We spent the past two nights in Custer State Park. This southwest corner of South Dakota is jam packed with things to see and do. US history, Native American History, animals, hiking, outdoor adventures, scenic drives, wine tastings, caves and numerous national parks, monuments and historic sites. We barely scratched the surface.
We really only had one full day in the Custer region. We had much to see and I was up at 5:45 with bells on, ready to go. However, Ray demanded another 45 minutes of sleep before he was willing to roll out of bed and hit the road. So I sat around waiting for 6:30 and then we were out the door, no room for breakfast.
The reason for the early start was the wildlife loop. An 18 mile scenic drive through the southern loop of the park is where we were most likely to find me new favorite animal – the bison. The brochure said you were most likely to find them around dawn or dusk – hence my early awakening. All I wanted was to see the bison. So we get started on our loop. And sure enough, 3 minutes in, I see a bison. This guy is closer than any of the bison I saw at Yellowstone, so I was stoked. After a few frozen pictures we keep driving. We go no more thn 15 seconds around the bend and we find BISON! As in, a herd of bison. As in, 600-800 bison. So we spent the next 45 minutes sitting on the side of the road, photographing, watching, soaking it all in. They were walking back and forth, from field to field, and all around our car, at times, only feet away. We saw them locking horns, running, rolling in the dirt, sleeping, nursing (cute little babies!) – you name it. It was amazing. One of the huge alpha males walked behind our car – and was significantly taller than our vehicle! I have so many pictures to post, but I have done my best to keep it to a a small handful. For the bison alone, I recommend Custer State Park to everyone! But of course, there is more.
As we continued our loop we ran into a herd (if that’s what they are called) of burros, walking down the road (think Mexican donkeys). They have obviously been well trained because they stuck their heads into our car looking for food. Super cute and fun. I pet the the little baby burro – so sweet!
Once we finished the wildlife loop, we started one of 2 scenic drives towards Mt. Rushmore. Hall of flags, museum and of course the view of Washington, Roosevelt, Lincoln and Jefferson (Fathers of Democracy) await you. The sculpting is fascinating, and the entire experience is definitely patriotic Americana.
We then continued through to Hill City to Prairie Berry Winery. I found a brochure for this place almost 3 weeks go, and I knew I wanted to go on the return to South Dakota. They make sweet wines from unconventional fruit and ingredients: pineapple, crab apple, huckleberry, pear, rhubarb, raspberry, butterscotch, pine, chokeberries and concord grapes. Now, I’m not a huge wine fan,or should I saw I wasn’t a wine fan until now. There is a wine they make from concord grapes – the lady told us it tastes like welches grape juice, but with alcohol. And it does. And it is SO good. We also bought a great rhubarb/raspberry wine. If you are here (and like sweet fruity wines) – you should go. You get to taste 5 wines for free.
Post tasting we head back south to the Crazy Horse memorial. It was started by a polish sculptor over 50 years ago at the request of Sitting Bull, in response to Mount Rushmore, who said that there needed to be a statue showing the “red man had heroes too.” However, it is only partially completed. Korczak (the polish sculptor) married a Lakota women, Ruth. She is 85 and still running the project, along with their 10 children. They raise all the money privately and through visitors – and refuse to accept government money. The head of Crazy Horse (who defeated General Custer in the Battle of Little Bighorn) is so large, all 4 presidents from Mt. Rushmore could fit inside it. At the site there was also native dancing, and an entire museum dedicated to Lakota culture. It was an amazing place and we loved this significantly more than Rushmore (no disrespect to the US presidents, but is was jut really really moving).
We contemplated driving the Needles highway, but by now we were tired. So we went into downtown Custer, played a super hard game of mini golf, enjoyed some ice-cream, and headed back to camp, where we cooled down by swimming in one of Custer’s five lakes. Have I mentioned that EVERYONE needs to go here?
Summary: South Dakota = awesome