Saturday, January 10, 2015


Custer State Park, named for General George Custer and the first and largest state park in South Dakota, is 71,000 acres of beautiful, pastoral scenery.

The roads are narrow and require slow driving . . .
. . . which is good, because you're never sure what you might encounter, be it a tiny tunnel in a rock . . .
. . . or a wild animal:

There are lots of warning signs:
And most of the time it works out that you can view the park's freely-roaming herd of 1,300 bison from a distance:
. . . but sometimes there are close encounters that you just don't have a lot of control over:
Bison can actually sprint at speeds of up to 40 mph, so we didn't think we'd try to get closer for a better look:
It didn't take a zoom lens to get a close-up of this mighty fine feller:
I can see why their coats make such warm blankets. They look luxuriously thick and heavy. I was dying to reach out and bury my hands in that inviting fur, but there was that small problem of those spiky horns.

These beasts weigh up to 2,000 pounds and are North America's biggest mammal. Their heads and shoulders seem so out-of-proportion to their dainty hind quarters:
Speaking of hind quarters, we noticed several different branding marks:
We saw a lot of bison, and we took a picture of almost every one, so be glad I'm trying to be selective. However, while it seemed like a lot to us, at their peak in the mid-1800s there were as many as 50 to 60 million bison roaming around North America. The destruction of the great herds during Westward expansion and the accompanying cattle ranching also meant the end of the way of life of the Plains Indians. Bison skins became popular fashion statements, and in the 1870s, hunters could get $3/skin, a paltry sum now but a lot 140 years ago.

It must have been something to see those huge herds lumbering across these hills. It's still something to see the small(ish) herds!

There are lots of other kinds of animals in the park, including deer:
and antelope.
Yeah, I know. It's hard not to break out in song here. ("Oh give me a home / Where the buffalo roam / and the deer and the antelope play.")
We saw several small herds of antelope, but they weren't playing with any deer, so I'm not so sure about that old song.
I always feel really bad for antelope during hunting season. How could you miss that target?
Their distinct markings and gentle demeanor make them one of my favorites of the deer family:
What a gorgeous place!
We also saw several flocks of wild turkeys, rather ugly birds, in spite of what Ben Franklin thought about their character:
Cuddly little prairie dogs are everywhere:
They could make a real mess of a soccer field:
We also saw some bighorn sheep with not-so-big horns:
This one is wearing a tracking collar:
Finally, no trip to South Dakota (or Wyoming either, for that matter) would be complete without a jackalope sighting. This particular one wearing cool shades must be a California transplant:

I've seen the movie Dances with Wolves about a dozen times. It's probably my favorite Kevin Costner movie, and it has one of my favorite John Barry movie soundtracks. It won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography. (It was filmed in South Dakota and Wyoming, In fact, we noticed several signs pointed to "Dances with Wolves" filming sites.)

I didn't realize that the 1990 movie is an adaption of a 1988 book by Michael Blake. I think reading the book while driving through Custer State Park would be a perfect combination.


  1. I really enjoyed Custer State Park. I think it is the best wildlife viewing park we've been to after Yellowstone (and not including Africa).

  2. As someone who lives with deer and antelope wandering down our street on a regular basis, I say give me an deer any day. Antelope are lots less afraid of people and walk down the middle of the road, particularly when they know you are in a hurry. If you honk your horn, they walk even slower, just to annoy you.

    I do love coming across a herd of buffalo. There's just something so majestic about those hairy beasts.

    1. An deer? Let's change that to "a deer".