Our exploration of Custer State Park began with an early morning drive on the wildlife loop. The animals were very accommodating. We were rewarded with a large & in charge herd of bison, several pronghorns, dozens of prairie dogs & the famous “begging burros”. The bison herd of 36 that was reintroduced here in 1914 has grown into 1300 powerful creatures. The bison once roamed from coast to coast, north into Canada & south into Mexico, 50,000,000 strong. By 1890, only 2000 were left on the entire continent! Today the North American number is 500,000. Their survival is a sad but amazing story. The thrill of seeing these incredible hulks up close is unforgettable. They rule the road for sure.
Park officials turn their heads when it comes to feeding the burros. These guys are descendants of the herd that once hauled visitors to the top of Harney Peak. The rascals stick their heads in every open window, demanding treats. We had fun watching them beg & block traffic. If the animals are in the road, all cars stop!
It was surprising to learn that pronghorns are in the giraffe family, not related to antelopes at all.! We have only seen individuals not a herd. They are the fastest land animal in North America, topping at 60 mph for great distances! Move over cheetahs. We are still hoping to see elk & big horn sheep. Another early morning coffee ride?
Sylvan Lake is considered the crown jewel of the Black Hills & wow, what a crown. The lake was created in 1881 by damming Sunday Gulch Creek. Mr Reder wanted to add some beauty for his lodge guests. He certainly succeeded. The reflections of the granite needles in the water are incredible. It was difficult to cull our photos; they were all smashing! Walking the lake trail was nice & easy, pretty level & not much rock climbing. A couple of guys were learning to rock climb & the instructor didn’t seem to mind if we watched. That is not a sport for me. Watching the newbies look for foot & hand holds was nerve wracking.
The Needles Highway is fourteen twisty curvy miles completed in 1922 with several 8-9-foot-wide tunnels. It was the idea of a former governor to bring tourists into the area. The locals did not approve & called it “the Needless Highway”. The telescoping side mirrors on the truck were folded all the way in to go through those tight spots. Really a fun drive through the Black Hills.