Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Custer State Park - 7/22/14

Custer State Park is the largest and first state park of South Dakota. Named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, it is a wildlife preserve covering 71k acres in the Black Hills in the southwestern part of the state. The popularity of the park grew in the 1920s when President Calvin Coolidge made it his "summer White House."

View of Black Hills from the Mt. Coolidge Fire tower.

There are four lodges with lakes located near each, general stores, and restaurants, as well as multiple camp grounds. The two primary scenic drives are the Wildlife Scenic Highway and the Needles Highway where beautiful granite formations can be seen. Multiple tunnels have been built to accommodate the highway (that are low and narrow!) Today, we drove both and found this park to be amazing!

The park is home to a free-ranging herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo. A round up is held annually and the buffalo are branded, vacinated, and about 300 are sold each year to other states for breeding purposes. The spring birthing season rejuvenates the herd annually.

Most herds in the US, Canada, and Mexico have some of the Custer Park buffalo. In earlier times, there were as many as 60 million buffalo on the plains, but were hunted almost to the point of extinction by 1900 (500-1,000 head remaining). Peter Norbeck, often called the "Father of Custer State Park," purchased 36 bison in 1914 to start the herd that grew to 2,500 by the 1940s.

Also in the park are white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, mountain goats, prairie dogs, coytotes, burros, pronghorns, and bighorn sheep. Following are photos of what we saw today by driving the Wildlife Loop Scenic Road. Stop by the Wildlife Station Visitor Center to find out where wildlife can be seen each day. The ranger there told us where to find a herd of about 300 bison.

White-tailed doe and faun.

We saw three large prairie dog towns and they were awesome. When I got out of the car to snap some photos, they sat on top of their mounds and "barked" to alert their community that someone was nearby. The mound seen below had three prairie dogs on top of it!

They were scurrying all over the place. I did finally capture a pic of this handsome fellow.

The burros are not native to the area but were originally used to haul visitors to the top of Harney Peak. When that was discontinued, they were released into the park and have thrived since. First we saw a herd in the distance.

Then, we came upon a friendly mom and her baby.

This mama will be having her baby any day now!

Pronghorns shed their horn sheaths each year. They are the fastest land animal in North America and can run about 60 mph for great distances.

Next we travelled on the Needles Highway where amazing granite rock formations can be seen. Tunnel 6 on the highway.

The Needles.
Cathedral Spires.

Random rock formations along the highway.

Needle Eye.

Little Devil's Tower.
Tunnel 5.

A day pass to the park is $10 per day per vehicle or $15 for a 7-day pass (this is what we purchased). Cost for lodging and camping can be found on their website. Loved this place and will definitely be back before we leave the Black Hills region!

Website: www.custerstatepark.com

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