2016-09-25.Custer State Park
Custer State Park is probably the nicest state park in the country. Big claim right? But seriously, this park has it all. It is close to Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse but is a destination in and of itself. The park is one of the largest in the country and includes mixed grass prairie, the pine forest symbolic of the Black Hills, granite and limestone peaks called needles and a network of highways that lead up and around the park. The Needles Highway with its pigtail curves is the iconic picture shown on the postcards and advertisements for the park. At this time of year, golden color defines the draw of each hill while the last flowers of summer dot the prairie. This is also where each year, the annual bison roundup occurs and we will be attending that on Friday. But the amount of wildlife you can see while driving or hiking in this park is amazing. This is definitely where the deer and antelope play and we saw dozens of antelope and herds of big racked mule deer. Then there are the mules that approach each car hoping for a handout. This time of year, mother mules with their small colts crowd the highway and they are really cute. We did NOT feed the mules nor did I even try to pet them this time – just pictures.
Bob and I, along with our loyal doggie companion, Roadie, decided to hike the Prairie Trail, billed as a “moderate” hike of about 3 miles. Well, it was “moderate” I suppose, if you say that the steep uphills were cancelled out by the steep downhills. But, it was a lovely hike through the prairie and forest, over ridges and a stream and around the bluffs. The day was quite cool and very windy but perfect for hiking with a clear blue sky. This was the first time I saw cactus along the trail and the prairie was wearing its fall brown decorated by the deep green and brilliant gold of the trees that outlined its borders. The trees are so brilliant that they almost seem fake. Though the trail is supposed to be a “loop”, it did not work out that way. We met a couple of women from St. Louis who were “returning” because the trail ahead had been blocked by a herd of buffalo. Sure enough, about a mile into the hike, we could see bison lining the entire length of a distant ridge looking like buffalo nickels stacked end to end. As we hiked on, we traversed a hill and began our trek up the next one only to stop when we saw the herd of buffalo above us at the top of the next hill. We were hoping they would move a little away from the trail but, no luck. The buffalo were crowded around the trail sign presumably reading about their environment and they did not budge. We got pretty close but when they started to stare at us, we decided to turn around. A couple coming up behind us did go a little further but made a cautious retreat when the buffalo started snorting at them. They are seriously large animals weighing up to 1900 pounds. Still, it is so wonderful to experience this type of encounter in the wild just as early man must have hundreds of years ago. Thankfully, the bison have come back from the brink of extinction to roam wild across this wonderful park.