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Category Archives: Custer State Park

The day following the Buffalo Roundup we planned on doing some hiking out of Badger Hole. There is a nice hike over the mountains to a horse camp that I made about fifteen years ago and we were going to try it. We had a couple of false starts before getting off on the wrong trail. We finally decided it was way too hot to hike. I thought I had lost one of my camera cases at the roundup the day before so we decided to drive the wildlife loop and stop at the parking lot to see if it fell out of the car. It was also a beautiful fall day so we thought we would get some nice fall photos.

More photos from Custer State Park can be found on my website.

When we reached the Buffalo pens there were quite a few folk taking photos of the Buffalo that had been rounded up the day before. The fall colors by the pens were near peak making for some great photos.

We didn’t see the Begging Burros at their normal place and were wondering where they were. A little while later we found them wandering down the road. It took us about a half an hour to get past them. For some reason they kept wanting to walk down the middle of the road.

Just past the burrows we noticed some outstanding fall color on the hills. I had to shoot fast because the burros were coming up the road and we didn’t want to get stuck behind them again.

A little while later my wife noticed this Coyote come out of the woods and walk through a Prairie Dog town. We quickly pull off the road and started taking photos. For some reason the last few times we have been in the Black Hills we have seen Coyotes. I’ve probably hike in the Black Hills fifteen times and had never seen a Coyote until recently. This one walked up to the road and stopped. It looked both ways then crossed the road. It seemed to have more sense that most people. It stopped on the other side of the road so we could get some more photos. Notice in the second photo there is a Prairie Dog at the very top of the photo watching the Coyote.

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Having taken in the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park several times I’m beginning to question my sanity. This time we were up at 3:30am to make the drive into the park. We didn’t notice many other cars on the road and when we arrived it turned out we were 10th in line. Sunrise was around 6:50am so we had plenty of time to take a nap in the car. Generally they let the cars in just after sunrise but they let us in early and it was dark when we arrived in the parking lot. It was so dark we couldn’t find the spot we planned to put our chairs. We finally just plunked them down by the fence where we knew we would have a good view of the Buffalo. We didn’t have to wait long before the sun came up. It was generally overcast but clear on the horizon so we were able to capture a sunrise.

More photos from Custer State Park can be found on my website.

I have problems sitting or standing in one place so I wandered off to take photos and my wife grabbed a cup of coffee and headed off for her lawn chair. She was able to capture this cowboy just after sunrise.

There weren’t many cars in the parking lot as the sun hit the top of the hills.

By 7:30 the parking lot was starting to fill up.

I continued to wander around and look for photos. Smokey the Bear was in attendance. It look like he was the favorite of the adults as opposed to the kids.

 

There were long lines at the important places. They provided a nice pancake feed but we brought our own breakfast so we just had coffee. According to my wife the porta potties were not all that clean even early in the morning.

We both thought the Custer Ambulance was appropriately decorated.

We arrived at the parking lot at 6:30am and the “roundup” was not supposed to start until 9:30am. As I mentioned I can’t sit around so I continued to wander around. My wife, on the other hand, patiently sat in her chair and about the only thing she had to watch was a couple of riders go past.

The viewing area was filling up. The first shot is a rider with the north viewing area in the background. I could hear this little girl screaming from quite a ways away and went over to see what was going on. Turned out to be a temper tantrum. I can see why given the time and the lack of anything to do.

After the buffalo have been driven to the pens I like to walk over to the little knoll in the background to photograph the final drive to the pens. This year it was blocked off. Anytime someone tried to walk over there a horse rider would head them off. It took a while to figure out what was going on. As soon as I saw the line of cars driving to the area I knew that the Governor and his cronies were using the area and they didn’t want to be bothered by the riffraff attending the event. Nothing ticks me off more than government officials thinking they and their friends are better than the voters. I was heartened when I saw a couple of photographers make a break for the knoll and make it before the guards could catch them. Apparently the guards didn’t want make a scene in front of the Governor and his cronies as they dragged people away from the knoll so they let them stay. To add salt on the wound the start of the roundup was delayed 30 minutes to allow the Governor and his cronies to get in place.

They usually drive the buffalo through the area where the Begging Burros spend their time. I could see the burros standing on a hill watching events unfold. When the borrows saw what was happening they mad a dash for higher ground.

Once the drive was underway a bunch of Buffalo started to make a break for it and the riders had to try and head them off. They finally got everyone going the same direction. It was a bit dusty as 1400 Buffalo were driven past. I do have to wonder about my sanity. It was 7 hours since we headed out this morning and we watched a Buffalo Roundup that took, at best, 20 minutes if you had a good viewing point.

As the drive started I was watching this bull who was right in the way of the drive and was busy taking a dust bath. The herd was driven right past him and he didn’t pay much attention to what was going on. Apparently they don’t make much of an attempt to roundup the bulls since they can be a little on the mean side. At this time of year the rut has already taken place and most of the bulls have gone off by themselves.

As the dust settled I noticed the Begging Burrows  at the top of a ridge looking down on all of the activity.

After the Buffalo were in their pens everyone headed down to the pens where a lunch was prepared.

In the afternoon the public can watch as the park brings the Buffalo into an area and checks them and gives them shots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a beautiful morning and on the cool side so we decided to hike up Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak). It was renamed in 2016 to honor of Nicholas Black Elk and recognized the significance of the summit to Native Americans. Nicholas Black Elk was a famous medicine man and holy man of the Oakota Sioux. I suppose the child in the white house will want to change the name back to Harney Peak since it was renamed when Obama was president.

The fall colors were outstanding. This is the first time I’ve hiked the trail from Sylvan Lake to the top when the fall colors have been this good. It was mid week and there were not a lot of hikers on the trail. We did meet a woman who had three dogs with her. Two of them were hers and the third was a rescue dog she was training to walk trail.

More photos from Custer State Park can be found on my website.

This was the only wildlife we saw along the trail.

There were some great views from the top of the peak. We walked through the fire tower and then down to the peak where we found a stone structure.

On our way back we met a couple of hikers in cowboy gear (hats, boots and chaps). They left their horses down lower and walk the last part of the trail. It was a good decision because  the trail near the top has deteriorated a bit and the steps were quite high. We found their horses tied to trees down below.

On the way back we took a different trail that took us over to the Needles and Little Devil’s Tower before winding back to Sylvan Lake. This portion of the trail was even more colorful.

We drove up to Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park to start our hike to Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak). When we arrived there was almost no wind and the lake was just like a mirror. Before starting our hike we walked over to the lake to get some stunning photos. More photos from Custer State Park can be found on my website.

 

After leaving Scenic we drove on to Hermosa. The fall colors were very good as we approached Hermosa but due to road construction we were not able to get any photos. From Hermosa to the park the colors were also very good. More photos from Custer State Park can be found on my website.

When we arrived in the park we stopped at the new visitors center. They have an IMAX theatre at the center and the film depicting the park is well worth watching. They also have some butterfly gardens and they were attracting lots of butterflies. I believe these are American Ladies.

The leaves at the visitors center were not quite at their peak.

While my wife was filling up the water bottles I walked over to the Game Lodge Campground and took a few photos.

 

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.

We recently made a quick trip to South Dakota stopping in Murdo on our first night. When we woke up in the morning there were some great clouds in the western sky as well as a rainbow.

We then drove over to the Badlands but the clouds were so low that we couldn’t see much. I didn’t bother to take any photos. Our next stop was Custer State Park where we were looking for Buffalo. It was rutting season so the cows, bulls and calf’s should have been together in a large herd. We took the wildlife drive and couldn’t find a single buffalo. The park interpreter said it was because of all the motorcycles in the park. the big Sturgis rally had just taken place. There were still motorcycles going through the park. We did managed to see some wildlife.

Pronghorn

Begging Burrows

Begging Burrows

Prairie Dogs

No visit to Custer State Park is complete until you find the Begging Burros. After watching the buffalo we headed over to the area where the burros usually hung out. They were along the road creating a major traffic jam.

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People were feeding them and chasing them. One of the males tried, unsuccessfully to mount one of the females and in the process almost ran down a couple of people. Folks seem to forget these are wild animals.

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There was one female that was very pregnant.

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One of the foals was very cute and popular with the crowd.

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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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We were driving along the road in Custer State Park looking for Buffalo and not finding any. We encountered a half dozen Turkey Vultures in the road feeding. They had no interest in flying away so we stopped and I photographed them for a while. Fortunately there was no traffic so they stayed in the road for quite a while.

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When the first car came along they flew out into the prairie. There also happened to be some Pronghorn Antelope along the road. When the vultures landed the antelope took off after them and chased the away.

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