Family Time In Texas

We are all settled in Texas for about a week to visit with my sister, her husband John, and their daughter Alicia.  We spent four days driving from Florida to Texas, which seemed like an eternity for us.  Normally, we travel 300-400 miles a day, as we are more of a destination traveler (get from Point A to Point B).  Since we had four days to cover 1000 miles, we just broke it up.  No early morning departures, and we would arrive at the campground in the early afternoon  It was a bit odd for us.

One of our nightly stops was in Gulfport, Mississippi.  We drove all the way down the coast to Biloxi, to see how well the cities have recovered from the hurricane.  The casinos are back, as well as Waffle Houses….seriously.  We still have never eaten at one, but they have about a dozen of them lining the coast between Biloxi and Gulfport (which are 15 minutes apart).  There are lots of empty ocean front lots for sale.  And the houses that are currently under construction are built on stilts.

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We arrived in Texas last Thursday, and went “back to school” on Friday to see my sister’s fifth grade robotics class.  The kids are very engaged during this time period, and two of the teams have qualified for a national competition.  I asked the kids if their robots had any flame throwers or razor blades, but they disappointedly said no, they were not allowed!

Here’s some photos of the robots.  In competition, they pick up the red, green and blue discs, and place them on posts.  They are scored by the number they place on the posts (double the points for each of the same color discs placed on the posts), as well as the number of discs moved behind the post line.  There are two robots in the “ring” at a time, but they do not compete against each other, they have to work together.  Dan really liked the idea they had to collaborate to get their best team score.

MAH04698 (3)Here are some of the other robots custom designed and made by the students.

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DSC04690My sister LuAnn is watching over one of the teams as they build their robot.

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I was amused by the signs posted in the bathrooms.  Perhaps these should be posted in “adult” bathrooms as well.  We can all learn from these students!

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My brother-in-law John suffered a stroke last summer, so we are so grateful to have this time to visit with him.  He told us he is doing better, but still has problems with vision in one eye, and has times when he forgets what he is doing.  His doctors had given him some glasses that were supposed to help strengthen his eyes, but he did not think it was working out, but wants to try a new prescription.  He has no speech impairment, but has lost a lot of weight (not sure if it’s due to my sisters cooking!), and is trying to gain some weight back.  So I made a big batch of chocolate chip cookies, and he did a lot of sampling!

My sister and Alicia have off this week for Spring Break, so we have a few “touristy” things planned in Dallas.  On Saturday we checked out a local craft brewery in Garland where they live, Lakewood Brewery.  The beers were very good, and the owner of the brewery actually gave the tour, which lasted about an hour, even though there are only two rooms.  He is very proud of the work they do at the brewery.

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Wim Bens, President

The brewery has a wide variety of beers to sample in their taproom.  One of them, “All Call” a Kolsch style beer, is in honor of law enforcement and fire fighters.  A portion of the proceeds from the sale of that beer is donated to the Guns and Hoses Foundation of North Texas, which helps with financial support to the families of fallen first responders.  They have patches from many departments across the country that have visited their brewery.

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LuAnn and John enjoyed several of their beers.  Cheers!

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While we are off playing tourist this week, I think Makena will have a few things to say, so stay tuned!

Quote for the day:  “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” – John Dewey

 

Whitewater Rafting and Big Sky Country

We decided to take advantage of a few freebies with our coupon book before they expired, and headed up to Big Sky, Montana (about 40 miles north) for a full day of playing tourist.  Our pass for Montana Whitewater offered two options:  a zipline tour, or whitewater rafting.  When I first mentioned to Dan that I would like to try Whitewater Rafting, he was very surprised, as I do not swim.  However, I knew I would feel a lot safer in a boat, with multiple people, a helmet and life jacket than zipping  over trees held on by nothing more than small cable.  The company offers several different tours , and we opted for the less challenging 1/2 day on the Gallatin River with Class 2-3 rapids.

If you want to go whitewater rafter, the earlier in the season, the better the water will be, in terms of water level and speed of the water.  After mid-June, you will not really encounter much “rapids”, and the company will offer river tubing tours.  So the earlier you can go, the more challenging it will be.  Of course, the earlier you go, the colder the water temperature is!  In our case, it was a brisk 40 degrees, so every splash was a bit refreshing!

There were three rafts in our group.  The guides give a lot of safety instructions, and you practice your strokes as a group.  Then each raft is on its own with a guide, going down the river, for the next 90 minutes or so.

the calm before the rocks

the calm before the rocks

We bounced off a few rocks, and our guide Nicole, informed us she is an ‘equal opportunity splasher’, and she would turn the boat in different directions so we all got wet.  Fortunately, this tour company provided free wetsuits and neoprene boots, which helped, but it was still chilly.

There were areas of calm water, followed by rocky, fast-moving water, which made for a fun morning.  Enjoy our little sequence where we all got wet!

Our group

Our group

MW1_9041 MW1_9042 MW1_9044 The Gallatin River runs along Highway 191, and the scenery is very beautiful.

a small waterfall behind us

a small waterfall behind us

watch out for the rocks!

watch out for the rocks!

We had a great time with Montana Whitewater, and would definitely recommend this company.  The cost for a 1/2 day tour is $55.00 per person, and does include wetsuits.  There are other tour companies, but they charge you extra for the suits.  If you go early in the year, you definitely want to have them.  We had free passes, but this was definitely something we would pay for with this company.

We stopped along the river for a quick picnic lunch, then headed into the city of Big Sky.  On our drive in, we saw a sign for Lone Peak Brewery, so we decided to stop in and sample some of their local brews.  Our 5 sampler came on a mini ski!

snow ski sampler!

snow ski sampler!

Of the beers that we sampled, we liked two, Hippy Highway Oatmeal Stout, and a bourbon beer that was finished off for several weeks in a used bourbon barrel.  Unfortunately, they do not can or bottle either of these two flavors.  So if you want to try them, you will have to come to the brewery!

We continued on to the Big Sky Resort, for our complimentary scenic ski lift ride ($16/adults) from Mountain Village (7500 feet) to Swift Peak (8800 feet).  There is an additional tram that will take you to the top of Lone Peak (11,000 feet), but we did not have time for that tour.  The lift was very quiet, and took about 15 minutes to get to the top.  I found that staring at my feet helped with the heights!

don't look down!

don’t look down!

Lone Peak 11000 feet

Lone Peak 11000 feet

In the summer, the trails open up for hiking and cycling, and they have special lifts to take the bikes to the top.

bicycle chair lift

bicycle chair lift

Even though we did not go to the top, it was still a beautiful view of the mountains.

Lone Peak double diamond trails

Lone Peak double diamond trails

You can see the city of Big Sky down below.

Big Sky country

Big Sky country

A view of the resort area coming down on the chair lift.

closer look at the resort area

closer look at the resort area

For those that love skiing, there are many trails for all abilities.

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After our quick tour, we headed over to 320 Guest Ranch for our complimentary Pig Roast which they have on Mondays in the summer.  For $15, you get a pulled pork sandwich, coleslaw, potato salad, beans and a cookie.  While the ranch itself is very nice, we were happy that we did not have to pay for the meal.  This went into our “glad it was free” category.

We enjoyed our time Big Sky.  It is a wonderful, and growing city.

Quote for the day:  “When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.” – Leonardo DaVinci

Craft Beer tours of the Black Hills

Craft Breweries are increasing in popularity, and the Black Hills of South Dakota has several good brew pubs to stop in for a sample or two. All the brew pubs have flight  tastings so you can try small samples of several different styles of beer, from wheat to pale ales to stouts.  They all offer growlers, where you can fill up a 64 ounce container of beer to take home with you.  But such a giant container does not fit so well in the small, shallow refrigerators in an RV.  So we just opted to stop in for samples (but not all in the same day!)

The Buglin’ Bull Restaurant and Sports Bar in downtown Custer, SD has a full service restaurant on one half, and a bar on the other half.  They also have a rooftop deck as well.  With just 4 different selections of craft beers, they offered the least variety, but still had some good flavors.  We both enjoyed the Elk Poop Stout the best.

 

Buglin Bull

Buglin Bull

4 tasty samples

4 tasty samples

 

The Firehouse Brewing Company, in downtown Rapid City, is housed in Rapid City’s first firehouse, built in 1915.  It has a full service restaurant, with a wide variety of food, and reasonable prices.  The have a rotation of nine craft beers on tap, including seasonal brews.

Firehouse Brewing Company

Firehouse Brewing Company

These were the beers on tap on the day we did some sampling.  Lot’s of different types of ales, from pale ales, brown ales, Scottish ales as well as wheat beers, stouts, and a very good cider beer called Teachers Pet.  Normally we don’t care for the cider beers, but this one had more of a beer flavor than the sour apple flavor.

Brews on tap

Brews on tap

It took some doing, but we managed to get through the long line of beers to sample!!!

9 tasty samples

9 tasty samples

Crow Peak Brewery in Spearfish, SD was established in 2007,and is the only brewery that offers cans and bottles of their flavorful beer (Although they have a very limited selection).

Crow's Peak Brewery

Crow’s Peak Brewery

They have a large variety of beers, including seasonal selections.  When the menu is on a chalkboard, you can expect a constantly changing variety of fresh beers.

The "menu"

The “menu”

They have tasting flights of 4 beers.  Our favorite beer was the Pagan Stout, which they unfortunately do not (yet) bottle.

our samples

our samples

Miner Brewing Company in Hill City, SD is a brand new, opening in the fall of 2013.  The owner/brewmaster is part of the family that owns the Prairie Berry Winery that is located next door.  We stopped in several times for tasting, as they also rotate the beers on tap.

Miner Brewery

Miner Brewery

When our friends Forest and Mary stopped in for a visit, we stopped off for some sampling after a day of playing tourist.

Cheers Forest & Mary

Cheers Forest & Mary

They have a wide variety of beers, and we all enjoyed their oatmeal stout.

Miner's sampler

Miner’s sampler

Bitter Esters Brewhouse is right in the heart of downtown Custer.   They pride themselves on using locally grown ingredients whenever possible.  They also consider themselves to be a Nano brewery, which is a very small craft brewer.  They offer a limited menu of food.

downtown Custer, SD

downtown Custer, SD

They have a variety of beers, brewed in small batches.

colorful brews

colorful brews

The Sick-n-Twisted Brewery shares space with the Naked Winery in Hill City, SD.

Sick n Twisted

Sick n Twisted

They had the largest variety of beers, but we were not too impressed with the ones we were able to sample.  They did have some creative names for their beers.

a creative lineup

a creative lineup

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If you do enjoy beer, and you are in the area, stop in for a sample or two.  Our favorites were Crow Peak, Miner Brewery and Firehouse Brewery.

We did sample several glasses of wine at three of the wineries just north of Hill City: The Naked Winery, Prairie Berry, and Stone Faces. We did enjoy several of the selections at Stone Faces, but we did not care for most of the samples we tried at the other two.

Quote for the day:  Well ya see, Norm, it’s like this… A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we know, kills brain cells. But naturally, it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That’s why you always feel smarter after a few beers.

– Cliff Clavin, of Cheers