Home Away From Home, South Dakota

So Long Custer

Dragging – that’s what we were today. A little tired and me still with a bad back though it’s better. We finally left the campground around 9:30 headed for the Stockade. It’s a small stockade with just a few cabins. Some were closed off to the public but we were able to enter several others. Those were made of heavy logs with lovely fireplaces and dirt floors. Otherwise, they were empty. Around the stockade were lookouts carved into the walls where one good lookout and then shoot if necessary.

Moving on we were looking for the Badger Clark Trail. While we were rambling around we discovered Hidden Valley. Although there were RV’s parked there, they seemed more permanent than transient. We finally found the Badger Clark rustic home. Despite having no running water or bathroom facilities, it was still a lovely small cabin. Everything in it was original even down to the tattered American flag with 48 states represented hanging on the wall in his bedroom. There is now a heating system there but during the winter it is turned off causing problems for the many books that Clark had. The volunteer there told us that they were in the process of obtaining a grant that would let them replace the books with cardboard look-alikes while the actual books would go to the archives.

We made a short stop at the General Store and then headed for the Wildlife Loop Road, not because we were looking for animals but because Jerry had decided to go off the main road onto some of the dirt, graveled roads. Before we could venture there though we saw lots of stopped cars which I knew, of course, meant animals somewhere near and there they were. We saw a huge herd of bison, not in the road fortunately but traveling across the hills grazing. Taking an idea from someone we saw yesterday we opened the sunroof and I stood up in the seat to catch some beautiful pictures. Earlier we had seen a lone bison and I had gotten a pic of him the same way. We wondered why a buffalo would be traveling alone.

Continuing along we turned on Fisherman Flats Road and rode through the less-trafficked part of Custer State Park. Beautifully green rolling hills are juxtaposed with hundreds of dead trees either by disease or fire we were not sure. The campground owner told us yesterday about the infestation of the pine beetle. Once the pine beetle is discovered in a tree the tree has to be cut down immediately. Otherwise, neighboring trees will be contaminated and there apparently is no way to eradicate the disease. We happened upon a couple of what we think were deer. Unlike our deer at home, they had black on their faces.

How many shades/hues of green are there? We were treated to numerous shades from dark green to emerald to cyan and on and on. What a panoramic and beautiful sight.

As we continued to wind around the park we came to the exit – how did we get here? No idea but we saw a sign indicating Wind Cave National Park was five miles away so that’s the way went. Five curvy, slow miles later we entered the park. Wow! How pretty. Once again, we saw a lone bison that plodded along beside the car. He was quite large and appeared to be older. Then we saw another and then a herd. Bison everywhere. It slowed us down just a bit but nothing like the traffic jam we were in yesterday. And to think when we didn’t see any on our first day in the park I incorrectly assumed that we wouldn’t see any for the rest of the week. Now we’re on bison overload!

Hot weather had arrived!
We finally arrived at the Visitor’s Center for Wind Cave National Park. Since we had not found a shaded place to picnic and we were way past lunchtime we parked the car and just ate our sandwiches sitting in the air-conditioned car.

Despite the star attraction, Wind Cave itself being inoperable due to an elevator malfunction, the center was still a busy place with rangers hustling everywhere. There were several demonstrations going on and a fantastic film showing the history as well. What a difference in how one park handles a problem and then another ignores it. Mt. Rushmore and Wind Cave both had problems this year but while Rushmore did nothing to enhance a visit, Wind Cave surely did. Kudos to Wind Cave National Park.

Wind Cave was described as where the land above meets the land below, where the Great Plains meet the mountains, one park, two worlds. One of the rangers had a display of fur – one badger, one pronghorn and one coyote. Interestingly the badger and the coyote hunt for prairie dogs in tandem. The badger will run the prairie dogs into their holes with their huge claws and then as the prairie dog tries to escape the other end there is the coyote with his long fast legs to capture the prairie dog.

We also learned one reason why we had seen lone bison. Apparently, there was a problem with only one being an Alpha male so one must go. As we left the center, we saw another large herd of bison and interestingly, these seem to be paired up, one bull and one cow. It is rutting season but other than the pairing we didn’t see any indication of mating.

We returned to the coach for a little while before leaving to go back to Rapid City. Jerry had mentioned returning to the Chapel in the Hills for their 7:30 evening service so off we went. We went back through Custer State Park one more time though, bought a pullover and started on the Iron Mountain Road. This time I was driving! After we passed through Keystone, we decided we had enough time to grab some dinner before the church service so since I was driving Jerry started looking for places on Yelp. He found Adrian’s Place which just happened to be in Keystone. Since it had four and half stars we turned around and headed there. Adrian’s Place is not exactly haute cuisine nor is it fine dining but the food was OK. It’s located in a strip mall along with a Dairy Queen, an old photo shop and a pizza place. Like I said … We both had buffalo burgers and quite frankly I can’t tell the different in a buffalo burger and a beef burger.

We got to the Chapel in the Hills just before a storm with thunder, lightning and rain hit. The pastor for this week was from outside Omaha and was volunteering for a week. He gave a lovely message and we sang some hymns ending with the Lord’s Prayer.

A ride back to Custer and our time in Custer is almost over. It’s been a lovely week. Custer State Park is wonderful. The Black Hills are stunningly beautiful. Wind Cave National Park is extraordinary and the bison are roaming!

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.