The Black Hills, South Dakota: Part II



I began this day by heading out before dawn and driving north again through Wind Cave National Park and then through Custer State Park. Today I just let the animals lead me. I had no real plan and it ended up being a really amazing day.


Buffalo at sunrise. Wind Cave National Park.

Good morning buffalo. Wind Cave National Park.


Mule deer buck. Wind Cave National Park.

Mule deer
Mule Deer

Prairie dogs doing their morning happy dance? Or doing the traditional prairie dog greeting of the dawn?


Custer State Park. There's buffalo just below the trees on the mid-right.


Buffalo Jam in Custer State Park. Calf nursing in the middle of the road.


Calf has a milk mustache.

Buffalo


Buffalo calf. Check out the tiny horns.



I believe this is Tiny Horns' mom.


And here is trouble again. Burros looking for handouts.


Getting stared down by a burro.


Male pronghorn wandering by. Interestingly, while pronghorn can run up to 60 mph they can't really jump like deer or African antelope species. They usually crawl under fencing.


As I exited the Wildlife loop in Custer State Park I decided to take the Needles Highway drive. But before I started I came across five spectacular bighorn sheep. This is the first time I've ever seen them. Males can reach 300 lbs. The group I came across consisted of five males.


Bighorn Sheep


Bighorn Sheep


Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep


And then they decide to cross the road. Right in front of a car.

 After the bighorn sheep climbed up the impossibly steep slope on the other side of the road I continued on my way. The Needles Highway is a 14-mile spectacular drive through beautiful forest and then snakes through amazing needle-like granite formations. It's an exciting drive. You have to weave your way around the huge granite needles sticking out of the ground. They are truly spectacular. You also drive through three one way tunnels that makes it even more exciting/scary. The drive ends at Sylvan Lake where you have the choice of hiking around the lake or climbing Harney Peak, South Dakota's highest point. I chose to walk around Sylvan Lake. This area reminded me of the Prachov Rocks that I hiked in the Czech Republic last year. They are very similar landscapes thought the Needles are much larger in scale and much higher in elevation.


One way tunnel.
 
Needles. Believe it or not the plan was originally to carve Mt. Rushmore in the Needles but they were deemed unsuitable both from a structural point of view and the fact that they are sacred to the Lakota.

About to drive into the rock formations. I wish I took more photos from this part of the drive. It's really amazing.


Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park.

Sylvan Lake

I ate lunch on the shores of Sylvan Lake. Then I found myself driving toward the town of Custer and then through the town of Custer to Jewel Cave National Monument.

Jewel Cave is the third longest cave in the world. 177 miles of it have been explored though more has yet to be explored. Most of the chambers in the cave are covered in calcite crystals. Get ready for a work out as there are 700 stairs to traverse on the regular tour.  The tour guide I had was marvelous. He must have spent years speaking in church because his tour was like a Sunday mass worshiping the wonders of the mineral depths of the world and a celebration of the brave souls that explore this cave every day, traversing one of the few truly unknown frontiers on earth.


Chamber, Jewel Cave. The irregular, bumpy surface is all calcite crystals.


Close up on the calcite crystals.

After the cave I drove back through Custer and ended up meeting up with the same group of Bighorn Sheep I'd seen before. And then I got stopped by burros...again...driving through Custer State Park. All in all it was a beautiful day.


Bighorn sheep


Bighorn sheep


Sharp-tailed Grouse


And then I run into the burros again.


Burro



Burr covered burro baby. I really feel bad for this little one.
 

Burros


Burros


These two posed a huge problem for me. I was the lead car. And they were not going to budge. I ended up having to drive between them. And even then they didn't move.


Driving through Custer State Park


I took a short walk down along a creek to enjoy the fall colors just starting to emerge and examine flowers and watch dragonflies buzz around.


The trees that give the Black Hills their name.


Coyote looking for a prairie dog blue plate special.


Coyote eating a prairie dog.


Late afternoon sun shining on the buffalo and the prairie.


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