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

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!