Category: USA 2017

Montana and South Dakota (Part 1): Bozeman, Mt. Rushmore, Jewel Caves, Deadwood

Just the facts:

STATES: Montana
NICKNAME: The Treasure State
FOOD EATEN: Brunch at Jam!, dinner and drinks at Montana Ale Works, drinks at Lockhorn Cider House, brunch at Cateye Cafe, groceries at Community Food Co-op
GOOGLE MAPS ILLUSTRATION: A cowboy
PHOTOS: HERE

Fun as Idaho was, my roadtrip hit two minor snags early on.

Or rather, my ability to adult came under fire in the first two days of the roadtrip when I realized that (1) there was a fraudulent charge on my credit card and (2) my camera was broken.

#1 left me a credit card down, and #2?

Welp, thank god for Montana and their lack of sales tax!

Because goddamn, if I’m going to completely replace my Nikon, I might as well get it tax-free. Two camera stores and a D7100 later, I was in Bozeman, MT, which I had actually visited twenty years ago, during a trip to Yellowstone. All I remember from Bozeman during the summer of ’97 was my parents refusing to buy me stuff from the local shopping mall. And a bird pooping on my head.

Thankfully, my second rodeo with the Bozone improved by leaps and bounds, and I can proudly say that no birds have pooped on my head. Since I’d already been to Yellowstone, I opted to take it easy during the Montana leg of the trip, which meant lots of food. And beer, which is pretty much liquid bread, so that also counts as food.

Highlights included:

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Biscuit and waffles at JAM!

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🍺✈️ at #montanaaleworks (salmon fly honey rye, razzu, and beltian white) #latergram

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Shepherd’s pie at Montana Ale Works, topped off with a beautiful beer flight of Salmon Fly Honey Rye (Madison River Brewing at Belgrade, MT), Razzu Raspberry Wheat (Philipsburg Brewing Company at Philipsburg, MT), Beltian White (Harvest Moon Brewing at Belt, MT)

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Cider flight at Lockhorn Cider House, which is a wonderful place not just because of the cider, but because it is a dog-friendly cider house and there is no combo more wonderful than cider and dogs.

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The Cowgirl (= banana bread french toast topped with yogurt + marionberry sauce and whipped cream) at Cateye Cafe, whose aesthetic caters quite well to my cat-eye-glasses-wearing self.

Other than eating and playing with dogs and getting a replacement camera, I suppose I did other stuff in Bozeman. I went grocery shopping at the Bozeman Community Food Co-op, which my friend described as peak Bozone, and welp, I can’t say I can find the lie in that description:

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Artisanal bone broth exists in this world, and of course it is in a jar with a well-designed label with nice typeface.

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There were also some rad skeletons of dinosaurs at the Museum of the Rockies, so if dinosaurs and prehistoric stuff are your jam, you’ll dig it.

But if post-Civil-War US history is what you’re after, then perhaps the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument might be more your speed. Also known as the site of Custer’s Last Stand (remember your AP US History classes?!), this stop broke up an otherwise monotonous drive out of Montana.

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I am also including a gratuitous photo of huckleberry ice cream sandwiches, because only in convenience stores in Montana do they sell huckleberry ice cream sandwiches alongside old standbys like vanilla and chocolate. And they are delicious.

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Just the facts:

STATES: South Dakota
NICKNAME: The Mt. Rushmore State
FOOD EATEN: Dinner at Lewie’s Burgers and Brews, coffee at Pure Bean Roasters, coffee at Dixon Coffee Co.
GOOGLE MAPS ILLUSTRATION: A miner
PHOTOS: HERE

Huckleberry ice cream sandwiches and national monuments aside, the drive from Montana (to Wyoming) to South Dakota was pretty forgettable for the long stretch of distance I had to cover. Damn you Mountain Time Zone for your bigass states! On the plus side, there are higher speed limits and mountain views in Montana that are easy to take for granted. On the minus side? Eve-ry-thing else.

Love bugs stuck and clung to our windshield and made it nigh-impossible to see, rest stops are practically extinct, I was getting dehydrated, and instead of seeing small-town exits with gas stations/fast-food restaurants, you get unnamed exits that lead you into a hamlet, unincorporated community, or worse: somebody else’s backyard.

And yet, several hours later, we made it! To Rapid City, South Dakota!

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This, my friends, is peak South Dakota.

Okay, okay, to South Dakota’s credit, there actually is a lot to offer, and it truly is an underrated state, especially if you’re into nature and are willing to withstand some degree of tourist kitsch (because you’ll see so much of it to an unavoidable extent). We went to several national parks, all of which were clustered within a two-hour radius of Rapid City. If we squinted a little bit, we could even see some portrait busts carved into the mountains:

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The upside is that Mt. Rushmore is a quick drive from Rapid City, but the downside is the stretch of tourist hell so egregiously tacky that you cannot avoid. You think you’re screwed, and then you get inundated with a stretch of billboards you wish you hadn’t read. For the most part, Mt. Rushmore is a fairly quick trip:

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If you walk a little closer, you can see up Washington’s nose.

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Do you understand this equation?

It’s okay, neither did I. But now you know that Thomas Jefferson authored the first ice cream recipe in America! #themoreyouknow

That afternoon, we headed to Jewel Caves, which I found fascinating. Apparently, my camera didn’t find them very fascinating, according to the number of blurry photos I amassed, but look, if there’s anything The Magic School Bus taught me, it’s that caves are Pretty Dope:

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Once we got out the caves and drove through the Black Hills, we stopped at Deadwood, a cute little town that’s been historically preserved to retain its likeness as a gold-mining town, saloons and all.

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You can even catch a glimpse of history at the Deadwood Mountain Grand, where we missed a live concert featuring everybody’s favorite 90s alt-rock acts like the Barenaked Ladies, Vertical Horizon, Fastball, and Everclear by

ONE.

FUCKING.

DAY.

No, I’m not salty. You’re salty.

Idaho: Shoshone Falls, Sun Valley, Craters of the Moon

Just the facts:

STATE: Idaho
NICKNAME: Gem State
FOOD EATEN: Potatoes. HAHA, jk. I went to Twin Falls Sandwich Company in (surprise) Twin Falls and Cristina’s Restaurant in Sun Valley
PLACES VISITED: Shoshone Falls (via Twin Falls), Sun Valley (via Ketchum and Hailey), Craters of the Moon
GOOGLE MAPS ILLUSTRATION: Potato farmer
PHOTOS: HERE


For those who don’t know, I’m on the road before I head off to grad school. While I could make things a heck of a lot easier for myself and stay in one location, I did have a bucket list item I wanted to complete, come hell or high water. Or, rather I had 13 bucket list items that I wanted to complete, and those were all the states I hadn’t yet visited:

  1. Idaho
  2. North Dakota
  3. South Dakota
  4. Nebraska
  5. Kansas
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Minnesota
  8. Iowa
  9. Arkansas
  10. Mississippi
  11. Alabama
  12. Georgia
  13. Vermont

This is probably a terrible time to mention that I haven’t driven regularly since I was in high school, right?

While most of these states can geographically be grouped together, it did mean that I was going to have to zigzag my way through the US. To go out of my way just to hit up Idaho OR Vermont makes zero sense to the average person, but hey, I’m committed.

In fact, the first state I checked off was Idaho. There are two things I know about Idaho, and those are (1) potatoes and (2) Napoleon Dynamite.

Speaking of which, it’s been 13 years since Napoleon Dynamite was a thing?!

Unfortunately, I didn’t quite make it to Preston, and after hours of driving through the Tahoe/Reno area and bits of Nevada along I-80, I was quite happy to see some form of civilization in the form of Twin Falls, ID: home to Chobani yogurt and CLIF bars!

Mostly, I was just plain hungry, hence this chicken pesto panini from the Twin Falls Sandwich Company, with lots of fries because being in Idaho warrants a metric crapton of potatoes.

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Appropriately fueled up for the rest of the leg, I eventually made it to our first real destination: Shoshone Falls! Dubbed the “Niagara of the West” but careful enough to disassociate themselves with the tourist kitsch that defines the real Niagara we know and love (to hate), Shoshone Falls boasts the type of waterfalls that TLC told you not to chase:

channeling TLC β›²

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That night, we drove to Sun Valley, aka the ski area where Ernest Hemingway used to spend his winter vacays. By May though, Ketchum and its surrounding environs were quiet with little residual mounds of snow, which is to be expected when the ski season is already over, but that didn’t stop us from walking around the main town, Ketchum*, the next day and grabbing coffee and a meal at Cristina’s:

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DAT RIGATONI was excellent (10/10 would eat again), and a good walking distance away from Ketchum Cemetery, where you can find the graves of Hemingway & co, should you know where to look:

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We then headed to the Hemingway Memorial at Trail Run, which is nestled between a park and a golf course.

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That afternoon saw us driving out of Sun Valley and onto our next Idahoan destination: Craters of the Moon! A national monument and preserve in central Idaho, Craters of the Moon is an endless expanse of dark volcanic ruins. Equal parts weird and stunning, Craters is made of dark lava flows, cinder cones, and sagebrush that look both futuristic and jurassic.

As we walked along the trails, the landscape looked largely like this:

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with the occasional trees poking out:

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with a few ice caves:

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Like, damn, Idaho. Who woulda thunk that you’d be able to come across this post-apocalyptic aesthetic in this neck of the woods?

*Yes, of course I thought of Pokemon. What, you think I was just going to roadtrip and not play Pokemon Go?

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

POUND THE ALARM, is this a real life update?

So, hi. It’s me.

If I haven’t seen you in the past two months (which is highly likely, given how ridiculously hermitic I’ve become), do I have an update for you.

A month ago, I left my first “real-world” job at Google, one I’d had for the past 5+ years, to go back to school. (Yes, it’s the same job I’ve had since I announced, way-back-when in July 2011, that I’d be moving cross-country from New York to San Francisco. Boy, has time flown by!)

Which is to say: I’m pleased as punch to announce that I’ll be attending the design program at STANFORD (!!!!!), where I’ll be for the next two years!

Am I excited?

The short answer: Hell yeah!

The longer answer: Hell yeah! But of course, it’s bittersweet to leave behind the first job and neighborhood and life that I’ve had since leaving college. I technically won’t be moving too far, but after a decade of living in a city, moving to the suburbs of Palo Alto will be an adjustment. There will, in fact, be a lot of adjustments, from not relying on free food at Google to dorm life to having things called classes. How do you all-nighter again?

So, here’s the gameplan. Anybody who’s known me in some capacity of familiarity knows that I travel — well, a lot, so it should come as zero surprise to y’all that I’m going nomadic and spending the months between now and Stanford.

May – June: I’m driving cross-country, with a primary goal of visiting all the states I’ve never been to (Idaho! The Dakotas! All of Middle America! Vermont!). If you’ve recommendations for Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Vermont, I’d be happy to hear them! I’m also making my rounds through the Midwest, the East Coast, and bits of Canada. Bonus points if any of your recs involve using a National Parks Pass:

As of now, my roadtrip has taken a turn for the south (literally speaking, thank god), and I’m currently in Little Rock, ready to begin the Southern leg of my trip (Arkansas – Mississippi – Alabama – Georgia), just after finishing up the Mountain timezone and Great Plains legs. So if any of those number markers look familiar, send your recs my way!

Late June: New York!

July: I’m then off to South Africa, with stops in Victoria Falls and Seychelles. I’ll be hitting up Cape Town and Joburg, where I’ll be for roughly two weeks, before I head to Morocco for ten days.

August: It’s back to New York for about a week, and then it’s Brazil, where I’m finally finally going to Rio, among other places. But mostly Rio, because how the hell have I been to Brazil twice and still not managed to have set foot in Rio?

September: WHAT’S GOOD, Western Europe! My endgame is to hit up the first weekend of Oktoberfest, which is my last weekend before I need to move back to California. As for everything else in between, welllll. I’ve got London on the list, but this is the one that’s most flexible, aka HI I DIDN’T BUY MY PLANE TICKETS HAHAHA.

And then it’s school time.

So. I’m committed to updating this more regularly, especially since New and Exciting™ Things are happening in my life that are worth documenting. For a more real-time update experience, I’m on Instagram as (surprise, surprise) cindypepper. For everything else, there’s MasterC—

Wait, wrong commercial.