Sunday, September 9, 2012

Custer, SD #2

On Friday, we drove some of Custer State Park's back roads, then traveled the route known as the Wildlife Loop through the lower part of the park. Beside the road, we came across this group of pronghorn antelope grazing in the meadow. 

The females and young were watched over by this handsome buck. Both males and females have two-pointed horns which are composed of keratin growing over a bony center. I was surprised to learn that the hair-like part of the horn is shed annually. The pronghorn is either "the second-fastest land mammal in the world, able to travel over 53 mph," or "among the speediest animals in North America." I'm not sure which is a more accurate so many things, it just depends on the source of your "facts."

Farther along the Wildlife Loop, we came across a small flock of sharp-tailed grouse foraging beside the road. This individual was very curious about our car, and stood still long enough for me to take a couple of photos. I think this may be a young bird. If you look closely at the feathers on its neck, they look a little "downy." Perhaps the youngster just wasn't old and wise enough to be afraid.

Shortly afterward, we came to the section of the road where the "wild" donkeys hang out. I say "wild" only in the sense that they roam freely in the park, and that they are descendants of the donkeys that years ago were used to carry tourists and miners into the back country. These days, they are known for blocking traffic to beg for treats. In exchange, they allow tourists to take their pictures and enjoy their antics. These two were demonstrating "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine."

Not far from the donkeys we passed a prairie dog town. Kota and Nickie were most interested in this little fellow and his friends.
For lunch, we stopped at Blue Bell Lodge, one of four lodges in the park. We split an enormous buffalo burger with onion rings and were glad we didn't order two of them! Then we were off to the Mt. Coolidge lookout and fire tower. 

We didn't see the ranger who was keeping watch from the tower, but we did see the magnificent panorama from the top. To the east, you can see all the way to the Badlands, and to the west Custer and the Crazy Horse Memorial. On our way down, we took this photo of The Needles, a rock formation on the northern edge of the park. Even on a hazy day like this one it's still an impressive sight.

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