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11.22.2006 - 38 comments 

Over the last few months of posts, I seem to be in a South Dakota blogging mode. But really, before having gone to South Dakota, I was sure there was absolutely NOTHING there (with the exception of Mount Rushmore). As you can see from the South Dakota posts I've offered up here, I could not have been more wrong.

Custer State Park boasts scenic drives such as the Needles Highway (SD 87), which twists and turns its way past towering rock formations and through narrow tunnels. At the end of one tunnel stands the Needles Eye, a granite spire with a slit only 3 to 4 feet wide but reaching 30 to 40 feet in the air. The Needles Highway actually gets its name from these very tall rock structures that are visable along this highway. They look as if they are made of the same rock as both Crazy Horse Monument and Mount Rushmore. They also standout because nothing really grows on them and they are in the forest, which makes their reddish color stand out even more.

There was one area on our highway tour, where the traffic came to a dead stop. Everyone was out of their cars, watching something (that I could not see from where we were). As I got out of my car and walked up to see what the hold up was, I saw a tour bus going through one of these tunnels VERY slowly. I say VERY slowly because there were literally just inches on each side (and top) of the bus. It took it about 10 minutes just to get through that 20-30 foot long tunnel. There must have been hundreds of photos shot of that particular bus coming through that tunnel. It really was something marvelous to observe.

Also, don’t be surprised if you encounter another type of roadblock on the Needles Highway, that of grazing bison in Custer State Park. A herd of 1,500 bison roams freely throughout the park, often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The Bison herd is one of the largest in the world.

Bison can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. Historically, the animal played an essential role in the lives of the Lakota (Sioux), who relied on the “tatanka” for food, clothing and shelter.
A word of caution: They say that Bison can be unpredictable and dangerous. The herd that went across the road where we were, had about 30 members, but we saw several other good sized herds of maybe a few hundred while in the park. It’s safest to view them from inside a car. (Although candidly), I got outside to get this picture of a mother bison and her calf. But then, sometimes I do stupid things just to get THE SHOT that I want!

Besides bison, the park is home to wildlife such as pronghorn antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros.

Favorite outdoor activities in the park include hiking 7,242-foot Harney Peak, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, chuckwagon suppers and jeep rides to see the bison. We saw many groups of climbers and were very impressed with how huge and verticle many of these rock formations were.

History and culture also abound here. You can walk the banks of French Creek, where Custer’s expedition first discovered gold in 1874. Take in a theater performance at the Black Hills Playhouse. Or, visit the log cabin that was home to Badger Clark, South Dakota’s first poet laureate.

As we left the park, I thought to myself... boy did I ever have a silly miss-conception of what there was to do (or more like NOT DO) in South Dakota! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

"It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and on voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my Fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens." ~ Abraham Lincoln, October 1863 Posted by Picasa