Kel's Travels travel blog

view from needles hwy


needle's eye

sylvan lake

inside tepee


crazy horse

general custer

jewel cave

fire tower

badger hole

inside cabin

mountain goat

buffalo in road

burro in car

last prairie dog

Custer state park was so amazing I had to make two separate entries even thought we were only there for 3 nights. Our second full day we wanted to see lots of things in the immediate area of the park that we hadn't seen or done yet so first we took another scenic drive, this one called Needles Highway. This has very low and narrow tunnels so we could not possibly have done it in the motor home. Here is one view from a scenic overlook

and a shot of one of the tunnels

This is the money shot - this rock structure is named "needle's eye" and I think you can see why.

At some 6000 feet above sea level, this little lake called Sylvan Lake is the home of yet another lodge, store and campground which had closed for the season the very week we arrived, not that we would have been able to get there.

One of the park's two chapels is also located here and they do have services weekly during the summer.

Next we headed over to the Crazy horse Memorial. This is pretty interesting, especially when you consider that

the man who started it, and now his children, have never taken any government funding. We were told that he believed in free enterprise and thought that his memorial should be funded by ordinary people and not by any government. This confuses me a little because I didn't realize the government had any money unless it takes it forcibly from the people but to each his own.

Here's another distance shot of them actually blasting while we were there.

They had lots of interesting exhibits about the Ogala Sioux like this tepee with very lifelike models inside

Next we explored the little town of Custer (population 1800 something. They had these painted life- size buffalo all over town and according to the signs they are auctioned off at the annual Custer stampede along with other buffalo art. Many of them are done by famous artists . One of our favorites was this one, showing General Custer

.The stampede is part of the Arts festival that is held in conjunction with the Buffalo roundup in the park. We saw preparations being made all over for parking etc. This roundup was held the week after we left and we decided we would definitely love to see it sometime. Besides park personnel, 20 individuals are chosen through a lottery to participate in rounding up the herd of 1300 plus bison in the park. They are sorted into corrals then tested, vaccinate and branded. Most are released back into the park but some are place in the annual auction, held each November. Over 14,000 peopole attend each year from all over the globe.

Next we headed to Jewel Cave, another gem of the National Park System, and the second longest cave in the world. Connie doesn't go underground so she volunteered to stay on top with Eddie, but the timing was wrong for me to take a tour so I decide to hike a short trail on top of it. Here is a view from that trail

Now we headed back into the park for yet another scenic drive to mount Coolidge Lookout. This fire tower was built in 1940 by the CCC and sits atop a 6023 foot peak. It is currently used for communications and to spot fires. There is a 1.7 mile gravel road right to the top even more narrow and winding than Needles Highway. The views were stunning though for 360 degrees.

A young couple from Houston took this for us so we told them about the Mt. Rushmore lighting ceremony and suggested they not miss it. Another site within the park is called Badger Hole, which was the home of Charles Badger Clark, South Dakota's first poet laureate. He built this cabin himself and lived there until in death in 1957

It was supposed to be closed for the season but a volunteer was inside and invited me in

to tell me a little about the man. He never married, although he was engaged to a young lady three different times. She was wealthy and her mother wouldn't allow her to marry him. Since he had no heirs his home was preserved exactly as he left it and eventually was donated to the park.

Since we had to leave the next morning Connie wanted to drive the Wildlife Loop one more time after we shopped at the Coolidge General store where many items were 30% off since it was so late in the season. Outside the store we saw this lovely lady.

She is a bighorn sheep and you can tell she is a female because the males' horns are thick and curled. South Dakota's original bighorn became extinct about 1922 so a herd of Rocky Mountains bighorn were introduced to Custer and have flourished there since. I wasn't enthused about repeating something we had already done but decided to be a good sport since Connie had been about the cave. Just a few miles into our drive we started seeing cars and buses pulled over so everyone could take pictures of this

You may remember that on our first trip we only saw one measly burro and he was some distance away. This guy decided to get up close and personal

which Eddie did not like at all. He growled and barked at the intruder. Lastly, we stopped again to watch our very favorite new creature, the black-tailed prairie dog. I promise this is the very last picture I will post of them.

Reluctantly, we said good bye to all our new friends and headed back to the RV. We had supper in the lodge right across the road from our campground and then Connie made a wonderful campfire for use to enjoy the beautiful starry sky over Custer. We have every intention of returning to this place someday and we urge all of you to visit for yourselves as well.

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