Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Buffalo....or is it Bison?

Our trip home through Spearfish Canyon was a bit of a disappointment.  Apparently the hard freeze that accompanied the snow a couple of weeks ago killed some of the leaves before they had a chance to fall or change colors.  So…..we saw a lot of gray, withered leaves, a few yellow ones and hardly any red or orange. 

We did have a very good reuben sandwich at Lewie’s in Lead, and then made our way home to pick up three very excited dogs.  

On Friday, Custer State Park held its annual Buffalo Roundup.  We have been a couple of times in the past, and opted not to get up at 4 a.m. to be on hand when the herd was driven into the corrals.  Instead, with friends Rick and Linda, we drove over in the afternoon to watch Park personnel and volunteers “work” some of the buffalo.

The CSP bison herd numbers some 1300 adults and several hundred calves born in the spring.  Because the park can only support a limited number of animals, each year excess stock are sold.  The sale is held in November each year, and includes older animals past breeding age, as well as younger animals that are not needed.  We were told that most go to private herds.

The viewing stands and catwalks above the working pens made it easy to see all phases of the operation.  The animals that had been collected were mostly cows and calves, with a few bulls mixed in.  The calves that were old enough to be weaned were separated from their mothers, vaccinated, branded, ear-tagged and either returned to the herd or marked to be sold.

The cows were all pregnancy-tested to determine which ones should be kept and which sold.  They were very glad to be released from that squeeze chute!

On Saturday we drove over to the arts and crafts fair that takes place every year during the Roundup.  There were plenty of opportunities to buy all sorts of lovely things, and we were glad we didn't have room to buy all that we admired.  

Among the pieces that were auctioned off during the fair were the bison statues that artists decorate each year.  Here are a few of them that we saw displayed in Custer prior to the auction.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mato Tipila, aka Devils Tower

Since we began visiting the Black Hills in 2010, we have been intrigued by the massive rock formation known as Devils Tower.  On Wednesday, John and I boarded the dogs in Custer, and set out for an overnight trip to Spearfish and the Devils Tower area.  

Our first stop was in Newcastle, WY, for lunch at Donna’s Main Street Diner.  We highly recommend you “dine” there if you’re in the area.  My chicken breast and bacon salad was a winner, but John opted for the “Wednesday Wiener” special.  Served open-face with lots of chili, cheese and onions, it was the real deal!

Located in Northeastern Wyoming an hour or so west of the town of Spearfish, SD, Devils Tower was proclaimed the nation’s first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902.  It is quite a site when you first top a rise and see it in the distance.  

And the closer you come, the bigger it gets,

Until it looms above you!

Geologists say that some 50 million years ago, the tower was formed by an igneous intrusion of magma into or between other rock formations.  There is some disagreement about exactly what kind of intrusion formed the tower, but it is generally agreed that over time erosion exposed it.  From the base of the tower, you have great views of the river and surrounding plains.  I can only imagine what it looks like from the top!

The name “Devils Tower” was bestowed in 1875 by Col. Richard Dodge, who led a military expedition sent to confirm reports of gold in the Black Hills and to survey the area.  However, the native peoples have many different names for it, including Mato Tipila (Bear Lodge) by the Lakota, and Daxpitcheeaasaao (Bear’s Home) by the Crow.  The tower has long been regarded by the native peoples as sacred, and ceremonies are held here each year by several of the tribes.  "Prayer cloths" and "prayer bundles" can be seen attached to trees near the tower.

The tower rises 867 feet adobe its base, and stands 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, which has gradually eroded the surrounding landscape.  Its top, which is teardrop-shaped, covers 1.5 acres, and the diameter of its base is 1,000 feet. 

The tower’s surface has many columns of rock.  As the magma cooled, it contracted, forming hexagonal (and sometimes 4, 5 and 7-sided) columns separated by vertical cracks.  It is a favorite destination for technical climbers, and if you enlarge the images and look closely you can see some working their way up or down in the photos below.

As the sun dropped lower in the sky, we left Devils Tower and headed for Spearfish.  As we worked our way from Wyoming to South Dakota, we crossed the route traveled by General Custer’s 1874 Expedition.  There are supposedly places along the route where you can see the original tracks left by Custer’s 200 wagons as they made their way through the Black Hills.  Can you see them?  We’ll have to wait for another day to take a closer look!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Buglin’ Bulls

Not all our adventures have involved hiking, fishing and rock climbing, however.  On Tuesday, RV neighbors Rick and Linda joined us to go in search of the elusive elk of Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park.  Rick and Linda had seen some of the Wind Cave elk a couple of days before, and we were excited about the prospect of seeing the herd again, and possibly hearing the bull elk bugling as they wooed the ladies.

There were a few thunderstorms in the area, with occasional rumbles of thunder, lightening flashes and a smattering of raindrops.  

Binoculars and cameras at the ready, we drove slowly through Wind Cave, stopping at the fire lookout tower for panoramic views of the park.  

Here are Linda, John and Rick on the trail down from the fire tower.  It’s a fairly steep one-mile loop trail from the parking lot, but well worth the climb!

Then just at the high fence which divides Wind Cave NP and Custer SP, we turned onto one of the dirt roads that lead to the Wind Cave back country.  

Linda was the first to spot them, 150 yards away across the fence, just below the ridge line in Custer SP.  At first we saw only a few cows lying in the shade or lounging under the trees. 

Then, the longer we looked, the more elk we saw.  There were at least two dozen cows and calves.  They came out from behind the bushes and over the ridge.  Then we found out why.  

We heard the unmistakable bugle of a bull elk.  And then we saw him as he came over the ridge and began to round up and move “his” cows along the ridge.  John and Rick could hardly believe their eyes.  He was a magnificent 6x6, sleek and handsome.  It’s no wonder he had a herd of that size.

Several times we heard in the distance the bugle of another bull, but he never appeared.  We watched the Custer herd move along the ridge, then drop below it on the other side.  It was quite an experience, and one we won’t soon forget.

We continued through Wind Cave NP and Custer SP.  We saw a number of bison and lots of magnificent scenery, but no more elk.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Rock Climbing in the Hills and Other Adventures

A few days ago, John and I took another path on our morning walk.  Instead of the four-mile loop we often walk, we crossed the road outside of camp and went rock climbing in the hills.  There are rocky outcroppings everywhere, and these overlook our camp.  

The dogs had a great time, and only give us heart failure a couple of times when they went scrambling up the 
steep boulders to do a Rin Tin Tin imitation.  (Ok, if you’re not old enough to remember Rin Tin Tin, look it up on Google.)  

Not far from camp, we walked up a small rise and were startled to find that the ground fell away, revealing a giant hole in the earth.  In the bottom was a small lake, possibly runoff from the recent snowfall.  We quickly grabbed dogs, who had approached the edge and were looking for a way down.  We don't know if the site is an old gravel pit, or an abandoned mine (but an old gold mine definitely has more appeal).  There is access from the lower side of the pit, so we'll try to explore a little farther another day.

A day or so later, we visited some of our favorite fishing spots in Custer State Park.  The big trout weren’t biting, but we managed to catch two nice fish for supper.

A Walk in the Woods

Many of our hikes around camp take place on the logging and forest service roads like this one that criss-cross the forest.  They are sometimes steep, but easy to follow.  

But not all our adventures take place on developed trails.  A few days ago while John was out fishing, Rue and I climbed up a steep slope to one of the rocky outcroppings that overlook Custer’s Gulch. Here is what you see looking up.

While we didn’t get quite to the top from the side we chose, the view was still spectacular.  

And here is what we saw when we were ready to descend.  I won’t say I slid the entire way down on my backside, but it was an interesting descent.  It was good to be back on level ground.  In a few days, we’ll go around to the other side of the hill and try to make it to the top from there.  

Once back in camp, we enjoyed visiting with our new neighbors, Bob, Judy, their son Tim, English Lab Jesse, and Sweetie the Papillon.  They are from California, and are out touring for a couple of weeks in their lovely Prevost motor home.  We were sorry to see them leave but hope to meet up with them in the future.

We have had some good news we want to share with you...especially you family members.  Last week I heard from Cousin Frances that the Fort Collins CSU Senior Men's 3.0 Tennis Team, of which Cousin Roy (shown below on the left) is the captain, defeated four other teams to win the Colorado State Championship.  

Frances said, "The tournament was in Denver at the Pinehurst Country Club Tuesday and Wednesday of this (last) week.  On Tuesday they had to play back to back matches at 9:00 and 12:00.  Roy and his partner were in a tiebreak on Wednesday when we all figured out that the other two teams had won, and we all watched Roy and Vic win the 10 point tiebreak 7-4, making it a clean sweep!"  The national finals will be in Surprise, Arizona, in March, and we'll all be cheering for the team.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

There's a Bison in my Backyard!

Well, not exactly.  Thank goodness the bison wasn’t in our back yard!  This big boy was grazing peacefully in one of the RV areas in Custer State Park.  How would you like to open the door of your coach and find him there!?  (When we drove by today, that Winnebago was long gone….I guess they had enough excitement.)

You can tell this is one of the senior herd bulls.  On his right hindquarter you can see the stylized  “S” that identifies him as part of the Custer State Park herd.  Just above that is the number 5.  This indicates that he was born in 2005, which makes him nine years old this year.  

He was fat, sleek and unconcerned.  He finished cropping grass, then sauntered behind the RV, past the picnic table and went on his way.

Life here in Custer continues to be good.  We’re hiking 4+ miles per day with the dogs, and up to 6+ miles when we go fishing.   Speaking of fish…Wednesday we caught only a couple of little ones, but Thursday was a different story.  Our favorite fishing spot is in the Grace Coolidge Walk-in Fishing Area in the state park.  The scenery is spectacular.

And the fishing is great.  Thursday I landed a nice 16-fish.  I walked upstream to show John, only to find that he had just caught a 17.5-inch rainbow!  We’ll be eating well!  (Fortunately, we brought the vacuum sealer, so we can freeze and bring a few home if we don’t eat all of them.)

We have also met a lot of nice people in camp.  I’ve mentioned a few in earlier posts, and a couple of days ago we said goodbye to Lana and Neal and their four pomeranians.  They live in Casper, WY, and we hope to visit them there when we travel farther west.