Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Custer State Park & Beyond

This past Monday we visited Custer State Park which lays in the Southern Black Hills. It's about 50 minutes South of Deadwood. We started our day out thinking that we were going to finish up some stuff at work and then head home but before I knew it we were on our way to Custer. The road South is a favorite of ours. It's a scenic highway that runs North to South through the hills. Each curve reveals a new meadow and sloping pine covered ridged. Granite boulders shape the skyline. Deer are the decoration, gathering in mass throughout the fields.

We made it as far as Hill City before we realized that Nate, our roommate, had never been to Prairie Berry, our favorite winery in the Hills. Well, that would never do so we swung in and did a tasting. Five tastes are complementary so I did all the wines that had just come out like, Buffaloberry and the older wines that I had been wanting to try like, Calamity Jane. It turns out that they were all delicious. Josh & I selected wines for the wedding and were given a few extra tasting of the ones we were curious about. We walked out with a bottle of Blue Suede Shoes & Calamity Jane.

We were back on the road in no time and heading for the park. The entrance fee for the day was $14 and year long only $28. We bought a year pass. We eventually found our way to Wildlife Loop Road. They aren't kidding. Before long we came across a herd of Buffalo crossing the road. They have become accustomed to traffic and are perfectly happy to make you wait for them. There were a few babies with the herd. One crossed just in front of us.

Josh, Nate and myself were all excited. Before too long we came up on a group of Burros. Several cars were stopped in the road and we waited in line behind them. Burros were grazing throughout the meadow but a few of them were harassing the cars. We had one come up to the window, stick his head in and check things out. Then another and then they tried to eat my camcorder. I did get a few good shots of the inside their mouths.

We started exploring off from the main road and saw our first Elk. Actually, in total, we proabaly say 20-25 Elk. It was the first time any of us had seen them in the wild. Beautiful creatures. Unfortunately we didn't get to see them very close and at first we thought they
were deer with the exception of their size. On one of the offshoots we saw Pronghorn. They seem to travel in pairs. I don't think that we've ever seen them running. Their either grazing or bedded down. We took the offshoot until we realized that we had entered Wind Cave National Park. There really wasn't much of a difference between the two parks but Wind Cave has less trees and a bit more meadow. Wind Cave is the third largest known cave in the world. It's amazing to think that as you look across the prairie there are miles of tunnels that have yet to be discovered.

We meandered back to the Loop and continued our wildlife exploration. It wasn't long before we came across more Buffalo. They are the most amazing creatures. Right now, they are going through a spring shed. It looks like they have a huge sweater across their shoulders but their rear end is nearly hairless. It's not the prettiest time of year for them but their still awesome to see. There's one area towards the end of the road that has a campground and some private camps. This is where we saw, for the first time ever, mountain goats. I didn't think that they would be white! We were all surprised to see them eating their lunch on the campground lawn.

The sun began to get low and we started our adventure North taking Needles highway. It's probably the most scenic highway we've been on out West. There's hairpin turns and tunnels that are carved out of the mountains. The fog was settling and it began to feel eerie. The whitetails were out in hundreds on our ride home. It's funny how they are everywhere this spring but last fall you couldn't find one. The guys were so excited I thought that they were going to jump out the window and wrestle a deer down. We made it all the way home no accidents, no deer meat but thoroughly excited about going back to Custer again.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hike Towards Mt. Roosevelt

After a week of snow and rain there is finally sun in the Hills again. Josh, our roommate; Nate and myself went for a hike behind our new house. Our place is located at the top of the steepest hill in town and has no neighbors. It feels like the country but we're just a few steps from downtown. Our lawn blends into the prairie grasses and gradually blends to evergreens. Each day so far we have seen deer (whitetail & mule) next to turkey's feeding on our lawn. The cat thinks it great and likes to stalk them. No luck so far.

The first twenty minutes of our adventure were spent walking up hill.

After about five I was seriously wondering where we were heading. We followed an old two-track up a ridge. Wild grasses had taken it over and just a remnant of a road remained. After several rest stops we made it to a landing point. We found ourselves in a little clearing between small mounds with rock outcroppings. The boys hiked up to the top and I realized that was the place to be for great views.

After a few minutes of meandering I noticed I was going a different direction than the guys. This is typical. I tend to wander. Crap. We grouped up and walked up to the top of the ridge. On the way we came across some unusual scat and then the scattered and bleached remains of an Elk. We tried to find the skull but we didn't have any luck. The wind was unbelievably gusty and consistent. I was happy I'd grabbed my beanie.

The three of us finished walking the ridge line and ended up sitting for a bit in a thicket of birches. As we were trying to find a place to rest three deer came upon us and then skidded away. Maybe those were the deer that would be finding their way down to our place for dinner. Their dinner not ours. Not today anyway.

As we headed back down the hill it was much easier going. My legs ached from the hike up but that didn't seem to matter as I chose the easiest way down. It was the perfect afternoon for a long hike.