Custer State Park is 71,000 acres of South Dakota Black Hills beauty. Created in 1919, the park is home to a diverse population of animals and birds. Driving the “Wildlife Loop Road” is a great way to see many of these animals. There are plenty of pull-offs were you can take photos and just watch nature.
One of the first encounters we had was with a pronghorn. These beautiful creatures are everywhere in both parks and are easily photographed. Move slow and they will pose for you. If you like wild turkeys you won’t need to travel far to find many flocks. We had our biggest “aaah” moment of the trip when a hen with her poults crossed our path. Too bad they were moving too fast to get any good photos of them.
One of the inhabitants of Custer State Park isn’t a native. A herd of “friendly burros” will stalk you for treats but you shouldn’t feed them since it is bad for their health. Be careful about leaving your windows open since these critters will poke their entire head into your car looking for something to eat. I didn’t mind much since the car was a rental! The wild burros are leftovers from a group that used to haul tourists to the top of Harney Peak.
We saw our first of hundreds of prairie dogs in the parks. These little barking wonders were definitely my favorite animal of the trip. I could sit and watch them for hours as they pop in and out of their burrows. One of the other small creatures in abundance in the parks are rabbits or “wabbits” if you are Elmer.
We didn’t find any bison along the Wildlife Loop which was disappointing. On our way to Wind Cave we stopped at a ranger station and asked if anyone had seen the herd lately. The answer was another disappointing “no” but the previous day they had been spotted up on Fisherman Flats. I now had a plan to find them. I searched our maps and figured we could take North Lame Johnny Road up to the area. This gravel road is a nice drive off the main road that goes past the Horse Camp. Just a couple miles past the camp we had to slam on the brakes because the whole herd was coming towards us down the middle of the road. The entire herd is close to 1,300 animals. The bulls can weigh 2,000 pounds or more and since these puppies were almost as large as our car I would agree with that figure. Having these majestic animals surround you is an adrenaline rush. Since some of the males seemed agitated with our presence, we thought it was a good idea to back away and keep a good distance between us.
Wind Cave National Park has a smaller herd of about 800 bison. By the time we made it to this park is was starting to get hot. We saw them retreating to the shade of trees way off in the distance. A few solitary males stayed close to the road. Tons more pronghorns and several large prairie dog towns rounded out this part of our day.
By now we were starving so we stopped at Dale's Family Restaurant in Hot Springs, SD for some great homestyle cooking. Of course Peg had to eat a Buffalo Burger. Doesn’t quite seem right does it?