on July 22, 2012
I am going to have to start out with an apology here, as my review will no doubt suffer a "Halo Effect" given that I did this at the start of an eight day driving/camping adventure that culminated in four days in Yellowstone National Park.I thoroughly enjoy any opportunity that I have to drive (or ride) through nature's playground, observing wildlife in their natural habitat. During my full day in South Dakota, I would have time in two diverse landscapes to see animals . . . the harsh Badlands and the lush Black Hills. My morning in Badlands National Park started early and lasted the better part of the morning on two circuit loops via the park roads.From the last part of the Badlands exploration, I headed north towards Rapid City and the entrance into the Black Hills via Hwy 16A from Hill City (Mt. Rushmore) down into Custer State Park. I can say, I was happy to be out of the tourist zone surrounding Mt. Rushmore and into the more tranquil and lovely Black Hills. I enjoyed the twisting and turning of the Iron Mountain Road as I made my way deeper into the park. I did stop for lunch (or was it dinner?) along the way, near a large group that seemed to be on some sort of a company outing or picnic.Having done my homework before leaving home, I was ready for the three tunnel views of Mt. Rushmore, even taking time to pull off at the third to take better photos than the "drive-bys" I'm known for with my Canon SD600. Mission accomplished!At the park entrance, guests have two options . . . drive through the park staying on Hwy 16A making NO STOPS . . . and paying nothing. Or paying the $15 park fee for a seven day admission, which allows you not only to stop, but also to take the Wildlife Loop Road where bison and other animals are known to hang out. Of course I paid my $15 and on my way I went.The bison herd was quite a distance from the road, but that didn't keep SD Park Service from protecting the people and the animals with an assigned ranger. He was a nice enough guy, providing information on the herd as well as other animals in the park. He did have to tell a couple of people "HEY No walking out there towards the buffalo!!!" I guess he earned his pay for the day saving those tourists from a bad ending to their vacation.I stopped to watch the buffalo for a while, but being late in the afternoon and HOT (nearly 100F), they weren't moving much. I moved on down the road, coming to a few straggler bulls that were wandering along side and in the road. They also didn't seem too interested in moving too quickly.Not long after I passed my last buffalo, I came upon a couple of burros in the road. I had been told of the "wild burros" who are anything but wild. Years of feeding generations of these animals has resulted in a gang of highway robbers. They come right up to your car, as if to make you stop, and if your window is down, they will poke their big stinky faces into your car. I came prepared, but to be honest, was too chicken to hand feed them so I threw a couple of apples out into the road to get them to move away from me and my van.They made short work of the apples and were back for more. With the toss of two more apples, I was again moving. About half a mile down the road was a turnout overlooking a vast pasture. In the turnout was a throng of people (out of their cars) and burros . . . lots of burros! People were hand feeding them, petting them . . . I even saw one dumb @$$ put their child on the back of one for that special photo op. YIKES!I was pretty appalled by what I was seeing. I don't mean to be some sort of nature snob, far from it. I just cannot imagine anything GOOD coming from the domestication of wild animals through such means. Every other national park or wildlife preserve I have ever visited has strongly discouraged the feeding of animals. I do not understand why it is not only condoned but encouraged here. I mean really . . . who is going to be here to feed them in the dead of winter? Having been part of it, after the fact, I felt badly that I contributed to it too. Bad Von!As I made my way towards the exit of the park, I did pass by some mule deer with their long, rabbit like ears. They look silly to me, cute but silly.Custer State Park is known for all of the great outdoor activities you can do here. Horseback riding is a big one, with a "horse" lodge where people can come and bring their horses and have a stable to put them. There are plenty of camping and fishing locations as well as places to hike and boat. For someone interested in making this their vacation destination, I can see it being a wonderful place to get away from it all and enjoy being out in nature for a few days.As for the animal viewing (and photography) I was a bit disappointed. As I said, the bison were off at a distance and not very active. I can't blame them however. I always remind myself that state and national parks are not drive-through zoos and cannot be counted on for great animal viewing. That said, with Yellowstone coming up in just a matter of days, this experience at Custer State Park paled in comparison. For that reason, I would not suggest making the "out of your way" side trip here as you head west to the Grand Tetons and/or Yellowstone.
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