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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Home on the range

At last! The fog lifts enough for us to see some distance, so we head back to Custer State Park, but not before breakfast sandwiches at Subway. You may wonder why not eat the “complimentary” continental breakfast at Super 8. Because they stop serving it at 9 AM! Hello! No one comes to Custer who isn’t on vacation. We’re not getting up early. So we never actually ate there, although we customarily do take advantage of the included (Who do they think they’re fooling? You pay!) breakfast.

Never mind. We have to stop talking about rotten hotels and crappy people and get to the point of this trip: sight-seeing. Although the reason we came all this way was Rushmore and Crazy Horse, there is a lot more to South Dakota, and the Black Hills. They are so pristine and so beautiful, I’m surprised it isn’t more crowded. But it’s quite remote, too. I could see living close to Cedar Rapids. All the advantages of civilization but you’re out in some of the most beautiful country in the US. Trust me; go see it.

It’s all about the wildlife to me. Carved mountains are interesting, sure, and we’ll get to that, but seeing wildlife up close is the best thing about travel anyplace. We don’t even go into cities except for airports, anymore. I was raised in New York City. You couldn’t make me live there if you put a gun to my head.

So, Custer State Park is famous for wildlife, among folks who are into it. And it’s contiguous with Wind Cave NP, which we’ll also get to. And anyway, bison just roam all over the place. The herds are “managed” which means they are kept at a size the grazing land of the parks will support, but they live pretty much independently, except for the yearly round-up and medical care.

Bison and other animals can’t read, or maybe they can, and just like to confound visitors. They like to pop up and poop in a parking area, or amble across the road while you fumble for your camera. Their favorite thing to do is show you their ass when you are trying to take pictures. They all do it, and it’s no coincidence.

So, even though the official Wildlife Loop is a particular 12 miles of road, you will see everything everywhere, and you will understand “where the buffalo [sic] roam, and the deer and the antelope play.” All they do is play. Why should they work? We did all we could to wipe them out in the 19th century, and I think they get a pass for as long as time lasts.

By the way, their proper name is bison bison. They are not “buffalo.” Buffalo are native to Asia and Africa, not North America. But, as usual, we have dumbed down reality for USAians, who resist education in many areas. So every ten feet you will find this sign: “Buffalo are dangerous! Do not approach!” Okay, I’ll stay right here in North America and not bother any buffalo, but excuse me while I stick a firecracker up this bison’s butt, so it’ll turn around and I can take a picture. Here is a bison product:

More on more wildlife next time. That barely scratches the surface of what we saw that day.

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