south dakota: custer state park

On Mike’s first day in South Dakota, on horses rented for two hours through Bluebell Lodge Stables, we went on a trail ride in Custer State Park. I rode Fred and Mike rode Repeat. Our guide, Jacey, rode Big Red.

Our ride started out gloomily but before too long, the sun was out. We passed fishermen, Ponderosa pines, French Creek, interesting rock formations, and a burnt forest. I loved riding the horse through the creek, which we did several times. The weather was cool and crisp but not uncomfortable.

Just before we dismounted from our horses, Jacey took a photo of us.

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Me and Mike on our steeds

We had a nice lunch at the Blue Bell Lodge in an Old West saloon-style setting.  I had chili and corn in a cast iron skillet, cornbread and lemonade. Mike had a chewy chicken salad with candied pecans, Gorgonzola, and grapes.

Custer State Park is famous for its bison herds, other wildlife, scenic drives, historic sites, visitor centers, fishing lakes, resorts, campgrounds and interpretive programs. One of the nation’s largest state parks, just 15 miles from the city of Custer, it comprises 71,000 acres.

We drove through the Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park, but we only saw pronghorn antelope. Sadly, we didn’t see bison except far away on a hill. Apparently there is plenty of grass at the south end of the park, so the bison have no incentive to move.  We only saw one lone bison lying down in a field.

We drove on the Needles Highway, where giant columns of granite pierce the sky.

We reached Sylvan Lake around 3:00.  We walked partway around.  It was cloudy and quite chilly by then.  A wedding party was having photos taken, and they looked awfully cold. Brrr.

We then drove through the town of Custer and visited Wind Cave National Park, which I’ll write about in another post.

After visiting Wind Cave, we drove again on the Custer Wildlife Loop, hoping this time to see the bison herd up close.

We saw wild turkeys, mule deer and burros.  Black cows were in a pasture with tags on their ears like green and orange earrings. The light over the rolling pastures was stunning.

We saw a bison run through a line of cars and off into the distance.  Sadly it was getting dark so it was hard to capture him, although I took a video. The herd was still too far away.  I had seen on Instagram and other places the bison herd congregating around the cars, so I was quite disappointed we didn’t get to see them close up.

People were feeding the burros and creating a traffic jam.  There was no way around the traffic jam as people had occupied all sides of the road in a jumble of cars. Mike got out and shooed away the burros so people could get by.

Here is the map of where we went today.

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Map of Custer State Park and the region around Rapid City

*Saturday, September 21, 2019*