Custer State Park
Thousands of visitors drive through the park every year for a glimpse of the wild life; high on their list will be Buffalo and Pronghorn Antelope. Other watchable wildlife include whitetail and mule deer, mountain goats, elk, coyotes, bighorn sheep, birds, wild turkeys and prairie dogs.
And several groups of donkeys that have learned to beg for treats from anyone willing to give them some. The donkeys congregate around pull outs and approach any car that stops. The brave ones walk out into the roadway when a car approaches making it stop. We came through the park five or more years ago and encountered a group panhandling then. Perhaps the mama's and papa's of this herd.
There quite aggressive; pushy you might say.
But friendly. Johnna getting a closer shot of this little tyke.
There still a nuisance.
Our trip this year, other than sightseeing through the park once more, was to include the annual Buffalo roundup in September.
The roundup serves several purposes; to inspect the herd for disease, vaccinate the herd and reduce the herds size to what park management thinks is a sustainable number; historically a summer capacity of around 1,500. This year the herd numbers some 1,230 because of a drought that began in 2002.
In 2008 Custer State Park offered 192 head of buffalo and eight burros for auction. The number of livestock offered is determined by the drought conditions and the results of the annual buffalo roundup. This will be the sixteenth annual roundup. I was ready.
Exploring the park is relaxing and a way to escape the civilized world while still in the comfort of your car.
I sometimes gratify my romantic side and indulge in flights of fancy. And driving through Custer State Park always seems to spur my imagination into thinking of a time before commercial and sport hunting of the 19th century all but wiped out the great bison herds. Before cities, roads, telephone poles, farm houses, fields and domestic cow herds invaded the great planes. I like to park by the roadside and look out over this expanse of preserved grass lands; and let my minds eye populate the scene with a slowly moving masse of large, shaggy, humped backed animals. If I listen closely I can hear snorting, hoof stomping, growling, belching; the low melodic murmuring of a milling Bison herd. A prairie symphony.
Sadly, big herds of bison are only in my imagination. Two weeks before the big roundup, the smaller free roaming herds are pushed into a southern area of the park that's been off limits to grazing. They'll stay there until roundup day when 60 or so cow boys and cow girls join a fleet of pickups and SUV's to drive them through a small valley into holding corrals. This is a very popular event with tourists and locals; 10,00 to 11,00 spectators gather on surrounding hill tops to watch the 30 minutes of action. Johnna and I checked out the viewing and parking sites two days before the roundup; we wanted to be in the best place at the best time.
Another must drive for most visitors to Custer State park is the drive on US 16A; famous for its one lane tunnels; with one aligned to frame the faces on Mount Rushmore. US 16A is the only route which can be used to drive through Custer State Park without having to pay an entrance fee for the park, provided the traveler does not stop in the Park.
What amazes me is, these narrow tunnels are just big enough for tour buses to pass through; or maybe, there are custom busses built just for this road.
Another favorite is the Needles Highway; a spectacular 14-mile drive through rugged granite mountains, populated by pine and spruce forests. The road's name derives from needle like granite formations turning the horizon into a sawtooth of peaks poking into the sky. Former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck marked the entire course on foot and by horseback. The road was completed in 1922.
Driving the highway you'll pass a unique rock formation called the Needle's Eye. An opening, like the eye of a needle, was created by wind, rain, and years of freezing and thawing.
Custer State park should be on everyone's itinerary. It's a drive you'll enjoy.