Friday, October 23, 2015

Geezers, Wyoming and South Dakota - Custer State Park

Day 16

I got up at 7:00 today and looked out the window and saw dark skies, drizzle and fog so I went back to bed.  When I got up a little later, nothing had changed so we resigned ourselves that this was as good as it was going to get, at least for the morning.  Our first stop today was the visitor’s center where we looked at the exhibits and inquired about the condition of the park’s back roads.  Next we stopped at the general store to get some sandwiches for lunch and then it was time to explore the park.

This is the Creekside Lodge where we are staying.  It's part of the State Game Lodge.
The view from the lodge.
This morning we planned on driving the Game Loop Road, which looped around the southern part of the park.  This area is more of a grasslands area where you are apt to see more animals.  The predominant animals in the park are buffalo, antelope, wild donkeys, prairie dogs and big horn sheep.  The weather continued to be overcast, cold and drizzly, but at least the ground fog was lifting.  The first thing we saw was antelope grazing along the road so we stopped and watched and photographed them.  Next we came to a large herd of penned buffalo.

Custer State Park is home to around 1,300 buffalo and every year in the fall there is a buffalo roundup and they are moved into a pen where their health is checked and I suppose they do a census.  We were told they do not roundup the bulls because of their ill temper and aggressive behavior.  The pen they are put in covers many acres of grassland so they are not really confined.  This year’s roundup occurred the weekend before our arrival and is a big event.  This year they had 21,000 visitors so we were glad we missed that although it would have been interesting.

There were a lot of buffalo hanging out behind the fence along the road and they had drawn a crowd, but we had seen so many buffalo last year in Yellowstone we didn’t even stop.  As we drove along, we saw some of the wild donkeys next to a creek so we stopped to take some pictures.  Even though the donkeys are wild they have no fear of people, probably because not only is there no restrictions on feeding them, it is encouraged.  These donkeys seemed happy to be grazing along the creek so they didn’t approach us.

We continued on the Game Loop and didn’t see any more animals except for some buffalo and antelope in the distance, even the prairie dogs were staying out of sight and warm in their holes this morning.  Despite the lack of animals it was a beautiful drive through the grasslands and forests.  The grasslands were colored brown and red and many of the trees were full of fall color.

We stopped at a picnic ground for lunch, but with the temperature in the low 50’s, it was too cold for us so we ate in the car.

A beautiful spot for lunch, too bad it was so cold.

After lunch we drove north to drive the scenic Needles Highway through the forested hills of the northern part of the park.  The highway got its name from the granite rock formations resembling giant pinnacles or needles.  The drive was very scenic and the pinnacles were impressive, but unfortunately, shrouded in fog.  The weather report had predicted a clearing in the early afternoon, but it never happened.  We still enjoyed the drive as the fall color and fog shrouded rock formations were very scenic.  The loop finished back in the town of Custer so we stopped for some supplies at the grocery store and then continued back into the park.

There were several of these one lane tunnels on the Needles Highway.
The highway got its name from these rock formations.

Another one of the tunnels.
We decided to finish the day back on the Game Loop as there are many gravel roads that go off the main road that looked interesting.  We spent the afternoon on these roads and had a great time.  The roads are kept graded and are suitable for even passenger cars.  They ran through the grasslands as well as the forested hills.  We saw many more antelope and even saw some prairie dogs at some of the numerous prairie dog towns we encountered.  We saw more donkeys and these were in the road going up to cars looking for handouts, it was very entertaining.

These donkeys weren't too shy and brought traffic to a stop.

They're hoping Val has something to feed them.

One road we found particularly interesting went south out of the park and into Wind Caves National Park.  The terrain was rolling hills of grasslands with scattered trees, many of which had beautiful fall color.  We ran into a herd of about 15 donkeys.  When I got out of the car to photograph them they were very curious and friendly and came right up to me.  I didn’t have any food to give them so they soon lost interest.  Since it was getting late in the afternoon, we only drove a short distance into Wind Caves Nat. Park and then returned to the Game Loop Road.  By this time it was after 5:00 so we headed back towards the lodge.


The back way into Wind Cave National Park.

The prairie dogs finally came out of their holes.
They seem a little concerned about their visitor.

Even though the weather didn’t cooperate it was a great day and we really enjoyed Custer State Park.  I imagine it is teeming with people during the summer, but at this time of the year it was very quiet and uncrowded.  Tomorrow we head north for the short drive to Deadwood, South Dakota.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing photos with the donkeys. The absolute mind blower (for me) is from the perspective of Val looking at two donkeys in her face and the flip from the donkey's point of view. The expression on Val's face says it all. Priceless!