West 2016: Custer State Park

Day 5: August 9, 2016

Both before and after we went to Wind Cave, we made our way through Custer State Park. Custer State Park was basically right on the way, since you have to drive through the park in order to get to Wind Cave. So, just for the sake of full-disclosure, this post covers multiple times that we were in the park; early morning, mid-day and evening too.  It doesn’t matter for the sake of the post, but just know that you are more likely to see some of these animals if you go early, or at the end of the day.

Me – Sign Posing

Custer State Park is a huge park, with lots to offer. It has camping, lakes, scenic drives, and when we headed to Wind Cave, we took a little time before to check out part of the Wildlife Loop since it was early morning, and we hoped to see wildlife! We weren’t disappointed!

Right after entering the Wildlife Loop, we saw pronghorn! A small herd of them! They were just hanging out, and there were young ones along with the herd. I loved seeing them. We took some photos – even one with a peeing pronghorn! I can’t help it – animals doing more than just standing there is fascinating to me – yep, that’s me…  I am weird.  Historic toilets – peeing animals…

Pronghorn

 

Even better – peeing pronghorn!

After watching the pronghorn, we found a prairie dog town. They were quite active then, scampering around and eating grass. They were darker in color than some of the other prairie dogs – I liked seeing the color variation.

Custer State Park’s prairie dogs had darker fur. I am becoming quite the prairie dog connoisseur.

We saw wild turkeys too! There were about a half dozen turkeys roaming around in a few different places in the park.

Wild Turkeys!

As we continued on the way to Wind Cave, we saw a couple of deer, more pronghorn, and then we saw a coyote too! Even though I see coyotes at home from time to time, even in my own neighborhood, it was a treat to see one out in the wild.

An early morning coyote sighting

After Wind Cave, which I posted about here, we headed back out into Custer State Park, and decided to do one of the scenic drives – the Needles Highway. The highway is a crazy, windy road, with a ton of switchbacks and several one lane tunnels. They had people who directed traffic through the tunnels, allowing travel in one direction and then the other. The whole highway made my mom nervous, but I enjoyed it! I would have like to stop at some of the viewpoints, but there were so many Sturgis bikers on the road that it would have been difficult to pull over easily.

One of the tiny tunnels on the Needles Highway

Later in the day, we headed back into the park and traveled on the part of the Wildlife Loop that we hadn’t seen before. We found bison, lots and lots of bison. Custer State Park has about 1,500 bison at the peak each year; they manage the herd through round ups and sales. We watched them for a while; I never got tired of them.

 

A bit further on, we found the other famous animals of the park – feral donkeys! There was a group of them hanging out right in the parking lot, begging for carrots from the tourists, despite all the signs that say you shouldn’t feed them. Apparently they are known as the Begging Burros, and there are about 50 donkeys in the park.  There was another group of donkeys that kept their distance, and it was fun to watch them playing out in the field and being more wild.  I think the donkeys were my favorite of the animals we saw in the park – well, if you don’t count the peeing pronghorn…  Nope – I’m still going with the donkeys as the favorites…

 

 

 

We didn’t do any of the other recreational activities that Custer State Park has to offer, but it would certainly be a great place to camp, and spend some time. It was a worthwhile park!

A bison just hanging on the road in the evening.

Oliver Joins the CIA

The day after Easter, I was still sick, even though I was basically out of commission for the entire weekend.  But, because when it rains, it really pours, fate wasn’t done with me yet.

I went to work Monday, not realizing that at some point in my misery over the weekend or Monday morning, I had gone out the back door and apparently not locked it when I came back in.  I don’t use that door very frequently, and I actually have no recollection of when I had even gone outside.  Because, well, sick…  Blame the illness.  Or the cold medicine…

At any rate, when I got home after work, still feeling miserable and just wanting to crawl back into bed, only two cats greeted me for dinner.  There was a big, orange tabby who was nowhere to be found.  I realized what had happened as soon as I saw the back door, which was not quite all the way closed.  Oliver had joined the CIA and was now out on a secret mission.  Ugh…

He looks like he wouldn’t be any trouble at all.

I live in a neighborhood that is quite woody.  I have my own animal kingdom just steps from the back door.  Deer nap in my yard, and raccoons hang out with regularity.  Even worse, I have seen coyotes in my yard, and I live half a block from the beginning of a park which has infrequent cougar sightings.

A trip around the house shaking the food bag was to no avail.  Oliver was gone.  He had gone deep undercover.  He has snuck out a few times before but I had always managed to see him leave, and once he got out, it was always enough to just reprimand him and he would come quickly slinking back to the open door.  But I had no idea where he had gotten to!

I hoped he would come back that evening, but no dice. I even locked the other two away and left the back door open so he could come back in the way he left.  Nope.  Whatever his secret mission was, it was taking awhile.  So imagine me, still sick, and now worried sick, wandering around the neighborhood in the middle of the night looking for eye shine and quietly shaking the food bag.  Oy.  I got very little sleep that night.  My Fitbit says I lay still for about 4 hours, but I am quite positive I was awake for most of that.  In fact, the only reason that I knew I slept at all was because I had a couple of nightmares.

The next day the search was equally fruitless.  I worked from home, working on emails and phone calls and roaming the neighborhood periodically to find my jerk of a cat.  My mom came over during the day to help look, and my girlfriend helped in the evening.  I talked to a lot of my neighbors.  But no sign of Oliver.  The only good news was that I hadn’t found any piles of orange cat fur and bones…  I was exhausted…

I finally lay down at 10 that night, planning for another middle of the night neighborhood walk.  I had scoured all the internet advice for lost indoor cats.  His litter was outside.  Smelly, heated up tuna was trying to tempt him home.  And, one site had recommended leaving the garage door open six inches, in case my little renegade tried that avenue…  I was pretty pessimistic, I admit.

About 11:30 that night, I heard some rustling around in the garage.  I wasn’t sure what had come in.  A cat, or one of the many raccoons?  I got up and opened the door to the garage, and saw a streak run towards me!  I had just enough time to figure out that the streak was orange before he was upon me like a bolt of lightning into the house.  Apparently he had enough of his secret outdoor mission.

He was dirty, and had sticky sap all over his paws, but was otherwise none the worse for the wear.  After washing him off and pulling off half of his paw fur in the process of trying to get the sap off (he did not like that ONE BIT but it serves him right!), I was finally able to get some sleep…

Who could resist that face?

Hopefully Oliver has had enough of these outdoor excursions, and won’t try to escape again soon.  I don’t think my poor body could take it…

 

Easter Tulips

Easter weekend I was sicker than I have been in a long time, and spent most of the weekend in bed, either asleep or feeling too congested, dizzy and/or nauseous to sleep.  I did manage to take a few hours to go with a friend to the Tulip Festival, and get some photos of the flowers.  It was my one outing for the weekend, and it left me absolutely exhausted, but it is the one time of year where you can get these amazing tulip photos, so I didn’t want to miss out!  Luckily, I am on the mend now, but am still not feeling fully well.  I am fortunate to live in such a beautiful place!

And, just for fun, a photo of me with longer hair, as I have been growing it out for several months now.

 

Happy weekend!

 

Book Review: 1944, by Jay Winik

1944: FDR and the Year that Changed History, by Jay Winik

This is a very well researched and well-written book. His writing style is easy to read, and not dry like some non-fiction. Really, my only complaint would be the title. This book is not about 1944. Or perhaps I should say, this book is not ONLY about 1944.

 

1944: FDR and the Year that Changed History, by Jay Winik

 

Winik goes into some detail about FDR’s upbringing, early life, marriage, early political career, and even touches on his long relationship with Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd. The bulk of the book focuses on the years of World War II, although it doesn’t stick to 1944. Winik describes the advance of the Germans through various countries, the persecution and murder of the Jews, and FDR’s several summits with Churchill and sometimes Stalin, negotiating the terms of the peace at the end of the war.

He tells the story of a few men who managed to escape from the concentrations camps and bring the story of what was happening there out to the world. They risked their lives, and did their best to try to save others. Reports were circulating throughout Europe with information on what was happening at the camps, and aerial surveillance footage was filmed that showed Auschwitz, with its crematoria and its starving inmates walking around within the enclosure. Sadly, those who were trying to get someone to do something just didn’t seem to have enough influence. The murders continued.

Winik speaks frankly about FDR’s shortcomings; his refusal to forcefully intervene to stop the extermination of the Jews, despite having knowledge before 1944 of their plight. Several men requested intervention, and although he was eventually willing to issue a statement, Roosevelt was never willing to order airstrikes or other military measures be used on the camps to shut them down. There was always another excuse. That said, Winik also spends quite some time discussing FDR’s strengths – his talent as an orator, and his ability to find common ground with anyone in order to negotiate an acceptable solution.

FDR’s medical history is also discussed in detail in the book, including the attempts by his doctors and closest aides to conceal the severity of his condition from the public, and even from Roosevelt himself, in the last years of his life. The truth is that Roosevelt was a chain smoker throughout his life, and congestive heart failure and other medical issues had surfaced by 1940. Many of his aides documented in their writings how poorly Roosevelt looked in the last months of his life, and his doctors urged him to take time away from the stress of the Presidency. Of course, we know how the story ends, in April 1945.

The book is long (I listened to the audiobook version), but kept me interested until the end. It is well worth the read.

You Leave Her Alone For Just a Minute…

Day 5: August 9, 2016

In my last post on the West trip, my mom and I went on the Fairgrounds Tour at Wind Cave National Park.  After we left there, we had plenty more touristing to do for the day, so we got on our way.  We planned to find a picnic area to have our picnic lunch, and see if we could spot any wildlife.  Jewel Cave has bison, elk, and a host of other critters, and it is right next to Custer State Park, which deserves a couple of posts on its own…

But anywhoo…  Looking for bison…  We saw a scenic viewpoint that looked out onto a grassy field, so we stopped so I could walk over the rise and see if there were any bison.  It was already hot that day, and mom didn’t want to go with me, so I left the car running so she could use the air conditioner.

I head off, trek over the rise, spot no bison, take a few photos of the view, and head back up the hill to the car.  I was gone less than 5 minutes.

I get back to find my mom, standing outside of the car, staring at it.  And the car has jumped the curb and is no less than 1/4″ from one of those solid, CCC-built rock walls with a lovely interpretive sign on top.  My first thought was, “Seriously, WTF are you doing Mom?  I just left you alone for a minute!”  It took me a couple more seconds for things to sink in.  Blame it on sleep deprivation…

This is mom’s version of events.  I popped out of the car, and head off over the hill, at which point the car starts to roll backwards toward the road.  So, she turns it off.  At which point, it starts rolling forward again, and slowly rolls toward the wall, jumps the curb and stops, miraculously, right before hitting the wall.  At which point she gets out and assesses the damage, and then meets me upon my return.

It was a rental car, so this could have been bad news, but even still, remember at the beginning of this trip log, I told you that our rental Subaru had already been beat to hell by a hailstorm right before we arrived?  I wonder if a few bumper scratches would have been any cause for concern.

Publicly, I am sticking to my story that nothing happened that day at that viewpoint in Wind Cave National Park.  Mom made up the whole thing… Because we all know that if you have no photos, it didn’t happen.  There’s nothing to see here, folks…

The scenic view at Wind Cave.  No bison…  No cars…

Things I Learned Today…

  1. Either taking 1 sleeping pill affects me enough so that I still feel groggy 18 hours later, or I am still very sick…
  2. Some people will come right out and tell you how lazy they are, although usually not in so many words.
  3. When you think you truly cannot go on for one more minute, go outside and listen to the birds.  It helps.
  4. Sometimes a random text from a complete stranger with no agenda really does brighten your day a little.

I took this photo on a walk at the university last week – I do live in a beautiful place.

Cherry blossoms in bloom

West 2016: Wind Cave NP

Day 5: August 9, 2016

We had a lot planned for the fifth day of our road trip, so we got up, headed out early, grabbed some breakfast stuff and a picnic lunch at the grocery store, and made our way the few miles over to Wind Cave National Park.

Me posing with the Entrance Sign

We wound our way up to the top of the hill, headed into the Visitor’s Center, and purchased our tickets for The Fairgrounds Tour!  The Fairgrounds Tour is the most strenuous of the regular tours, and to be honest, I was a little surprised that I got my mom to agree to it (I may have “forgotten” to tell her exactly how many stairs there are…).  This 90 minute tour goes into both the upper and middle sections of the cave, and has 450 stairs along a 2/3 mile route.  The hardest part is a stairway – of course leading up! – with 89 steps.  At any rate, mom did fine… The tour guide walks really slow and there is a lot of stopping to look at different features of the cave.  Sadly though, being so far underground meant my FitBit didn’t record my steps…  So, now to the good part…

We headed down into the cave by elevator, 19 stories below the surface.  The tour begins in the middle section of the cave, and we were greeted by intricate boxwork in a honeycomb pattern in the first areas of the tour.  They don’t really know how boxwork forms, but one theory is that it is the result of intensely fractured limestone which gets filled in by calcite that is carried by groundwater.  Over time, the remaining limestone gets washed away, leaving the calcite boxes.  Boxwork is extremely fragile, so you aren’t allowed to touch it – the cave could literally break off in your hands.

Boxwork on the ceiling of Wind Cave

 

A closeup of the Boxwork

During our tour, we then moved into the upper section of the cave, which looks quite a bit different than the middle section.  There really isn’t much boxwork here – instead there is chert, which is like flint in that it is composed of silica, but it isn’t as grainy (but you don’t know that by touching, because remember, touching is not allowed…).

We also saw areas with lots of cave popcorn, which looks like fluffy puffs of popcorn – and is a more common feature of many caves.  We were also treated to the Fairgrounds Room, where there are benches in front of the Frostwork Ledge.  It gave us an up close and personal view of the frostwork in Wind Cave, which are crystal formations of calcium carbonate that are formed when water slowly seeps out of the walls of the cave and then evaporates.  The frostwork is beautiful!

Cave Popcorn

 

A closeup of the cave popcorn, with frostwork

In the Fairgrounds Room, our tour guide turned off the lights, so we could experience the absolute pitch blackness of the cave.  You can’t see a thing, and your eyes won’t get used to the darkness, because there is no light to pick up on.  Imagine trying to explore the cave with only candlelight!  The Fairgrounds Room was discovered in 1892, so explorers at that time really were making do with just a candle or a dim lantern.

The last portion of the cave tour is downhill once again, before ending back at the elevators for the ride back up!

Again on the surface, we went through the gift shop for postcards and my National Park Passport stamp.

I also took a short walk over to see the natural entrance to the cave, the one that was discovered by Tom and Jesse Bingham back in 1881.  They have built a little rock wall around it, but otherwise it is basically the same as it was 135 years ago – a small hole in the ground, giving away nothing about the wonders that lie beneath.

The natural entrance to Wind Cave

We had to get on our way, as we still had plenty that we wanted to do with our day, but what a fantastic visit!

Have you been to Wind Cave – what did you think?

Costs and Fees: No charge to visit Wind Cave National Park.  The Fairgrounds Tour is $12 per adult, and $6 for seniors.  Photos are allowed in the cave, even with flash, but be courteous and make sure you aren’t using your flash in people’s eyes…