Thursday, September 22, 2011

Custer State Park

The rolling plains of eastern Wyoming, miles upon miles of undulating land, criss-crossed with fencing, dotted with cattle, gave way at last to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We camped at one of the many campgrounds in Custer State Park, an excellent park rivaling our National Parks. We had a nice wooded site near a lake, with electricity. Our only challenge was that it was the most off-level site we've ever had, requiring every spare block at hand to get the left side of the Whale high enough. Also, it seemed that every pine tree in the forest had at least one red squirrel in it, and their chatter was constant. They boldly descended the trunks in full view of Toby, moving cockily just to the opposite side when he went on the attack. Eventually he just stopped caring!

Custer has a lot to offer: lakes, trails, lodges, horse camps... but what was really special was the wildlife. It was like being back at Yellowstone! The Wildlife Loop road took us through beautiful countryside, and then into the midst of the park's 1000 head of buffalo:

Parked at a pulloff along the road, a constant parade of bison moved past:

Shaggy, bearded old bulls, sleek (for a buffalo) young cows, fuzzy brown calves, they all funnelled into the roadway, causing a hoofed traffic jam:

It was great fun to have such close encounters with these animals:

Among the bison were a herd of another kind. Burros live here, descendants of those that used to carry people up the park's Harney Peak.

The burros are often fed by visitors, so they approach any open car window to check for food:

Just down the road from the bison and burros we came to a prairie-dog town. They were a bit far away for photography. We stayed to watch for a few minutes, but then the ever moving bison herd threatened to envelop us once more, so we moved on up the road...where we came across a small group of pronghorn - a half-dozen does looked after by this buck:

Another attraction nearby was Mount Rushmore. We hadn't planned to visit, focusing, as we are, more on nature's carvings, not so much on those of man. But it was too close to pass up, and a beautiful drive to and from, so we paid a visit. It was actually pretty impressive. Not only a super-sized monument to four important past-presidents, but also an extraordinary example of large scale sculpture. We're glad that we went.

From a distance:

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln:

Another nice stop along the park road was Sylvan Lake, with its backdrop of needle-like rock formations:

I went for a bike ride, like I am want to do, but it wasn't very good. The trails were mostly used by equestrians, so the surface was pockmarked with hoof-prints. I got my exercise, and enjoyed the scenery, but the trails themselves were among my least favorite.

Speaking of least-favorite things, Nancy's back took a turn for the worse. She woke up on our last morning hardly able to move. We decided to go to the walk-in (or in her case, hobble-in) clinic at the hospital in Custer. A bright, young physician's assistant quickly diagnosed Nancy's condition as strained connective tissues and spasming muscles. She prescribed a muscle relaxant and a pain killer. Within hours of beginning this regimen Nancy felt improvement. The next day even more so. It was a good call to seek medical attention. Who knows how bad or for how long Nancy would have suffered.

A short drive will take us to our next destination: Badlands National Park.

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