Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Our First Day in Custer

Since we only had a little over 100 miles to go and we couldn’t check in until after 12:00, we took it slow this morning. Of course, we had realized that the battery was dead so we had to jump it this morning. Dead battery on the car when we arrived and dead battery on the coach when we got ready to leave. At least, we’re consistent. We pulled out a little before 10:00 and fortunately did not have to go back through the park. That had been a harrowing ride and I didn’t want to repeat. Actually, we went right by Scenic but Jerry didn’t stop this time! We did see a herd of bison finally though they were at a distance.

We left flat lands in the Badlands and suddenly we were at 5000 feet. As usual, Jerry did a good job but was glad we weren’t going very far. We got to Big Pine Campground around 12:30 and check-in was easy and quick. We had an escort to our site and that is always so nice. We can stay at this site for three days and then will have to move across the way for two nights. The owner said he didn’t have a single vacant spot for the next week so guess we were lucky to have snagged two.
As soon as we had lunch we headed out first and most importantly for gas for the car. Jerry put over 14 gallons in it. It’s a 15-gallon tank! Yikes. As we rode along, we spotted a grocery store to take advantage of later.

We ended up driving right up to Custer State Park where we paid $20 for a week pass. Driving through Custer is very different from driving through the Badlands. Our intention was to go to the Visitor’s Center but we didn’t realize that it was on the other side of the park. It was a winding, curvy road with a speed limit of 25 most of the time so it took a while to reach the center. Fortunately, the video was just starting as we arrived so we got to take that in. It was absolutely spectacular. It features the bison running and I thought they were going to run right up to me!

We talked with one of the volunteers for a while plus looked at the different displays about the bison and learned some interesting facts. First off, bison or buffalo? Both words are used interchangeably but the correct name is bison. The more commonly used name “buffalo” comes from the French word for beef, “le boeuf” which was simplified into buffalo. Bison can run up to 35 miles per hour so be warned! There is no single safe distance from a bison as they can cover 100 feet in a matter of seconds. Signs that the bison are agitated are raised tail, snorting, pawing the ground or short charges toward someone. Bison live on an average of 12-20 years. Their age can be determined by their horns and like a horse, by their teeth as well.

There are approximately 1300 bison in Custer at this time. In September a buffalo roundup – yes, they call it a buffalo roundup, not a bison roundup – is held to cull the herd. They are all vet checked, given their immunizations and then their fate is determined. Either they return to the park or are sold at auction for various purposes.

After we left the Visitor’s Center, we decided to ride Wildlife Loop Road. In a few short minutes I spotted some pronghorn sheep. Jerry didn’t see them so we turned around and went back to try to find them. There the two of them were just grazing. We took some pictures and then traveled on. Our next sighting was three more pronghorn and this time with the binoculars I looked right in the face of one. Wow!

As we rode along, we saw a lot of stopped cars and knew something was ahead. Yep, the donkeys were there waiting for someone to give them a carrot. As soon as we parked the car one of the donkeys walked up right beside the car door and wouldn’t move. Jerry got out, walked around and finally hit him on the butt to move him up. We enjoyed walking around and looking at all 11 of them.

The next time we saw a lot of stopped cars it was for a herd of bison. There were probably over 100 in the herd and three adults and one baby made their way down near the road. Hopefully, we got some good pictures of that.

We finished the Wildlife Loop and continued to ride through the park back toward Custer. It is a beautiful ride and next time we go I’ll try to drive so Jerry can see how very beautiful it is!

A trip to the grocery store ended our riding around for the day. We headed back to the coach and caught up on some computer work that we’d had to delay this week. Internet at this campground is phenomenal. In fact, I think it’s better than what we have at home. Jerry and I talked about the different hikes and sights and we mapped out a tentative plan for the next few days. Since it’s unusually cool for this time of year we don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn for a hike! Cool weather means good sleeping!

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