Home Away From Home, South Dakota

Traffic Jams!

We just couldn’t decide what we wanted to do today. Jerry didn’t want to take a hike that ended in a view just like he had already seen – he wanted something different so we ended up at Legion Lake Trail. It was an absolutely beautiful hike. The sign at the beginning stated it was rated as “Easy”. The newspaper, The Tatanka rated it as “Moderate to Strenuous”. Actually, I thought neither was correct. To me, “Easy” should be flat land that handicapped could access. “Moderate to Strenuous” means hard work. In this case, it was neither one but it was a fun one-mile loop. There was a little beach at the end with some people sunning and kids swimming yelling “it’s cold”! The temperature was supposed to get down to 49 last night so I guess it was cold.

We got in the car and continued our ride to the gift shop where we bought a couple of shirts, one for Jerry and one for me. Because we didn’t know what we were going to do when we left home this morning, we had not brought our usual picnic lunch so we bought a hot dog at the gift shop. It was filling. That’s all I can say!

Next, we got caught in a traffic jam – a bighorn sheep traffic jam. They were just standing in the road not paying much attention to anyone. We were only there about five minutes before someone nudged them out of the way however that was not to be our only traffic jam of the day.

We continued our ride through the park and saw some of the most amazing views, rolling hills of green growth topped by the majestic Ponderosa Pines. Kind of made me want to jump out and sing “I go to the hills” from the Sound of Music. It looked just like that final scene in the movie.

Before we knew it, we were on Iron Mountain Road and headed for Mt. Rushmore. We hadn’t intended to go there today but I’m glad we ended up there and didn’t make a special trip. Due to construction the Walk of Flags and the theater are closed leaving only the gift shop and food mart open. We walked in, took some pictures and then ate some ice cream! We took the .2-mile walk to the Sculptor’s Studio and enjoyed talks by two different rangers. Since Jerry didn’t want to make the .4-mile trip up the rest of the Presidential Trail I decided to do it alone. I went about halfway up, decided I could see all I needed to see and then went back down.

After we left we decided to go back to Wildlife Loop and somehow ended up on the Needles Highway AGAIN! Poor Jerry. When we got to the Needles Eye Tunnel we parked, got out and walked around some.

Still headed to the Wildlife Loop we continued on forward. Shortly we saw a car stopped which always indicates animals of some kind. Sure enough, there were a couple of mountain goats on the hillside. Those are the first mountain goats that we’ve seen. That added to our repertoire of animals seen on this trip: chipmunk this morning, pronghorn sheep this afternoon and of course bison.

We finally got to Wildlife Loop and slowly made our way in. We saw one pronghorn sheep and of course the donkeys. We were about to decide that we wouldn’t be seeing any more animals today when suddenly we surrounded by bison! We were definitely in a bison traffic jam. There were bison everywhere, at least a couple of hundred and boy were some of them big! They were so close to the car we could have touched them. I kept my window rolled up! Fortunately, we were going in the right direction because the other direction really had a traffic jam. There were probably a hundred cars waiting and almost certainly some of them had no idea what was causing the problem.

When we finally got through the morass of bison we wound our way through the exit of the park and the eleven miles to Custer. A quick stop at the grocery store and we were headed to the campground with grilling on our minds. Jerry cooked some delicious steaks, and with a baked potato and salad one would think we were at home – and we are, just not in North Carolina. That’s one of the nice things about taking our home with us.

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!


Caprock Canyon State Park

Caprock Canyon
Caprock Canyon

Talk about worse for the wear – when I looked at Jerry this morning and looked in the mirror we both looked like we had been run over by a truck, a big truck. Yesterday’s hike, the last part nearly did us in. I asked Jerry how far it was thinking it was about .5 and was stunned when he told me he was more like .1 or .2. Like he said he wasn’t so much a hike as it was an ascent as we climbed nearly straight up. It was by far the hardest, most treacherous, most arduous segment of any hike we’ve taken on this trip but we did it! Don’t count us out yet. We may getting on up there in years but we’re still on the move and as much as we enjoy state and national parks hopefully it won’t end anytime soon.

As we were preparing to leave Amarillo Ranch RV Park and head to Caprock Canyon State Park Jerry was outside emptying the tanks, etc. I was inside putting everything in its traveling place. When I got the damprid from the front of the coach – it was behind the front window shade – there was ice in it! Apparently it got cold enough last night for the moisture from the front window to freeze. Amazing but we slept warm and cozy.

We’re were on the road by 9:30, not in a big rush since we only had 100 miles to go and check-in time was 2:00. As we rode along I was again amazed by how very flat Texas is. I thought Louisiana was flat but it’s flat and low. Texas is just flat and you can see for miles. The road ahead looks like the road that never ends. Until suddenly there is a canyon! Wow, it’s a long way down. Kind of used to “falling rock” signs in North Carolina but riding along and seeing an “earth slide” sign is a bit unnerving. Garmin sent us one way and Clarion sent us another. Jerry elected to go with Clarion – probably not a good decision as we went through several canyon roads. Garmin doesn’t do a very good job in cities, at least for us, but does seem to do better on the open road. In fact, I’m pretty sure Clarion got lost on this trip. She kept telling us to turn right and there was no road right. Some roads would have been difficult for a four wheeler and some of the “roads” even had locked gates. Yep, she was lost. I was just hoping the Garmin wasn’t!

We only went through a few towns but I noticed that they all had big water tanks and not like the water towers at home. You can tell that these are so important to the community and life or death for stock. I never quite grasped the scarcity of water until visiting this great state.

What a fun afternoon. We got to Caprock Canyon State Park right at noon and the office like other Texas parks was closed for lunch from 12:00 – 1:00 so we just stopped in the parking lot and had lunch and waited until 1:00 when we easily checked in. I asked if we would see bison and she said we probably would as they liked the campgrounds. She also suggested that we take the car off of the dolly in the parking lot so as soon as I got back to the coach I told Jerry and he took the car off. He took off in the RV and I followed in the car and by golly, there were bison. I was driving (slowly) and trying to take pictures when I realized that there were two cars behind me. Dang! On I went with only one good picture.

img_1871As soon as we got set up we got in the car and rode around and boy did we see signs of bison and then bison, lots of bison. They wander through the park freely. I had mistakenly told Jerry that we were to stay 50 FEET away from them. Duh, it’s 50 YARDS! No worry, I only saw them from the car and they seem to be quite used to cars. We rode on through the park and saw the walls of the canyon and they are beautiful with vivid colors. We actually spent the afternoon riding through the park and often spotting bison. There were some hikes we could have taken but after yesterday we wisely decided to pass today plus it got too late to start a long hike and they were all at least 4-6 miles.

Jerry checked in the office and found out that there are about 150 bison here now with a capacity of 300. They have a round up each year and if they exceed 300 they are shipped to other parks. Gestation for a bison is 9 ½ months and we saw several little bison. There are few fences but there are cattle guards in strategic places so I guess bison won’t cross a cattle guard either. The only other animal we saw today was a bunny in the yard.

img_4667I saw a sign about braking for prairie dogs and I had never seen one but suddenly there they were, lots of them running around, jumping up on two legs. When they were startled they started burying into the ground. It was amazing just watching them running around.

This is a great park but for some reason it doesn’t get the publicity that Palo Duro does and I can only guess that it’s because it’s kind off of the beaten path. I would surely recommend it to anyone who gets anywhere close to the area.

Also it is so very quiet, not a sound to be heard and the nights are so very dark! I would hate to have to walk outside without some kind of light.