Monday, September 30, 2013

Leaving Custer

The end of our stay in Custer came all too soon.  We enjoy our time here more each year, it seems.  As we travel on to other adventures, among other things we will miss.....

South Dakota skies......

Playing ball in the meadow......

Hiking with the dogs in the National Forest behind our camp....

Catching and eating those wonderful rainbow trout.....

Dog tussles in camp....

Spending time with our friends and in general just “hanging out.”

We’re heading south and will keep in touch.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mother!

Today is a very special day, and I would like to share it with you.  This day, Tuesday, September 24, 2013 would have been my mother's 101st birthday.  When she passed away in August of 2011, she was only five weeks away from celebrating her 99th. 

Mother loved to fish, and she especially loved rainbow trout.  We're a long way from Hamilton, Texas, but we celebrated her birthday by doing something she would have enjoyed immensely.  We went fishing in some lovely small lakes in Custer State Park and brought home our limit of beautiful rainbows.  Happy Birthday, Mother!  I think you were with us in spirit when we caught them and I hope you'll be with us when we enjoy them for dinner in your honor.

We love and miss you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Wild Life of Another Kind

Not all who live the wild life have four legs.  Some are free spirits who have only two!  On Sunday afternoon we took a drive through another of our favorite areas of Custer State Park, the Needles Highway. 

The road winds through lush forests, past formations like the "Needle's Eye," and navigates narrow tunnels.

It travels along the high ridges with spectacular views of the “needles” and the rock formations known as Cathedral Spires.  These are magnificent formations, and the area is as rugged as you will find almost anywhere on the Continent.

Along with the other tourists, we were enjoying the drive and the spectacular scenery.  I confess, though, I don’t know what kind of photos you can get with a tiny camera while flying by on the back of a motorcycle!  

A short way down the road, we came around a hairpin curve and saw a group of technical climbers scaling some of the rock formations beside the road.  Although what they do looks scary to the uninitiated, it is both an art and a very precise science.  Nevertheless, no matter what their experience level, there is an element of danger involved.

I know my son, Brian, will relate to what we were seeing.  He is an accomplished technical climber, and has scaled more peaks and spires than I care to know about!  I don’t think he has climbed these “needles,” but probably many like them.

We pulled off and began watching the climbers ascend the sheer granite “fingers.”  This fellow had made it to the top and was photographing the scenery and his fellow climbers. 

He was also assisting the woman below him who was still working hr way to the top.

Then, I noticed another climber on top of a spire just to their left.  She was straddling the pillar, and it was apparent that she had not finished what she had come to do.  

I raced back to the car for the bigger camera, and with my heart in my throat, was just in time to capture her triumph as she rose to stand on the top of the spire, arms raised in a victory salute!

Even though she was hundreds of feet in the air, the acoustics of the canyon were such that we could hear her every word.  She quickly thanked her comrades for “letting me do this,” and said it was “really fun and very scary.”

We were very fortunate to be there at just that moment.  I just wish I knew her name so I could share my photos with her.  

We watched for a while longer as several other climbers worked their way up and down the spires.  

It was a distinct privilege to share this experience and we are very grateful.

Living the Wild Life

When we come to Custer each year, there are certain rituals we observe.....special places we visit, and things we do.  Among these, we go fishing up the Grace Coolidge Walk-in area, and we drive the Custer State Park Wildlife Loop in both the early morning and the late afternoon.  This year, our first drive through the Wildlife Loop resulted in our encounter with the young coyote.  

We have since traveled the Loop both early and late.  In our early morning drive, we were fortunate to find lots of pronghorn antelope.  First, we saw this young buck marking his territory and polishing his horns (we assume) in the brush.  

He proudly rounded up his harem.  Unfortunately, he isn’t one of the bigger bucks we saw, and he will likely lose his ladies to a more senior buck later in the season.

And speaking of more senior bucks.....we came across this handsome fellow a few miles farther on.  He was driving this doe and her two almost-grow progeny before him...perhaps to his own harem.

And a little farther on, this nice buck was resting quietly beside the road, and close to the object of his affection....this lovely lady pronghorn.

On both the morning and afternoon drives, we saw bison and more bison, 

cows and their calves, 

including this very young calf.

We could tell his age not only by his size, but also by the red color of his coat.  The young bison lose their red “baby hair” at 3-4 months of age.  This little fellow was born late this year, and may have a hard time surviving the harsh South Dakota winter.

The pasture was also full of senior “herd bulls” courting the cows.  You can tell that this old fellow was born in 2004 by the “4” branded on his hip.  Normally herd bulls only remain in CSP for at most ten years.  This bull is in his ninth year, and nearing the end of his productive life.  

In addition to the large herbivores we saw on our drive, there were also many of these black-tailed prairie dogs.  They inhabit several large “towns” in the park and are a favorite with visitors.

In addition to the legitimate wildlife, the Park also has a thriving population of burros, or wild donkeys.  These critters are remnants of the burros originally used by prospectors and others who traveled in the Black Hills.  Not at all wild, these burros are expert at holding tourists hostage until they get a carrot, cracker or other treat.

This little fellow came up to get acquainted with us. He and Rue tentatively sniffed noses, then quickly parted when Rue screwed up her courage and barked loudly to warn him not to get too close!

That was right before Rue put her paw on the control and lowered the back window of the Tracker.  In a heartbeat, she sailed out out the window onto the road, not unlike Kota when she went after a pronghorn last year!  Fortunately we were stopped with a half-dozen or more other cars observing a group of bison beside the road.  John quickly stepped out and invited Rue to “load” and she hopped back into the Tracker.  We’re more careful about keeping the window lock on these days.

But these weren't our only encounters with "wild life."  On the way home from a shopping trip to Rapid City, we came upon this group of bighorn ewes and their almost-grown lambs grazing near one of the park's RV parking areas.

And then, driving through the park on the way to go fishing, we came around a corner and found several cars parked beside the road.  They were watching three bighorn rams posing on the rocks beside the road. 

Can you see him?

Look again.
As luck would have it, I had only a point-and-shoot camera with me at the time.  Although my camera couldn't capture every whisker, you can still appreciate the majesty of their surroundings and the regal bearing of these rams.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fish Story

The hiking and fishing continue to be good.  Yesterday we did both.  On Tuesday I logged four miles with the dogs along the forest trails and logging roads.  

Then in the afternoon, John and I went fishing up the Grace Coolidge Walk-in Area.  It's a beautiful walk, but I logged another three miles for a total of seven!  

The fishing was good, though.  For the third time we caught our limit of five trout.  One was fourteen plus inches, and the other four were respectable. 

We had the big one for dinner last night.  It was delicious!

And if that wan't enough of a treat, we stepped outside after supper to see the full moon peeking through the pines to the east.

It was a great day!