We stayed at the Rafter J Bar Ranch RV Park which was the largest private rv park we have ever seen. There was plenty of room to walk Spirit, but even better was the neighboring National Forest where we spent hours walking the logging roads, looking for mule deer, and saddened by the forest destruction caused by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. And Spirit ran free.
|Custer State Park is South Dakotas first and largest state park, established in 1919.|
Mount Rushmore was spectacular but we wanted to see more of the natural landscape so we planned a day in Custer State Park. The park is filled with some of the most picturesque landscapes - dense stands of Ponderosa pines rise grandly to the sky, the reflections of rugged rock outcroppings paint a mirrored picture in clear blue water, and rolling hills begin to move with roaming bison. It wasn’t long on our drive through the park that an abrupt braking motion was applied when we saw the picturesque Sylvan Lake. We were not content sitting in the car and marveling at the view. We just had to get out and walk around the lake. What was supposed to be a quick, easy walk around the lake turned out to be much more than that. We found a spur trail that led us down a canyon (or so we called it) and over boulders. The views were stunning and soon we lost track of time as we marveled at the crevasse we were in. The decision to turn back was made when the boulders were too big for Spirit to navigate and I was pushing and pulling her over the mammoth rocks. The hike back up was much more difficult and certain muscles that did not exist before all of a sudden did!
|"Little Spirit Big Paws" (our new name for her) did|
well on the trail in the beginning where rocks and
steps gave her footing.
We spent the rest of the day driving through the 71,000 acre park, stopping for walks, peeking in at historic buildings, browsing the visitor center, and eating a picnic lunch by a swollen stream. The park is absolutely fabulous and offers many opportunities for visitors. Thank goodness the state of South Dakota had the forethought to protect this land and set it aside for wildlife to live and humans to visit.
|The park wildlife loop is an 18-mile drive through beautiful rolling hills loaded with bison, elk, and pronghorn antelope.|
|The drive on the Needles Highway will guide you through the mountainous region in the park. The road is spectacular and an engineering feat. The highway gets its name from the needle-like granite spires extending into the sky.|
|"Honk before entering" is the advice given when approaching this one way tunnel. My advice to RV'ers - don't try it!|
We went through in our car. This spot is called "threading the needle"!
|Approximately 1,300 bison roam free in the park and are a very popular attraction among visitors.|
|We were there during calving season and got to enjoy watching the young interact with their mothers and other calves.|
|This Civilian Conservation Corps building is used as a general store and gift shop.|
|The Chapel conducts non-denominational services on Sunday. Behind it are just some of the many rental cabins that sit in a very picturesque setting by the Grace Coolidge creek named after President Calvin Coolidge's wife.|
|The park is famous for its "Begging Burros." These gentle, but hungry, creatures cause many traffic jams in the park. Many people bring food to the park specifically for the purpose of feeding these animals|
|Spirit looked out the window, sniffed the air, and then let out a growl - she was not sure what to do when the burro stuck its head in the window. We did not feed them, but Betsy could not resist petting its muzzle.|
|A little state park humor. We have never heard chipmunks refered to as "Timber Tigers" before.|
|On our way home we stopped in Hill City for lunch and a little shopping. We loved the whimsical metal sculptures!|