on July 9, 2007
July 5 at Custer State Parkwww.sdgfp.info/Parks/Regions/Custer/index.htm$12/car admission to Custer State Park—valid for a week. We’d been promising our daughter a surprise. Every morning she woke wondering what and when.Today was the day. As we headed out for Custer, she wore shorts and sandals, but I sneaked her jeans and tennis into my daypack. As we neared the Blue Bell Lodge’s stables, we used a beach towel to screen the back seat of the minivan, so she could change. The look in her eyes when she realized our destination was a trip highlight for me.A few weeks ahead, I had booked a 1-hour trail ride for the daddies and daughters (Stables- (605) 255-4700; Blue Bell Lodge, toll-free- (888) 875-0001). On the day we were there, walk-ons were being turned away because the rides were totally booked. Cost for a 1-hour ride is $28 adult / $25 under 12 years. No cameras are allowed on the trail, so we mamas got some shots before and after. While the riders were gone, we visited over iced tea at the Blue Bell Lodge. We had hoped to drive up to the Mt. Coolidge Watchtower for the views across the countryside. But for some reason the road was closed. Instead, we parked in a lot directly across the road and walked maybe 100 yards to a wonderful small, rustic pavilion where we had a picnic overlooking valleys and mountains toward the vast Great Plains beyond.Usually they know at the the entrance gates where the buffalo are, but today he wasn’t sure and told us to ask at the Wildlife Loop Road entrance. The body mass of a herd of 1000 buffalo is pretty overwhelming. We spotted a couple of pronghorns, but never found any wild donkeys. We heard it would have been better early morning or late afternoon.Along Needles Highway (Hwy 87), we’d gasp at the scenery and swing onto an overlook. Then the next panorama would be even more stop-worthy. Some tunnels are cut from the stone and are barely one car width.I especially had looked forward to the Cathedral Spires. We stopped at a couple of overlooks, then discovered the trailhead leading to the Spires. The others hiked right up among the spires and to the top of a shorter spire. While they went, I found a soft bed of pine needles with a gently-inclined back-rest rock, and watched through the tops of the pines the very white clouds scudding across the very blue sky. Their trek lasted an hour and a half and they’re still talking about it and how glad they are that they kept on till they finished, because it was so worth it. I feel the same way about my pine tree meditation.
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