Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Where Bison Still Roam

Corn fields and “amber waves of grain” gradually give way to prairie grasses and range land west of the Missouri River, where ranchers rule! Sunday morning on the blue highways of South Dakota there were no trucks, no cars, no services (“no nothing” says Dave). Driving through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the poorest county in the US, we passed a few Native American men walking along the road but otherwise we felt very much alone in this sparely populated region of the country.

The road remains flat, straight and isolated most of the way to the Badlands, where we bought our National Park pass (a gift from my sister Carrie – Thanks, Snid!) good for a year. Along the scenic loop through weathered spires and broad vistas, we stopped for a few short (and rather hot) hikes in rattlesnake country; and picnicked at the Big Pig Dig, an active paleontologist excavation site. Apparently, more fossils are found at the Badlands than any place on Earth.

In Rapid City we filled our cooler and Philomena’s cupboards before chugging ever-so-slowly up the 10% grade for a quick visit to Mount Rushmore (where our new National Park pass is not valid for $10 parking!). Check: seen that! On we chug, winding our way along roads artistically built in the 1920’s to Custer State Park. Feeling at home among the tall trees and granite peaked mountains in the amazingly beautiful Black Hills, our spirits soar and Kim appreciatively notes, “It sort of feels like Vermont.”

Recent rainfall has made these semi-arid high plains green and beautiful for our visit. Making our way Center Lake campground in Custer State Park that evening, we pass through a pack of wild burros, see many mule deer and prong horn, and an impressive male bison weighing about 2,000 pounds meanders within a few feet of Philomena. Custer manages 1,500 bison, one of the two largest herds left on Earth, wondering freely throughout the park. To save our gas (we neglected to fill-up in “Rapid”) and give us a chance to really all look around, we hire a guide, Bud, who takes us on a thoroughly enjoyable Jeep tour of the gorgeous backcountry. We would gladly return some day to Custer State Park, but we must leave now heading northwest toward Glacier.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Custer sounds like a wonderful spot. I am awed by the territory you are covering!
Glad you have plans to hook up with the Stowites at Glacier, and hope you have a grand reunion.
All is well on the homefront.
Miss you and love you,