Sunday, October 6, 2013

Trapped Inside by the Snowstorm

Note:  The first part of this blog post was written back on Thursday morning, before we lost power in the storm.

Today we were scheduled to travel to Hot Springs, South Dakota to see the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, and in a way, see America as it was 300 years ago.  This 11,000 acres of prairie is home to 400 wild horses.

The beginning of the storm - the view out our hotel room
Due to the beginnings of a major storm, the roads into the Sanctuary are closed.

A storm bearing possibly 25 inches of snow and winds up to 70 mph is heading our way, and nearly everything anywhere near to our hotel is closed.  Our room is up on the third floor of the Hilton Garden Inn, and here in our room we can easily hear that the winds are strong and gusty.

This morning we did venture out, though, as only a few inches of snow had fallen at that point.  We headed to the Mt. Rushmore Black Hills Gold factory right outside of Rapid City, which opened briefly just for the benefit of our desperate tour group.

Of course, it is well known that the Black Hills area of South Dakota was a major gathering point for those thousands of folks that came West, dreaming of finding gold and becoming wealthy.

One of these many goldseekers, French goldsmith Henri LeBeau, came to seek his fortune here also.  As the story goes, in his travels he became lost in the Black Hills, and passed out from near starvation and dehydration.  While unconscious, he dreamed of the wine and grapes back in his homeland.

Later, upon awakening, he found some grapes nearby which sustained him.  Subsequently, he created a style of gold jewelry in the 1870's which is now known as Black Hills Gold.

Typical Black Hills Gold style
What makes Black Hills Gold jewelry uniqe is that each piece depicts leaves, grape clusters, and vines, and is made with alloys of gold with standard yellow gold as well as green and pink gold.

In 1980 a law was passed dictating that no jewelry manufacturer would be permitted to use the term "Black Hills Gold" unless is was made right in the Black Hills.

So, if one is traveling in the Black Hills area of South Dakota, an appropriate souvenir would be a piece of Black Hills gold, don't you think?  I may have purchased a pair of Black Hills gold earrings today.

Following the visit to the gold factory, our transportation returned us to our hotel, via a very slippery, treacherous, nail-biter of a ride.

Since our hotel does not have a lunch offered, we scrounged in the little pantry near the front desk and found ourselves a funny little meal.

There are really no other options.  There are no vehicles or humans moving anywhere outside now.  Everything is closed, and the snow is piling up.

For the next 24 hours or so, it will just be a matter of hunkering down and riding out the storm.

We just might not survive, although I do know where I can find a  pool and hot tub that are still open for business.

It has now been three days since I wrote the words above.  Unbelievably, the storm dumped 22 inches on us, and as much as four feet in locations nearby.  70 mile winds that blew for two days created drifts that were impassable by all vehicles.

About an hour or so after writing what you read up above, the power in our hotel went out.

For the last three days we've suffered as the temperatures in our hotel fell.   Using the bedding and towels in our hotel room, we tried to wrap up and stay warm.  Late in the day yesterday, we discovered that the temperature in the pool room felt a tad warmer due to the humidity, so we sat in there for a while.  However, the chemical smell with no air exchange ultimately chased us out.

With no power, of course we had no lights.  By 7:00 PM each night it was completely dark, and so most of us returned to our rooms by then.  To do what?  No TV, no internet, no light for reading - we would just try to go to sleep and stay warm until daylight.

The hotel staff tried to feed us the best they could without having power.  By the middle of the second day, an announcement was made that the food was all gone.  That becomes a scary thought when you know that the roads are impassable, there is a $5000 fine to try to drive somewhere, and besides, everything anywhere is closed.  Not knowing how long until you have another meal begins to become worrisome.  In our case, we had 1 1/2 days of very meager meals, then 1 1/2 days of no meals.

No power also means no elevators.  Only one staircase in our hotel led to the lobby, the other one led to an outside entrance.  In pitch blackness, stairs and stairwells are tricky and potentially dangerous.

In complete blackness, it's tricky using our hotel room's bathroom.  We conserved our cell phone batteries to get a little light when using the bathroom.

Now, here's the thing.  Throughout this crisis I saw the best and worst of human nature.

First let's talk about the worst.  Sometimes the way people behaved throughout this difficult situation was downright ugly and animalistic.

We saw people take way too much food at the skimpy meals, leaving none for those at the back of the line.  Bob and I missed out on a meal and parts of other meals because of folks' greed.

Incredibly, some people griped at what was served, how much they got, whether it came with mustard or mayo, and other trivial things.

A few people blamed our snowbound situation on the travel company, claiming the company should have had a Plan B.  This was a serious regional crisis, and even the National Guard had been called out, so no Plan B could have been possible.  Some people just have to be negative, have to gripe, and have to find fault.

Small lanterns were placed on the landings of each floor level in the stairwells.  It is unthinkable to me, but they were stolen by people who took them into their rooms.

Along with all the negatives, happily we saw the best of human nature too.

We saw people helping serve food to others, before they served themselves.

We learned of generous people trading their ground floor rooms with handicapped folks on the upper floors, since the elevators were no longer operational.

The hotel staff slept on the couches in the lobby, and tirelessly took care of us the best they could, for three days.

Many people helped others up the stairways and accompanied them safely to their rooms in the dark.

I have definitely learned the lesson to always appreciate food and electricity.

As of a few hours ago, we were finally transferred to another hotel that has power, heat, and food.  During the transfer, we were able to finally see how bad this area has been hit by this crippling storm.

I will simply close this post by saying I'm grateful to be safe and sound, and to let the few photos I have speak for themselves.

During the storm

Staying warm
Outside our hotel
En route to our new (heated) hotel
We are scheduled to fly home tomorrow, yet as of now the airport is still closed.

Some day, we will laugh about this trip and all of its challenges.

Just not today.


  1. Oh, my gosh....I just took a look at your blog post and found this. How very scary. I am praying that you will catch a flight home. Be safe...Balisha

  2. Anneke loves black hills gold, but I doubt she would enjoy that weather .

  3. Very scary. I have a diabetic husband who needs to eat on a regular basis. I've never thought about being stranded like that with no food. I'm glad to hear you are safe and finally in a heated hotel. I've been wondering about you and some other friends in that area. Be safe.

  4. Wow, that is really amazing . . . and scary! I'm glad you guys survived it, and eventually got moved to a new hotel! Hopefully, you'll get a flight home soon!

  5. What an experience!! You will be telling about it for years to come. Like, "rember back when we were stranded by a big snow storm"? Glad you survived to tell the about the experience.

  6. I just can't imagine that, living here in TX all my life. Not trying to be rude, but why make a trip to that part of the states at this time of year? And, I have some black hills gold. Love it.