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I have a lot of Goldfinces at my feeders this year. It is not uncommon to have over 40 at an one time.


On our last full day in Custer, South Dakota we decided to do what used to be an annual hike up Black Elk Peak. Because of the pandemic it had been three years since we had made the hike. We typically hike from Sylvan Lake (trail 9) then hike over to the Needles (trail 4) and loop around back to Sylvan Lake. There have been some changes at the Sylvan Lake trail head since were last there. There is a new parking area which was full when we drove through the Needles the day before our hike. The building near the entrance to Sylvan Lake had been torn down and there was ongoing construction.

We wanted to get an early start on our hike and were one of the first cars in the parking lot in the morning. It was an overcast day when we started our hike. The hike up was uneventful, and we only saw a few other hikers. On the right photo if you look closely at the top of the rock formation in the center of the photo you can see the Harney Lookout which sits on the top of Black Elk Peak.

Shortly after we arrived, we encountered more people although it was not crowded. We did notice that there seemed to be more Native American prayer clothes hanging on the trees that in previous visits.

The view from the top was spectacular.

After a short visit and a snack we backtracked our original route until we connected with trail 4 which would take us over toward the Needles. There seemed to be a lot more color on this section of the trail although most of it was ground color. The peak color would be about two weeks later.

On this trip we took a side trail over to the Needles. We did meet quite a few hikers that started from the Needles parking lot. Apparently, this is becoming a popular option because it is a little shorter route to Black Elk Peak. It is also one of the most beautiful areas of the park.

The hike from the Needles Trail junction back to Sylvan lake had some nice color. There is also a side trail to Little Devil’s Tower but we skipped it this time.

By early afternoon we had once again completed a successful hike to Black Elk Peak.

We arrived in the Custer State Park mid-morning and decided to stop at the visitors center inquire about easy hikes in the park. We decided to try the Grace Coolage Fishing Area Trail.

It had been twenty five years since we first hike the trail with our seven year old son. Back then it was single track trail that meandered from the Grace Coolage Campground area to Center Lake about 3 miles one way. On the way we had to make about 16 stream crossings. It was a lot of fun jumping across the stream.

Today it is mainly a two-track road used by hikers and fishermen. In most places there are boards across the  stream so you don’t have to get your feet wet. There were still a few crossings that had to me made using strategically placed stones. On the day we were there they were working on putting more boards in.

There are several small man-made ponds along the trail. These are stocked with trout, and we did see several fly fishermen.

I noticed this large spider on a log on one of the ponds. There were also some nice reflections in the ponds.

We were told to watch for poison ivy. Fortunately it was mid-September and it had already turned red and was easy to spot. It was very abundant along the trail. I don’t think it would be fun to hike the trail in the summer with some kids running around.

The destination was Center Lake that had some restrooms and picknick tables. While we were eating a late lunch I noticed a Kingfisher fishing in the lake.

A number of years ago Custer commissioned artists to paint buffalo statutes as an arts project. Many of the statues remain and are placed at various locations in Custer for the summer months. On our many visits to Custer I usually wander around town taking photos of them. One person even has a herd of buffalo in their front yard. A map of the locations of the buffalo can be acquired at the visitor’s center.

Blue Jays on a snowy day.

These two doe’s were curious about the trail camera.

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