Safari (in South Dakota)

Several years ago we headed to Tanzania to see animals and birds. We were actually surprised how exciting it was to see animals we’d never even heard of, much less recognized. We saw Syke’s monkeys and reedbucks, and many more. We either walked with our guides or piled into the Range Rovers, binoculars and cameras at hand.   It was thrilling.

Now, we found ourselves studying the map of Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It was marked with an auto-route to observe animals.  Oh, we thought, why not?!  With binoculars and cameras in hand, we began our week-long visit to this great park.

Is it possible to drive through Custer State Park and not see a bison (American buffalo)?

We saw bison every day we were in the park.  Now we take that for granted, but over a hundred years ago, almost all the bison in South Dakota had been hunted till only a few remained.  One man, James “Scotty” Philip, an emigrant from Scotland who became a rancher in Pierre, South Dakota, was credited with saving the bison from extinction.  He started with 5 rescued bison calves and added some 74 more to his herd in the late 1800’s.  By the time he died in 1911, his herd numbered 1,000.  “He was buried on a family cemetery near his buffalo pasture. As the funeral procession passed, some of the bison came down out of the hills. Newspapers of the time suggested the bison were ‘showing their respect to the man who had saved them.’” (Wikipedia)

In 1914, Custer State Park had purchased 36 Bison from the Scotty Philip’s herd near Pierre.  In ten years the herd grew to 100 animals.  In 1951, 60 bison were purchased from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation herd.  Currently the bison population in the park has grown to 1,300.

Pronghorn are the only members left in the family Antillocapridae.  Their closest relation is the giraffe and okapi.  They’re often called antelope but aren’t related.  Lewis and Clark first wrote about seeing them on their expedition while in South Dakota.

The park has both white-tailed and mule deer. Can we tell the difference?

We were delighted to see the female bighorn sheep licking salt on the park road – and at the same time, causing a traffic jam. They seem nonplussed when cars ever so slowly went around them.

We missed the elk – who, we were told, hid up in the hills to recover from too much motorcycle noise after the Sturgis Rally nearby.  The ranger told us they’d be reappearing again in a week or so.

We appreciated the little sightings, too.  On our hikes, we tried to be observant, knowing that creatures are there but may not always be in clear sight.

The least chipmunk seemed pretty intent on eating and not so worried about our presence since it was a ways back into the woods.

A Plains leopard frog leaped in front of us across the path and stayed motionless.  We had enough time to snap a photo or two.  When we started to leave and looked back, we could see how well camouflaged it was in the grasses.

We were alternately entertained and annoyed by so many grasshoppers darting across our path.  It’s often hard to get a photo, but this one seemed content on its rock to wait out our attentions.

Whether in the car or on foot, we learned a few things on that safari in Tanzania about viewing animals in the wild.  Distance, patience, and observation were key.  Having binoculars and a camera along makes any sighting even better.  Whenever we can see animals in the wild, it’s always a special event.  Also, it’s nice when we can see animals in the wild a little closer than Tanzania.


August 2018

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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11 Responses to Safari (in South Dakota)

  1. shungphotography says:

    Nice to know some background info you provided after our recent visit over there. We missed the elk also!

  2. Having lived in Montana for so many years, your posts are evoking memories of long weekends and family vacations exploring this magical area. While Tanzania may be more exotic, your photos and narrative show that the American west can hold its own. Love your pictures!

  3. We always enjoyed Custer and the herds of bison when we camped nearby when our kids were young. Glad you’re enjoying it too.
    You also might want to see if any local rodeos or powwows are going on in your area.

    • Ah, we passed up the change for a rodeo on this trip with the reasoning that we can only fit just so much in as we pace our days. Living on the road now for 5.5 years requires that sometimes to keep going happily….

  4. plaidcamper says:

    Wild and wonderful! Visited the Black Hills a number of years ago, and have very happy memories, of landscapes and bison. Great post!

  5. leggypeggy says:

    Wonderful, and you didn’t have to go back to Tanzania to see all this.

  6. You saw so many creatures on this trip, and in their natural habitat which is very special. We saw some bison in Canada in a zoo. They are huge animals.

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