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Category Archives: Custer State Park

Early in the morning we drove out to the Cathedral Spires Trail on the Needles Highway. It is good to get to the parking lot early because space is limited.The trail is short but steep as it goes up a gully. The Cathedral Spires are spectacular. I wish that there had been some climbers in the area. It would have been fun to watch them climb.  It was a beautiful morning. When we reached the trails end we met another person from Wisconsin. Turns out he lives about 50 miles from us. It’s a small world.

 

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Every year that we visit Custer State Park we try to hike to the top of Black Elk Peak at least once. Our hikes normally start at Sylvan Lake. The lake can be spectacular early in the morning. We opted for an early start because we were scheduled to get some bad weather later in the day.

The Trails to Black Elk Peak were in rough shape. The Black Hills had received a lot of rain this spring and just the week before had seen over 21 inches of snow in some spots. Everything seemed to be a bit behind in terms of the trees leafing out. There was a lot of mud on the trail and a lot of trails were badly eroded. The conditions are the worst I’ve seen in the last 30 years.

The sun was out at the start of the hike although we could see clouds in the northwest.

As we neared the spur trail to the summit it started to rain and we heard a loud clap of thunder. We immediately turned around but after backtracking for a short distance we determined that the electrical storm had missed us so we headed back toward the summit.

On the way back down we took the trail toward the Cathedral Spires. We could see that it was raining hard off in the distance.

We stopped for a bite to eat at the Cathedral Spires overlook and it was sunny out but by the time we made it back to Sylvan Lake it looked like rain. Shortly after leaving the parking lot it started raining hard.

When we arrived at Custer State Park we decided to drive the Needles Highway. It was a good thing we did because we found out that it was going to be closed for a few days due to road constructions. It was a beautiful day for a ride. It was still early enough in the season so there were plenty of places to park at the various pull offs.

 

My wife and I love to drive the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park. We usually see the same cast of characters but every once in a while we are surprised. Buffalo are of course the main attraction. In the spring you have a great opportunity to see the young. For some unknown reason the young seem to like to feed in the middle of the road thus creating a traffic jam. In the spring the bulls are hanging out by themselves or with small groups of bulls.

The second most popular attraction is the Begging Burrows. They can usually be found north of the north roundup viewing area. There were no you burros around but a number of the females looked pregnant.

We were lucky to see a number of Pronghorns but no young. A posting from the park indicated that folks started seeing the young a week after our visit.

We also saw a few deer in the park.

Prairie Dogs are common in the park.

We normally try to drive out past the park airport early in the morning. The light is good and the birds are out and about. This is a great place to see Mountain Bluebirds.

The Mountain Bluebirds have the same problem as the Eastern Bluebirds. Their house is just the right size for the Tree and Barn Swallows. It seemed there were fewer bluebirds this year because the swallows occupied most of the houses.

There were quite a few Meadowlarks around.

This was the first time we saw Upland Sandpipers in the park. We saw them on a couple of occasions. The one on the fence post was with the bluebirds.

 

Red-winged Blackbirds were around.

We stopped at the Blue Bell Lodge for a bite to eat and noticed five Turkey Vultures sitting in the trees around the lodge.

We drove the Wildlife Loop several times during our visit to Custer State Park.  Of course the main attraction were the Buffalo. Our visit was a couple of weeks before the roundup and we were surprised to find most of the buffalo hanging out in the roundup parking lot or around the buffalo pens. That would have made the roundup easy but then there wouldn’t have been anything for the tourists to see.

We did see a number of Pronghorns during our visit. The first photo shows one chasing a female. The female had run across the road a few minutes before and he was right behind her.

No visit would be complete without a photo of the Prairie Dogs.

The burros were hanging around in the same area as the Buffalo. It’s funny, when the roundup starts the burros are always in hanging around the Buffalo but they usually head for the hills just before it starts.

Driving through in the evening we were able to see a number of deer.

We try to hike to Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) when we are in the Black Hills. It was a beautiful day and relatively cool so we decided to make the hike. The fall leaves were nearing their beak color.

On the way to the top we encountered a number of deer on the trail. The couple behind us had to restrain their dog when this one jumped across the trail.

There were still a variety of flowers out. I captured this Bluebell.

There was some graffiti along the trail. This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.

To native Americans Black Elk Peak is a sacred site. In the past we have seen offerings but they seemed to have increased in recent years.

The views from the top of the Peak are spectacular.

Beautiful views on the trip down from the top.

In late September we spent several days in Custer State Park. While driving the Wildlife Loop we ran across the begging burros. It was good to see them because a number of them died in the fire that raced through the park last December.

 

We spent the evening in Lusk, Wyoming. We’ve stayed there before when departing Denver in the afternoon. We were up early headed for Custer State Park. We purchased a park sticker and dove out to the Wildlife Loop. On the way we noticed several areas damaged by fire. By the time we reached the Wildlife Loop we realized that Custer State Park had experienced a major fire. We later found out that the Legion Lake fire occurred the second week of December but did not make the news back in the Midwest. This was the same time that California was burning. Apparently it was started by a tree falling on a power line. Strong wind quickly spread the fire to large piles of tree debris that had been left from logging operations. The park has been cutting many trees to help control the Pine Beetle which is devastating the west.

As we drove through the highest point on the Wildlife Loop the trees were covered with morning frost.

The air was filled with the sounds of chain saws and tree fellers. Logging operations were taking place throughout the burn area.

The Buffalo could be seen along the road resting and feeding in the burn area. In some places the grass was just starting to turn green.

The first shot shows the burn area near the Buffalo Roundup site. The second shot shows the Buffalo Pens. Apparently the Buffalo came through the fire with only a few casualties number of the Begging Burros were severely burned and several had to be put down.

The Damage from the fire extended south into the Wind Cave National 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.

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.