Category Archives: Travel

Home, Home On The Ranch!

Being a devoted traveler makes for a meticulous host.  And this is the time of year that we put away the suitcase and set out the welcome mat.  As spring eases into summer, the landscaping projects at Newton Fork Ranch advance at a measured pace. But, the advancement is measured by weather as storms pass through just often enough to keep things emerald green.

One of the first projects, before, during, and after the continual mowing of the meadow and surrounding green spaces is the upkeep of Aspen Grove.  The grove, which used to encompass Grandma’s vegetable garden, was reclaimed two years ago.  It had fallen into disuse and was overgrown with tall grass, bushes, and thickets of quaking aspen.  Even the horses that were turned out in that area couldn’t keep up with the grass.  So many hours were spent weeding (with the exception of Dame’s Rocket which was too pretty to rip out), pruning, and thinning to create a horse pasture for guests traveling with equine family members.  It’s an ideal location, especially for guests who rent the Forest Haven cabin that overlooks the pasture.

Every spring ushers in a formidable task to keep that area under control.  While working in there last week, we noticed a lot of activity from the animal kingdom.  There’s a Hairy Woodpecker who has taken up residency in one of the aspen trees.  And we were much relieved to see that he changed his living area.  Last year we had to patch the ranch sign at the entrance where he tried to settle in!  He (and we know it’s a “he” by the red patch on the back of his head) doesn’t seem to mind human company either and will land on trees a few feet away.   Snapping a photo though is a challenge since he is constantly in motion.

A robin that was guarding a nest nearby also periodically stalked us.  To add to this, in the early morning, deer are using Aspen Grove for a gathering place as well.

So now Aspen Grove is all tidied-up and ready for occupancy.  Be it horse, flora, or fauna!

Before Aspen Grove was weeded and thinned, we relied on the horses for landscaping help.

It took several horses to work on keeping the tall grass down. Note how tall it had become in that thicket of background trees.

Of course, the grass is always greener…

Look at the difference in Aspen Grove after the trees are thinned and the grass is cut down. The area looks so much larger now.

And, with the addition of two heavy-duty 12’ x 12’ paneled corrals, we are ready for equine guests!

No more leaning over fences looking for greener pastures!

Here’s a close-up view of our resident Hairy Woodpecker’s home. It’s a duplex.

It took quick reflexes to capture this shot and note how his feathers match the tree. It’s ingenious!

Of course, the deer miss the tall grass.

On a sun-dappled afternoon, a view of the Forest Haven cabin from Aspen Grove.

Dame’s Rocket is a weed but the beautiful colors make it very hard to cut down.

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Heather, Highlands & Haggis: It’s All in Bloom This Time of Year in Scotland!

Okay, true confession: the theme of our recent trip to Bonnie Scotland (aye ‘tis true, it is truly bonnie), was a tour of the whisky distilleries.  But one can only sample so many “wee drams,” so our secondary theme was to get out and see the countryside.  As you may know, nature, quiet, and seclusion are an on-going theme at Newton Fork Ranch.  So naturally, when we travel, that’s usually what we search for (Paris, ah Paris, not withstanding!).  Anyhoo… we found those qualities in abundance in Scotland.  A few miles outside of any city seemed to put us squarely in the country.

The adventure began with the flight touching down in Edinburgh and soon had us on a northerly trajectory.  Following a costal route, our tour wound through stately St. Andrews (sorry, no golf for us), Arbroath, Aberdeen, Buckie, Elgin, Findhorn (made famous in the 1960s commune era), Inverness (no sign of  the Loch Ness Monster).  Following the heather, we lodged at a castle hotel in Dornoch, across from the cathedral where Madonna and Guy Ritchie had their baby christened (no sign of Madge either).  Journeying up the rugged coast to John O’Groats, the northern most point in Scotland (hoping, but unsuccessfully, to see the Northern Lights), we then pointed our car west.

I should mention the food here because, for so many of us, travel is all about sampling different foods, isn’t it?  And if you love fish, this is your country.   We lived on fish: salmon and eggs for breakfast, fish chowder for lunch, and every manner of preparation of fish for dinner.  And each time, it was as if the fish had been caught and instantly cooked.  It was that fresh!  Oh yes, and the haggis: about the haggis.  We stopped in a lovely little restaurant in Dufftown whose wildly animated chef wanted us to try it.  We declined.  He said we couldn’t.  We said we could.  But, we lost.  Would you like to know how the haggis tasted?  It was very, very good, a bit like meat loaf.  Our strong-arming culinary ninja of a chef was right.  It was tasty and was served in the traditional way: on an oatcake with “neeps and tatties” (potatoes and turnips).

Back on the road, after Thurso, at times the road turned to single track and the scenery changed from rocky and desolate to more pastoral.  At Durness, we commenced heading south towards the Isle of Skye.  It felt like at that point, all of Scotland heaved a collective sigh because everyone kept telling us that the west coast was beautiful.  Go west, go west!  And it was; still, the charm of the rocky isolated, wind-blown northern coast was a strong draw.  But, the many sheep with the adorable freshly-minted lambs, angus cows, and Shetland horses on the narrow road kept us alert and smiling at all times.

After the Isle of Skye, it was back up into the Highlands to visit a few more villages.  We couldn’t resist hiking the highest mountain range, Ben Nevis.  After stopping for fish and chips, we drove the length of Loch Lomand (singing the famous “You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road”).  The Trossachs National Park took our breath away!

One last B & B, Fernbank House in charming Aberfeldy, had us coveting our two full Scottish breakfasts with to-die-for oatmeal made with milk, honey, whisky and cream floating on the top. We returned to Edinburgh on full stomachs via a quick stop to visit the lovely, and magical Rosslyn Chapel of, more recently, “Da Vinci Code” fame.  Would we go back?  In a New York, no wait, make that a Moray Firth minute!

Spring in the City of Edinburgh

The first stop was the City of Edinburgh where spring was in full bloom.

 Mother Church of Presbyterianism

Interior view of St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Loch Ness Ruin

Ruins were in abundance with this one standing on the shores of Loch Ness.

Highland Resident

This Highland bull was built for the heavy rainfall and strong winds that are the cornerstone of Scotland weather.

Change of Weather

Speaking of weather, here comes a change!

Well-Dressed Horse

This horse was well draped and ready for the wind and rain.

True Scottish Breakfast

Ah, just another lovely start to a tour of Scotland.

The beautiful Highland heather in all its glory.

Highland Lamb

Needless to say, the grass is always greener…

Sign at John O'Groats

The most northernly point, per the locals, on mainland Great Britain. It’s also the beginning or ending point of the renowned John O’Groats to Lands End walk.

Ruins Everywhere

Truly, it seems there are ruins around every corner.

Exploring Ruins

And some ruins just beg for exploration.

Boots & A Bike

The perfect image of a rural life, close to the sea, in Scotland.

Pristine Beach

A pristine and uninhabited stretch of beach along the northern coast.

Steall Gorge

Ben Nevis, at 4,409 feet, is the highest mountain in the British Isles and abounds with hiking trails.

Reflections in a Lake

On the way to Skye Bridge, we just had to stop and take photos of the area foliage reflected in a lake.

More Reflections in a Lake

And yet another reflective photo (you are being spared the other half dozen!).

Sheep on the Isle of Skye

So… can you find the sheep in this photo?

Ancient Stone Hut

It must have been a simple and solitary existence.

A Cow on the Isle of Skye

The life of leisure.

Fisherman's Cottage

The requisite photo of a fisherman’s cottage, yes?

Horse on the Isle of Skye

Just look at this poser!

Rural Call Box

We assumed this was the nearest “land line” for area inhabitants.

Passing Place

Perhaps the sheep follow the signs too?

A True Scotsman

Is this a quintessential photo of Scotland, or what?!?

A Painted Window

Clever window decoration in the charming town of Pitlochry.

A Gate in Stirling

A decorative gate near the castle in Stirling.

Sterling Castle Garden Scene

Spring was all abloom in Stirling Castle.

Another landscape scene watched over by an ancient oak.

Watchful Eye

Speaking of watchful eyes, they were everywhere in the castle.

A Study in Chimneys

Many chimneys and many reasons to stay warm during a long winter.

Daffodils in Aberfeldy

A spring view of Wade’s Bridge over the Tay in Aberfeldy.

Rosslyn Chapel Entry

Photos are not allowed inside Scotland’s famed Rosslyn Chapel but here is a lovely entry into the church.

A Trail of Whisky Begins in South Dakota and Ends in Scotland

So how does a bootlegger at Newton Fork Ranch send us on a foray to the famed distilleries of Scotland?  It all began with recorded tapes at the Hill City library.  In the 1980s, oral history tapes of area “old-timers” were compiled for the development of a “Living History Repository.”  It was during an interview that ranch matriarch, Arleen Lippman, mentioned that a bootlegger, many years prior, had taken up residence at Newton Fork Ranch and had allegedly used baseboards and woodwork for firewood from what is now Grandma’s Ranch House!  That must have been some wicked hooch to be worthy of compromising the old homestead!  However, that said, there is something about a hidden still somewhere in the quaking aspen and pine trees that just fuels the imagination.  How does one go about making some serious illegal backwoods brew?  To find out, well, we just had to go to the source.

A small sampling of the largest, at 3,500 individual bottles, whisky collection in the world.

The plane touched down mid-March at Edinburgh Airport.  Our first point of business was in the old section of the country’s capital to visit The Scotch Whisky Experience located within steps of the famed castle.  This seemed like a wonderful way to begin a neophyte’s trip to the distilleries as it lays a basic foundation of brewing knowledge.  It begins with a barrel ride (Disney Imagineers need not worry) through a fanciful distillery to see how whisky is made.  This is followed by a visit to the Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection of 3,500 individual bottles of Scotch Whisky, the largest in the world.

Each distillery tour featured a tasting. The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh allows you to keep your Glencairn glass as a souvenir.

It ends with an explanation of the four most prominent areas of distillery concentration in Scotland: Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Islay.  And all of this, of course, would not be complete without a whisky tasting in our souvenir Glencairn glass. We were delighted to learn that all tours begin or end with the coveted “wee dram,” or in Scotch Gaelic, uisge beatha: “lively water” or “water of life.”

Another “must do” before hitting the roads (on the left, mind you) is to grab a map of Scotland ideally detailing the distilleries; “Collins Whisky Map of Scotland” is a good one.  It not only illustrates the location of each distillery but also offers a color-coded key indicating if each is open to the public, open by arrangement only, or not open to the public at all.

A very stylish tasting room is a pleasant end to the Glenfiddich Distillery tour.

So, we hop into our rented right-hand-drive car and carefully head to the famed Whisky Trail.  Making an initial layover in Dufftown affords us the chance to go to many well-known ones in the area.  The best tour (and one of the only free ones) is Glenfiddich.

It is incredible and gives an extensive base of knowledge.  Not only is everything spotless; the restroom alone is worthy of a visit.  It is the size of a condo, complete with a fireplace and comfy chairs.  Other area stops included were The Ballvenie, The Macallan, and Glen Grant with its lovely Victorian Gardens.

Waterfalls, streams, and lochs are around every corner. It's all about the water!

We discover from the various tours that our Newton Fork Ranch bootlegger was on to something: whiskey distillation is simple.  Now, we’re not saying GOOD whisky is simple, but the process is one easily grasped.  It takes only three ingredients for single malts: barley, yeast, and water.  That’s it!  No wonder our illicit friend settled next to Newton Fork Creek; it was for that clear, sweet, spring water!  And water (which is everywhere in Scotland) is what any distiller will tell you; it is probably the most important element for a quality scotch.  And these distilleries buy up as much property around the water source as possible to protect it.  The water gives a whisky the taste of its local landscape much like the importance of terroir is to wine.

It is also what defines the regions.  Lowland whiskies such as Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan (the ladies’ whisky, per the locals) have a milder, sweeter taste.  The Highlands have a rich, fruiter taste such as Ardmore, The Glendronach, Glenmorangie (note: in Scotland pronounced as “orange” not “mo RAN”), Glen Garioch and Talisker.

A Speyside favorite located in the village of Rothes.

Speyside, which has more than half of Scotland’s distilleries is mellow, sweet, and home to famed ones such as Glenfiddich (the final letter has a “k” sound, not a “ch”), The Glenrothes, Knockando and Oban.  Islay (pronounced “I-La”) is the heavier, saltier, peat taste as experienced in the famed Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Laphroaig brands.

Each tour guide tells us that single malt whiskies begin with barley.  The whole process is elaborate but, in a nutshell, here is a quick summary.

Each distillery featured a unique pot still design, an important ingredient to a whisky's taste.

Water is added to allow germination.  Then, yeast is pumped in to begin the fermentation process.  After two to three days, the liquid is ready to distill.  This is another very important element in creating a distinctive whiskey: uniqueness of the copper pot still design changes the favor.  For instance, the fatter stills create stronger, oilier whiskies.  And each distillery appears to engage a different and unique pot still design and, hence, a different and unique favor.

Another interesting note, whiskies are clear.

A locked, per the excise man, spirit safe safeguards the clear whisky during distillation.

After the meticulous distillation and passing through a “spirit safe” where a stillman checks its strength and quality, it is ready to mature.  Aging in oak bourbon casks from the U.S. and port sherry casks from Spain give whisky its distinctive color.  Also of note, it has to age a minimum of three years in Scotland to be called a Scotch whisky.  Most are aged no less than 10 years and the aging stops when it is bottled.  It also loses two percent in evaporation each year in the cask.  This, in turn, drives up the price.  The evaporation is called “the angel’s share” and no tour guide (and I mean not one!) failed to mention that with a requisite smile.

Every distillery that features a visitors’ center also offers tastings.  Some charge £5 or more and a few charge nothing.  If you go to the 14 Diageo distilleries that are open to the public or register online, you can get a whisky journal; this allows you free passage into all of them.  We were told that if you get the journal stamped by all 14 distilleries listed, Diageo will present you with a gift.  Unfortunately, time (not desire) precluded us from achieving this ambitious goal.

Dewar's World of Whisky and spring time in Scotland: a perfect combination!

Without question, we enjoyed our educational journey and agreed that the outstanding tours were: Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Dewars in Alberfeldy; The Famous Grouse, and Talisker in Skye.  But our favorite distillery of all?  That would be Old Pulteney which is the farthest north on the far-flung, sheep-filled road to John O’Groats.  It is home to the 21Year Old that won Jim Murray’s coveted World Whisky Crown for 2012.  And trust that, Pennington County excise man aside, our bottle is hidden deeper than our Newton Fork Ranch bootlegger ever considered hiding his!

And, after tasting countless drams, what’s our very favorite whisky?  We’ll borrow a quote from one of our recent distillery guides: “It depends on how I feel that day or… want to feel.”  Slàinte!

Switzerland’s Passion for Winter Polo

Introduction of Brioni and Cartier teams.

The Black Hills has experienced strange weather recently, but we are happy to report it is now a winter wonderland with snow predicted to fall through Tuesday.  That’s terrific news for us cold weather enthusiasts!  And, if you have perused our Facebook page and blog, you may have noticed your friends at Newton Fork Ranch harbor multiple passions.  Just to name a few: snow, travel, chocolate, and polo.  And, as luck would have it, there is a special part of the world where all four of these passions converge each year on a magical January weekend: St. Moritz.

Cartier team player sets-up a near-side backhand shot.

If you have followed Black Hills polo you may know it had its start in the 30s with the Calvary boys at Fort Meade. Similarly, polo in St. Moritz got its start even earlier (in 1899) when the British troops played as part of their military maneuvers. The present day St. Moritz Polo Club formed in 1959 and hosts year-round games, including one of our favorite events: the St. Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow.  Having attended the Cartier vs. Brioni match, we can attest that it is an experience like no other.  Photos here capture a portion of that magic.

Classic defensive move alters Brioni play.

We are sad to report though that, for the first time in its 28-year history, the 2012 event was cancelled disappointing fans and sponsors Cartier, Deutsche Bank, Ralph Lauren, and BMW.  The St. Moritz Lake Commission deemed the iced-over playing surface of Lake St. Moritz too thin and posed a danger to players and spectators.  But as the late Paul Lippman, our own Rushmore Polo and Social Club founder was fond of saying, “better days ahead!”

So here is a toast in hopes of a record snowfall this week in the Hills and a return of the extraordinary St. Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow in 2013!

In closely matched game, Cartier prevails in 3 - 2.5 win over Brioni.

Get Thee to a W(h)inery!

Having reluctantly just joined the social media sphere, we are intimately familiar with whining. We know people are connecting with each other through the Internet at unheard of rates these days. And truthfully, our hesitation to dialog socially was becoming unevenly balanced with the heady prospect of being able to share our passion for travel, Newton Fork Ranch, and the surrounding Black Hills.  So, we finally “bit the bullet” and recently created a Facebook page.  Then, quicker than one could possibly “Like,” it was suggested that we start a blog.  Oh my gosh, what’s next?  Surely, people understand that only birds are supposed to “tweet” in the Hills!

All right, admittedly there’s a fair amount of whining going on here.  But please understand, at Newton Fork Ranch, we have always encouraged people to put down the cell phones, leave the televisions at home, and come to the ranch to rest, relax, reflect, and re-energize.  As one of our guests so pithily penned in a guest book a few years ago: “It’s day three and my kids have finally quit staring at the blank wall waiting for a television to appear!”

But our whining about social media got us thinking.  What is there, for a committed whiner to do, in the beautiful and pristine Black Hills?  You know, when there is a lack of distraction combined with time and energy to spare?  Can you see it coming?  Get thee to a w(h)inery!

All punning aside, this former gold mining town of Hill City has given up the bootleg liquor (more on that in another post) and has taken up fruit juice with a kick!  Here’s the local scoop: the first to open in the area was Prairie Berry Winery. The Vojta family has been making grape, fruit, and honey wines since 1876 starting with, yep, berries on the prairie.  Their winery, complete with a bistro, is housed in an artful structure that could have been plucked from Napa Valley.  One of the most popular selections is “Red Ass Rhubarb.” They have awards too numerous to count; the most recent is best of class in the 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

Prairie Berry’s move to Hill City in 2004 was followed by Stone Faces Winery in 2009.  Their award-winning wine is produced by Valiant Vineyards in Vermillion.  Established by Eldon Nygaard and his wife and family, it is known as the “Oldest winery in South Dakota.”  Stone Faces is their second Valiant Vineyards winery. Their “Sturgis” blends and “Full Throttle” are area favorites.

The most recent addition to the ever-growing Hill City wine corridor is Naked Winery… good thing it’s a mild winter, eh?  Their aim seems to be to combine love and romance.  And the names of the wines, with double entendres such as, oh never mind, you’ll have to go find out for yourself, add to their brand uniqueness.  We certainly have a meeting of the minds on their mission statement: “We believe every couple should turn off their TVs, open up a bottle.”

So here’s to spending a lovely evening at Newton Fork Ranch cuddled up in front of the fire, lifting a glass of local wine, and toasting your decision to turn off and tune in… to the true conversation!

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