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Category Archives: Buffalo

We had made two trips on the Wildlife Loop in Custer State park but still hadn’t seen many Buffalo. After a stop at Crazy Horse Monument we drove over to Silvan Lake in Custer State Park. It’s always nice at the lake.

We were thinking of driving to Custer for Dinner but then decided that since we were going to be driving out to the Wildlife Loop we should stop at the State Game Lodge for Dinner. It was a big hit. After Dinner we once again started searching for Buffalo.

We drove out on a dirt road and did find about 25 buffalo but they were too far away to photograph. We also found a lot of Prairie Dogs. There were a large group of them clustered around a single hole.

We drove back to the Wildlife Loop and hadn’t gone far when we encountered a family of Wild Turkeys. I think this is the first time I had seen Wild Turkeys in the park.

We also encountered the Begging Burrows.

As we drove around the park there were some ominous clouds in the sky. The weather was supposed to get nasty later in the evening.

Still no Buffalo but as we neared the end of the Wildlife Loop we hit the mother load. There were probably 400 Buffalo along the road and a long traffic Jam. It took us 45 minutes to get through the herd because the Buffalo were constantly wandering across the road. You don’t want to iterate them particularity during the fall rut. As some of them passed the car they gave us a dirty look.

Success at last. The next morning we drove out again and the large herd was still in the same area.

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It was early in the spring and we were surprised at the number of animals we found in the park.

This was the first photograph I have gotten of Buffalo in the park. They usually hang out in the west end of the park and we normally don’t drive out that direction.

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There were a number of herds of Mule Deer in various areas of the park.

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Several herds of Bighorn Sheep were seen. The rams were no longer with the herd and it was a little early for the lambs. I had noticed a few sheep behind a hill. As I came over the hill this one was staring right at me.

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The Prairie Dogs were around although it was very windy and cold so we didn’t see a lot of them. When we drove through in the morning they were just waking up.Prairie-Dog-Badlands-National-Park-16-3-_4776

We drove out to Custer State Park early in the morning looking for Buffalo. We did not have much luck the evening before. There were some around but they were too far away to take many photos.

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We drove through the entire Wildlife Loop without seeing a single buffalo. We decided to drive up to Wind Cave and see if we could find some there. On the previous day when we were hiking the East Bison Flats Trail we saw some in the distance.

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As we approached a turnout we found a herd of them gathered around a mud hole. Apparently it was quite the early morning attraction.

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We watched them for a while before they started wandering off then we drove back to the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park hopping to look for some more buffalo. As we were driving along we saw a fawn Pronghorn Antelope. The mother was in the process of stashing it for the day. We watched as she walked over to a brushy area before returning to a small group of females and leaving the area.

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We continued on looking for Buffalo. We found a herd along a side road. They were very close so we watched them for quite a while. Eventually I felt the car rocking and we noticed that one of them was using the car as a scratching post. We decided it was a good time to leave the area.

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After leaving the Lamar Valley we drove over the mountains to visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Although the clouds were forming they made for an interesting sky for the wide angle shots of the Canyon.

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The highlight of the trip was seeing a large number of Bald Eagles and Osprey. They were on their nests and fishing in the Canyon. We noticed some folks with large lenses looking at something and they were watching an Osprey nest. As we watched the second adult arrived from a fishing trip and deposited it catch. It then switched places with its mate on the nest. The couple we were talking to came every day to check on the nest. At this point there were two eggs in the nest.

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We continued our hike down the North Rim Trail to the viewing stand for the lower falls. We were a little surprised that there were not more people at the viewing stand. For the first time ever we were the only folks at the viewing stand. We could see some folks on a viewing platform at the bottom of the falls on the South Rim and decided to try and find the trail to it.

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We returned to the top of the North Rim and drove over to the South Rim and Artists Point.

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It was difficult to get a photo with all of the people in the viewing area and most of them taking selfies. Selfies should be banned from National Parks.

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As we drove back on the South Rim Road we decided to stop and take the hike down the Uncle Toms Trail. We determined this was the way to the viewing stand we had seen from the North Rim. Part of the trail consists of 300 plus steep steps almost straight down. I was so intent on the view I didn’t realize that my wife was petrified the entire time she was on the stairs.

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The walk and viewing platform offered some great views from the bottom of the lower falls. On the way back up we encountered a few light showers.

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When we first drove into the North Rim area we noticed this Buffalo lounging in the dandelions. There were a few cars in the pullout space so we didn’t stop. On the way back, late in the day, he was still in the same spot.

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As we started back for Gardiner we could see that we would be encountering some bad weather. We encountered very heavy rain, sleet and snow as we drove back over the mountains.

We were up early for breakfast. Unfortunately breakfast wasn’t served until 7 a.m.. On day two our goal was to drive out through the Lamar Valley looking for Buffalo and any other wildlife we could find.

Our understanding was that you needed to be up early to see wildlife but as we started through the valley we encountered a heard of Buffalo and most of them were still sleeping or just starting to wake up. Not too different from humans.

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While I was photographing the sleeping Buffalo I noticed this Ground Squirrel working at building a nest.

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As we drove through the valley clouds were starting to form over the mountains. Most of the animals were quite some distance from the road so there were not many photo opportunities. Quite a few people had scopes which would be the best way to watch wildlife in the valley. Lots of RV’s parked in the pullover points so there were not a lot of opportunities to stop and look at the wildlife.

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On the return trip we encountered a couple of Pronghorn Antelope along the road.

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A short distance away we encountered a heard of Buffalo crossing the road. I think this was part of the heard we encountered earlier in the morning. There were a lot of calves with the heard.

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This adult and calf had the same idea and found that a rock was a good place to take care of an itch.

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The males born last year were still with the heard and were engaged in a little battle. The adult males were no longer with the heard and wouldn’t return until the fall.

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Our first visit to Mammoth Hot Springs was not very successful since it rained hard the whole time we were there. We decided to drive through the park again and exit at Mammoth Hot Springs. Once again we had beautiful storm clouds in the sky. In several places we could see where the snow plows had been out earlier in the day.Yellowstone-National-Park-14-10-_0260a

We ran into a couple of herds of buffalo on the drive through Yellowstone. This fellow had been rubbing his head on a tree and ended up with a branch stuck on his horns. He looked a little forlorn.Buffalo-Yellowstone-National-Park-14-10-_0849

We stopped at Tower Fall. Unfortunately the trail to the bottom of the falls was closed so our only view was from the top.Tower-Fall-Yellowstone-National-Park-14-10-_0266

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We stopped at Undine Falls for a few photos. This is actually five shots that were merged to create one large photo.Undine-Falls-Yellowstone-National-Park-14-10-_0318

While we were at Undine Falls my wife noticed what appeared to be the remains of a buffalo on the canyon rim.Bones-Yellowstone-National-Park14-10-_0895

Things have sure changed in Yellowstone since I was a kid. When our family drove through Yellowstone in the 50’s there were cars lined up all along the roads with people feeding the bears. I recall one day I had a temper tantrum and refused to get out of the car when we stopped. My parents and brother went into a store to look around (those were different times). After a while I decided to go into the store and when I exited the car a bear followed me along the sidewalk. My parents saw me hightailing it along the street ahead of the bear.

When my family made a trip to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks about fifteen years ago we didn’t see a single bear. Fortunately on this trip we were able to see Grizzly Bears on several occasions.Grizzly-Bears-14-9-_2720

After leaving Norris Geyser Basin we encountered a traffic jam. Folks were exiting their car and moving forward to photograph something but we didn’t know what. It wasn’t long before the park ranger showed up with lights flashing. Soon everyone was back in their car. As we drove by we saw a mother bear and what appeared to be a two year old cub along the road feeding. We couldn’t stop but I took a couple of photos as we drove by. The ranger didn’t look too happy as he routed people out of the woods near the bears.

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Two days later we had a second encounter, this time near Canyon Village. We drove out of the woods into an open area and noticed a couple of cars parked along the road. There was a buffalo grazing along the road so we stopped to watch the buffalo.

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I noticed a photographer with a long lens mounted on his tripod but it wasn’t pointed at the buffalo. Following his line of sight I could see a Grizzly Bear with what appeared to be a two year old cub walking out of the woods. It was in the same general area as our first sighting so it could have been the same bears.

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The bears went down in a shallow dip and we could see them wrestling around. The other photographer was running around trying to get a shot of them. We continued to watch the buffalo.Grizzly Bears14-9-_3122

The bears kept walking toward the buffalo when suddenly the adult bear reared up for a better look. At this point the buffalo was looking intently toward the bears. when the bear reared up the buffalo pivoted and headed in the opposite direction at a good pace.

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We watched the bears for a while and then continued on our journey. When we caught up to the buffalo it was a good mile down the road.

More photos from Yellowstone National Park can be found on my website.

A few shots from this falls Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup. These are some of the folks who helped drive the buffalo into the corrals and cut the herd.

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Photographing the Custer Buffalo Roundup can mean an early start to the day. We were up at 3:30am to head out to the Buffalo Roundup. When I went down to the motel lobby to pick up my breakfast bag I didn’t see anyone else up.

It was pitch dark when we headed out into the park. As we neared the park we started to see more cars. We decided to go to the south parking area. I’ll discuss that decision later in the blog. After driving several miles on the Wildlife Loop Road we headed up a steep hill. Just after reaching the crest we encountered a traffic jam. We could see a trail of red lights all the way down the mountain. Soon the lights started to disappear as everyone concluded they would be stuck in place for a while.

We decided to spend the time watching the stars and eating our bag breakfast prepared by the motel. I could really kick myself for not thinking about some star trail photography. The stars from the top of the mountain were spectacular and the next time I make this trip I hope to spend some time photographing star trails.Buffalo Roundup Custer State Park 14-9-_2730

About an hour after we arrived we started to see break lights go on as the traffic was starting to move. When we reached the bottom of the mountain we saw where the barricades had been setup. A short drive later we noticed park rangers directing traffic as we moved through the buffalo herd. Apparently the goal was to stop traffic before it entered the area where the buffalo were spending the night.

Shortly before sunrise we arrived in the south parking lot. The parking lot opened at 6:15am by the time we arrived at the parking lot we had already been up for about four hours.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2758

As soon as we arrived we made our way over to the fence so we could pick a good spot to photograph the buffalo as they were driven past. I Picked out a low spot that would allow for a good shot of the buffalo when they were driven through a gap in the hills. As soon as we put our chairs down someone said this wasn’t a good spot then someone else said that it was a good spot. I decide it would be an great spot.

Unfortunately I had forgotten that I don’t like to sit still so, while my wife sat and talked with some of the folks who had gathered at the fence I wandered off to take some photos.

This cowboy was from Michigan on a horse that was from John Wayne’s hometown. He looked the part and has driven out to the roundup for years to help out. He said he was too old to ride in the roundup but he could still assist folks and provide some local color.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2807

An hour after we arrived cars were still streaming into the parking area. This ranger was having a great time directing traffic. I think the early workday made her a little goofy. As I recall they had to be in place by 3am.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2822

The Begging Burros were back in their usual location south of the south parking lot. As the morning wore on they became increasingly nervous about all the activity. The buffalo drive would come right through the area where they usually hang out. They gradually migrated far to the south out of the way of the drive before it started.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2826

About an hour and a half after the parking lot opened most of the cars had arrived. The area along the fence east of the parking lot was packed with folks waiting for the Roundup to start.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2856

I continued to walk around the grounds photographing the crowds gradually migrating to the south end of the south parking lot where I would have a good view of the start of the drive. Around 9 am (seven hours after leaving Custer) I noticed the first of the horseman heading out on a ridge line to block the buffalo from getting away. I should point out that I was using a Tamron 150-600mm (250-900mm equivalent) lens to photograph the event. Even with this lens the riders looked small.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3433

Apparently the South Dakota Governor brought a group of business folks to the Roundup as part of his plan to bring new business to South Dakota. They were entrenched on a high hill above the corrals. Once the drive started they were driven down the ridge closer to the actions. The common folks had to walk.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3421

Soon the buffalo appeared in the draw just south of Wildlife Loop Road where it intersects with Red Valley Road. The plan was to drive them slowly because of the heat. I forgot to mention that it was very warm. By noon the temperature was 90 degrees. The was in sharp contrast to the previous year when snowflakes were in the air.

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In this photo you can see a horse in the background kicking up a little dust. Shortly after the photo was taken the rider was thrown from his horse. He appeared to be ok and was not caught in the buffalo stampede.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3480
Once I saw that the buffalo were on their way to the corrals I headed over to my seat by the fence. As it turns out the drive moves quickly. Only three minutes elapsed from my first shot through the fence to my last shot. There were a couple of other problems with this location. I was shooting into the sun, the buffalo kicked up quite a bit of dust which was blowing directly at me. I was happy that I did not choose this location to watch the entire Roundup.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3497

Several riders came by one carrying the American Flag and another the South Dakota flag. This was a nice touch and provided everyone with a good photographic opportunity.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3505

As soon as the Buffalo were past me I headed to the north end of the parking lot and a ridge that provided a good view of the buffalo as they were driven into the corrals. On my way over to the ridge line I took this photo of the buffalo as they were lined up to be driven toward the Corrals. On the right you can see the folks watching from the south parking area and on the left you can see the white tents from the north viewing area.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2865

From my vantage point I could see the buffalo lined up at the head of a draw with the wranglers waiting to drive them toward the corrals. There are two gates to the corrals. You can see the south gate at the bottom left of the photo. The other gate is below the north viewing area.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2867

With a lot of shouting and cracking of whips the wranglers started driving the buffalo toward the pens.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3557

Most of the buffalo headed for the north gate but a few were moving toward the south gate. These four buffalo made a break for it trying to get back to the open pasture. A loud cheer went up from the crowd as they made their break. Three of them made it. The wranglers chased them for a while but they soon found freedom over a far hill.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3579

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The folks on the north viewing area had a good view as the buffalo headed into the corrals. For some reason all of the buffalo went through the north gate this year.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3585

After the buffalo were safely in the corrals folks started heading down to the corral area where lunch was being served. Transportation was provided but my wife and I are hikers so we decided to walk down.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2885

When we arrived some of the wranglers were trying to herd a group of buffalo into a holding corral next to the pens where they would be processed. These were the buffalo that had been put into the pens before the public roundup so they could calm down before being processed.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2899

There is always one that doesn’t want to go with the crowd. The wranglers had to make a number of attempts to get this fellow to follow the rest of the buffalo to the new pen.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2906

It was a little warm so I managed to find a couple of extra dollars so we could have a cold beer with our buffalo meat lunch. Although the lines were long they moved fast and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying a cold one.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2927

After lunch we walked around for a while but decided not to stay to watch the processing of the buffalo. On our walk back to the car we noticed the buffalo were peacefully grazing in the corrals.Buffalo-Roundup-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_2976

I was happy with my choice of the south viewing area. Did we need to get up at 3:30am? I don’t think so unless you have a particular spot you want to photograph from or you want to photograph the star trails. We would not have gotten our spot along the fence east of the road without being one of the early arrivals. Having said that I only spent a brief time photographing from this location. Most of my time was spent at the south end of the parking where I could see the start of the drive. The rest of the time was spent on the ridge photographing the buffalo being driven down the draw toward the pens. Neither of these locations required an early arrival.

We arrived in Custer State Park early in the afternoon and planned to do some scouting to see just where the roundup would take place and to try and pick the “best” location for photography.

On the day of the roundup there are two viewing areas setup. On to the northeast of the Buffalo Corrals and one to the southeast of the buffalo Corrals. This is also where you would park while watching the roundup. When you drive to the Roundup you must choose one of the two locations to view the Roundup. Once in one of the viewing areas you cannot leave and when you leave you must leave the way you came in.

As we drove through the park on the Wildlife Loop Road we did not see much in the way of wildlife. When we reached the area where the Roundup would take place we found there were park rangers station at both the north and south viewing areas. We stopped and talked to them trying to find out where the best location for viewing would be and the route the buffalo would take when they are driven into the corrals. This appeared to be the question that everyone else was asking. Several times I was approached asking if I knew the best place to be to photograph the Roundup.

We were a little disappointed to find out that the buffalo had already been rounded up and were stashed in an area southeast of the pens. In retrospect it makes sense because the herd is normally scattered around the Park and it would be impossible to round them up and get them into the pens in a single day. The Roundup that we would be watching is staged for tourists and allows all of the buffalo to be driven into the viewing area in a single large herd. It makes for great theatre.

After talking with the rangers we drove down to the buffalo corrals. There were a small herd of buffalo already in the Corrals. These had been driven in early in the roundup so they would be acclimated to the corrals and would have time to calm down. On the day of the Roundup some of the buffalo are processed and these would be the buffalo processed. Processing includes vaccinations, branding and checking the cows for pregnancy. The buffalo driven into the pens during the “Roundup” would be processed later after they had a chance to calm down.Buffalo-Corrals-14-9-_2982

We then headed out of the Park on the Wildlife Loop Road looking for buffalo. We drove past the location where the Begging Burros are normally found but the burros were gone. We found them a ways down the road near where the buffalo were said to be stashed. They were a ways from the road but when cars started to stop they started moving to the road.Begging-Burros-14-9-_3715

We continued on to Custer, SD where we checked into our Super 8 Motel. When we checked in the clerk mentioned that a breakfast bag would be available at 5am for those heading out to the roundup. My wife was not happy to hear that we would be getting up at 4:30 am.

We stopped for a bite to eat then headed back out to the Wildlife Loop Road looking for wildlife as evening approached. We found a group of buffalo next to the road bathed in evening light. We stopped for some photos before continuing on.Bull-Buffalo-14-9-_3751

We soon found the Begging Burros along the road with a mother and a very young burro standing in the middle of the road begging. We also ran into bull buffalo lounging in a wallow. Apparently they don’t roundup some of the bulls because they are so mean. This one had been in the same place earlier in the day.Bull-Buffalo-14-9-_3036

Dusk was approaching as we drove out of the park.Dusk-Custer-State-Park-14-9-_3045a