Shortly after my 38th birthday, I loaded my little family up for a trip to the Black Hills with the in-laws. I had never been, but it’s my wife’s favorite place on earth. So we coordinated a trip with four couples and two babies to the southwest quarter of South Dakota. The trip was amazing, but I often ended up sounding like classic detective Roger Murtaugh.

Here are some of the highlights from the trip, along with some fun tidbits:

Bear Butte
I am too old to climb a mountain with my daughter strapped to my back.

Bear Butte State Park

Maybe it comes from working an office job, or having a one-year-old, or the busy schedule that comes along with prioritizing family time with our parents and siblings. Perhaps it’s born from running a site that mocks the idea of going outside. Whatever the reason, I learned that I am too old to climb a mountain with my daughter Strapped to my back.

Bear Butte is an amazing hike that offers incredible views of the surrounding prairies. We made it a fair ways up the mountain, maybe a third or half way up. I was laboring in the heat, and my poor daughter had a cold. I could have pressed on out of sheer machismo, and props to my brother-of-the-law for making it to the top with his nearly two-year-old in a hiking backpack, but we decided it was a vacation and not an endurance test. We retreated to the air conditioned car while the rest of the family pressed on.

Tom’s Take: Awesome hike for families where everyone can propel themselves up the slope, and no one is too afraid of rattlesnakes.

Deadwood

Romanticized in the 2004 HBO series named after the town, we toured the cemetery to view the final resting places of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock. We also spent some time posing at Woody’s Wild West photos.  It turns out my family looks like a bunch of vampires in black and white.

Tom’s Take: As much as I love the show, Deadwood was a disappointment. It was like Vegas of the Midwest. I’m too old to go up and down the street getting wasted and gambling.

Crazy Horse
My daughter didn’t seem to believe they would ever complete Crazy Horse.

Crazy Horse Memorial

This is a massive sculpture. When it is done, it will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. There wasn’t a ton of baby-friendly activities at the memorial, but there was a movie theater, gift shop, sculptor’s house and several models laying out the final plans for the statue and surrounding grounds.

Tom’s Take: A low key activity, highlighted by an impressive piece of exposed work-in-progress art. Cool to see. I was among my people, along with hundreds (thousands?) of senior citizens.

 

 

Evan’s Plunge 

According to it’s website, Evan’s Plunge was built in 1890 and is the oldest tourist attraction in the black hills. It is a swimming pool filled by natural spring water. The pool includes two kiddie areas, two water slides, basketball hoops and a volleyball net. Take a moment to check out this beefcake:

Rings
I swear, this dude must be Peter Parker.

Water slides and pools are fun. And a basketball hoop in the water is a great place to quote entire scenes of BasketballBut most of my fascination was tied up in the rings. One of my brothers-in-law is quite a bit more athletic than me. Another is much, much stronger. And my father-in-law’s football jersey is retired at a big high school in a Twin Cities suburb.

Being the resident Spider-Man superfan, I thought my intense knowledge of web-slinging and mid-air momentum would be a real asset. Turns out, swinging across a pool takes much more upper body strength than heart. Over a series of attempts, I was able to grab on to the third ring. No one else was able to make it past the second. I may be old, and out of shape, but I still have the heart of a walk on at Notre Dame.

Tom’s Take: Super fun and family-friendly vacation spot, but holy God did my arms hurt after. My brain said, “Tom, you know you can’t make it across the pool on those GD rings” but my heart kept saying “C’mon dummy, you can do anything!”

Mammoth Site & Museum

To boil their guided tour down to a sentence: a super long time ago a geological event created a natural trap, and a bunch of animals fell in. They describe the different types of bones that have been uncovered, and you can see Ice Age fossils.

Tom’s Take:  I know how many of my loyal readers just can’t get enough bones. I’m look at you, Casey.

Overall Impressions of the Black Hills

In my family, vacations usually consist of going somewhere, drinking, playing cards, driving around and looking at some stuff, and then repeating the cards and booze. This trip followed a very different cadence. We were up every morning around 6:30 a.m., and usually on the road to the day’s destination four hours later.

The Black Hills are a truly remarkable place. I wish I could have spent two weeks out there. There is so much to do and see, a week flew by before I knew it. My family will definitely go back, but we may hold off until a) all of our future children exist, and b) they are able to walk on their own.

So Yeah, About that Gaming and Dork Pop Culture Stuff…

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re there. While it was hard to get a ton of entertainment in on a family trip, here are some highlights from the month:

Episode 16 of Outside is Overrated – Tom and Joey’s Favorite Co-Op Video Games

In the latest episode of the podcast, Tom and Joey focused most of their time on shared experiences on the PS4. They called out a number of different genres and talked about their favorite co-op experiences in each.

Final Fantasy IX Is Still Awesome

Final Fantasy IX is one of three mainline entries in the series that I have beaten. I hadn’t played it since about 2006, so there was very little that I remembered. Like the main character having a tail. I’m about six hours in, and completely enthralled with the game.

The big mechanic that sets it apart from past entries is that special abilities are tied to gear. If you equip a new helmet, it may give your character a new skill, and if you complete so many battles wearing that equipment you master the skill and can equip it any time.

I think the original PlayStation’s Final Fantasy titles each stand out in noticeable ways:

  • Final Fantasy VII – Iconic characters. It’s hard to beat Cloud, Tifa, and whoever else you stuck in the party. Also, materia was the bomb.
  • Final Fantasy VIII – Best gameplay. I thought they had a lot of cool innovations in VIII, like drawing the magic from your foes.
  • Final Fantasy IX – Best overall cast. Zidane, Vivi, Dagger and dumb ol’ Steiner may not have the same moxie as Cloud and his lot, but I think the come together for a more cohesive story. At least through the first few hours.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

I enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph, but it didn’t exactly blow me away. I was interested in the sequel, and final got around to checking it out. Vanellope’s arcade game breaks down and she and her big buddy have to go out to the internet to try to buy a part to fix it.

I was skeptical that the internet could be represented in an interesting way that could be digested by children, but the movie did an amazing job. Ralph and Vanellope encounter a dizzying array of people and brands online. I would say this is a must-watch for families, or any adults who enjoy kid’s movies. We laughed quite a bit.

Robin Hood (2018)

As a big fan of the Kingsmen movies, I was excited to see Taron Egerton in a leading role in another action movie. And it looked like there would be a lot of cool stuff with bows and arrows. Egerton was pretty decent as Robin of Loxley. He wasn’t the reason I hated the film, it was pretty much everything else. Jamie Fox was fine as John. Everyone else was pretty brutal.

I’m sure Ben Mendelsohn is a fine actor, but I hated his portrayal in Ready Player OneSorrento was a ruthless badass in the book, and I just thought Mendelsohn was too goofy, too far into being the old guy pretending to be a young cool guy (totally unlike any creators of OiO), and I got that same feeling with the Sheriff of Nottingham. I’ll have to watch Rogue One again, but I am sick to death seeing Mendelsohn as a leading villain.

Coming back to the Hood, it didn’t help that Marian did nothing for me. Also, Friar Tuck drove me crazy. He felt like they were trying to wedge a Millennial into the medieval setting, and it didn’t work at all. I probably won’t write a full review for Robin Hood, but if I did, I would score it a 6 out of 10.

So Spider-Man is Back in the MCU?

I guess! I’ll leave it to real journalists to track this story. Suffice to say, I am happy. Send me the best stories via email or twitter.

Until next time, stay inside, kids! – Tom