporting five faces: Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt and Sykes. Owing to the fact we’ve owned our truck for less than six months, we will need to wait until November to receive our new plates for our truck and RV. We’ll outwardly appear to be from WI for just a bit longer. We have to say we do like the WI state bird, the American Robin, far better than the SD state bird – a Chinese Ring-necked Pheasant.

The next morning we lit out for one of our favorite stops whenever we travel west: Custer State Park, Game Lodge Campground. Along the way we stopped in Sturgis to gas up, replenish a few food provisions and have breakfast. I have to say that Sturgis has never ranked high on my list of places to visit. But then I don’t own a Harley and don’t have an obsessive desire to ride around without a muffler. (though I’m sure the noise is music to the ear of the bike-holder). However, checking with locals (see how this works?) we were told to definitely avoid the Best Western restaurant and opt for the Jambonz Grill and Pub. It turned out to be a great choice with good food and clean windows. Ever notice how establishments with clean windows tend to be good places to stop?

We had forgotten how silly the reservation system works for camping in SD parks. And we thought nothing could be worse than Wisconsin’s system. But it is. Following a trip to the park office (with a very tight parking lot) we wound up having to take two sites for the two nights we planned to spend at Custer. Yes, we would have to move our RV in the middle of our stay. As it turned out moving the RV took place in the rain. Thankfully we’re getting pretty good at taking down and setting up and truth be known, it’s a lot easier than our old popup.

Playing musical sites aside, our stay at Custer was delightful. We managed to explore several of the back roads we’ve missed in the past. And in spite of heavy evening and morning rains, the afternoon we spent exploring was sunny and warm. Finally, we started to catch up with western bird species: Western Tanager, Townsend’s Solitaire, Red-naped Sapsucker, Spotted Towhee, Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawk, and Red Crossbill. Flocks of Plumbeous Vireo and Western Meadowlark were found in numerous locations.

The weather is decidedly getting cooler. Highs in the 50’s and lows in the 40’s. Deciduous plants and trees are beginning to turn to yellows and reds and grasses are giving off a golden hue. Watching herds of bison move up and down distant hills we were reminded that the Black Hills are the sacred land or the He Sapa to indigenous cultures, the birthplace of the Lakota Nation. Lush, majestic and awe-inspiring. Next stop Cheyenne, WY where we’ll spend Sunday night before making the leg to reach Dillon, CO.

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