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Category Archives: Custer State Park

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 becauseĀ  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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Several years ago we were in Custer State Park in the spring and driving around the wildlife loop we found a large number of Mountain Bluebirds nesting along the road by the airport. We happened to find them in the evening when they were backlit by the sun. We decided to drive back out to the airport early in the morning and photograph them in the morning light. We did the same thing again this year.

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After hiking to the Crazy Horse Memorial we drove back to Custer for lunch before driving out to Wind Cave National Park. I had hike the East Bison Flats Trail several times in the past and found it an easy trail with buffalo bones along the trail.

The trail starts on a road east of the Wind Cave Visitors Center before heading into the grasslands.

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It looked like the area had recently been burned and the grass was short and very green. There a large number of wildflowers out and the bees were on almost every flower.

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The Scarlet Globe Mallow seemed to be a favorite of the Prairie dogs.

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We were having a great time on the hike but as we looked back we could hear lightning and see rain clouds so we reluctantly turned around. My wife is standing by one of the new trail markers. It the past they used a flimsy trail marker that was frequently missing. Now they have posts in the ground that should stand up and are easy to see. From the looks of it the Buffalo use it as a scratching post.

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As I mentioned it looked like a fire had gone through the area not too long ago. A lot of the trees had turned brown. When we returned to the visitors center we found out that the Park Service had a controlled burn in the west flats but the fire had jumped the road and also burned the east flats. They were able to control it to the park. After the burn the wildflowers and grass came back quickly. The buffalo were having a great time feeding on the new grass.

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