Tag Archive | Bison

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.

West 2016: Theodore Roosevelt NP Wildlife

Day 2: August 6, 2016

In addition to hiking and exploring the scenery at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, my mom and I also got the chance to do lots of wildlife spotting.  TRNP has a lot of critters, big and small!  Soon after entering the park, we came across the first of many prairie dogs towns.  These guys are so cute!  The little sentries watching out for the others!  They scurry around and chew on little blades of grass.  So much cuteness!  I was absolutely enthralled, and we spent a lot of time just watching the little guys from the car.

A Prairie Dog running!

A Prairie Dog running!

These were some of the first prairie dogs we saw on the trip, but I never got tired of them!  Dear Readers, by the time this trip series is over, you might be tired of prairie dog pictures!

Prairie Dogs with their Sentry

Prairie Dogs with their Sentry

When we got our fill of managed to tear ourselves away from the prairie dogs, we moved on to our next order of business – large animal spotting.  It didn’t take long.  Just a few miles into the park we drove right into our first bison jam!  And we were right at the beginning of the line, so we got an amazing view!  Mamas and babies and big male bison too!  They were literally just wandering down the middle of the road, and were entirely unconcerned by the presence of the cars.

A bison baby trying to bully "Daddy"

A bison baby trying to bully “Daddy”

 

A brand new baby!

A brand new baby!

My next order of business was wild horses.  A whole herd of wild horses!  Technically these horses are feral horses; animals that that have returned to an untamed state from domestication.  After the Spanish brought modern horses to the new world, some animals escaped or were left and bred and ran wild throughout the West.  The horses in the park are descended from those.  The Park Service did try to round up and remove horses from the park until 1970, when it was acknowledged that they were a part of the cultural history of the park. Now they manage the herds, but mostly let them be.

Wild horses on the hill

Wild horses on the hill

We drove down the scenic loop in the park, and at one point considered driving down a gravel road where my mom thought she remembered seeing them on a previous trip to the park, but ultimately we decided to stay on the main road and there they were! Many of the horses in the bands are paints and blue and red roans, adding quite a bit of color!  They hung out on a hill together and I was able to get some really awesome photos of them.  I have seen wild horses on my travels before, but it has generally just been a solitary horse far away.  This was a great experience, being so close to such beautiful creatures!

I loved the color variations of the horses at the park

I loved the color variations of the horses at the park

 

Bison wandering

Bison wandering

After finding yet another huge herd of bison, and more wild horses, we made our way back to the exit, and got some photos with the entrance sign.  We headed east to stop at the east entrance of the park, for a special assignment.  During the summer of 1978, when I was two years old, we had been to Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park and had taken pictures of the entrance sign – I really am my mother’s child!  It is a little different now, because it has since become a National Park, but they still had the same sign!  You can see the remaining holes where they removed the metal letters  for the Memorial Park sign…

It looks like I dressed myself - dress shoes with that getup?!

It looks like I dressed myself – dress shoes with that getup?!

So this time we found a nice couple with their kids who helped us pose and create the photos, trying to match them as much as well could to the photos from 1978.  My mom stood in for my brother, so they aren’t perfect, but it was the best we could do as my brother couldn’t go on the trip with us.  I don’t think we did too badly!  Even though I am still really short, I was obviously much shorter when I was two…

Mom got the easier challenge. My dorky pose in 1978 was a hard act to master...

Mom got the easier challenge. My dorky pose in 1978 was a hard act to master…

After our picture taking extravaganza, we had a two hour drive to Belle Fourche, South Dakota; on the way we stopped in Bowman, North Dakota at Windy’s Bar and Grill.  I had a Swiss Mushroom burger and salad, it was very good and very reasonably priced!

Along the drive to Belle Fourche we started seeing the first of many motorcycles that we would encounter on our trip; we were going to be in South Dakota during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally!  We also saw quite a few pronghorn and mule deer.  And one dead porcupine…  It was a gorgeous sunset too!

We passed fields of sunflowers on our evening drive

We passed fields of sunflowers on our evening drive

Gas: $2.35/gal.  – $26.02 for the fill up.
Distance for the Day: 253 miles (4 hours)
Hotel for the night: EconoLodge – Belle Fourche, SD

Moab 2015: Antelope Island

We were about to have a wonderful wildlife viewing experience!  We had most of the day to spend at Antelope Island near Salt Lake City, and we were determined to make the most of our day.  We started at the Visitor’s Center (postcards!), which had a board showing where different animals were hanging out that day.  It also had a tank full of brine shrimp, so you could see how little they were.  A fully grown brine shrimp is 12 mm at the largest.

Entering Antelope Island State Park!

Entering Antelope Island State Park!

Then we drove over to check out the Fielding Garr Ranch.  On the way, we were treated to up-close views of several bison, who were lying down resting in the grass.  They were huge!  It was really neat to see them, and they were totally undisturbed as I snapped a million pictures from the car.

A  Bison relaxing at Antelope Island

A Bison relaxing at Antelope Island

The ranch has lots of outbuildings in addition to the main house, so there is lots to check out.  We wandered around looking at old tools, old tractors, old cars, and storage buildings.  The ranch has a couple of root cellars too.  The adobe main house was built in 1848.  It had plumbing and electricity added at some point, but it is still very rustic.  Not a luxury bathroom by any stretch of the imagination.

The Fielding Garr Adobe House - Built 1848- Adobe Architectural Style

The Fielding Garr Adobe House – Built 1848- Adobe Architectural Style

An antique Case Tractor

An antique Case Tractor

The ranch has a cook’s wagon onsite that was really interesting.  I have no idea when it was built, but it was definitely loaded!  It had a bed, and all sorts of cubbyholes for storing cooking supplies!  It was kind of fun to think about the cook with this wagon following the cowboys around and preparing their meals while they were out of the range.

The exterior of the Cook's Wagon

The exterior of the Cook’s Wagon

The interior of the Cook's Wagon

The interior of the Cook’s Wagon

After the ranch, we went and found the trail head for the Frary Peak hike.  Jon chose this hike after having driven by it on the way to the ranch, not knowing that it is the most strenuous hike on the island.  We ate our picnic lunch at the trail head before heading out on the hike.

The hike starts with a fairly steep route up the hillside, so I had to take lots of rest breaks.  It has fabulous views of the island, the Great Salt Lake, and the Wasatch mountains beyond.  The whole hike is 3.08 miles each way, with a chance to see Bighorn Sheep near the mountain peak.

We decided not to go all the way though, because Jon didn’t want to exert himself too much just a couple of days before his half marathon.  Which was fine with me, because it was a tough hike!  We ended up hiking about 1.3 miles each way.

The view on the Frary Peak Hike

The view on the Frary Peak Hike

On the way down, we came across a very vocal, cute striped bird.  Another hiker told me that it was a chukar.  Apparently chukars are not native to the United States; they are native to Europe and the Middle East and were introduced to the U.S. as a game bird.  You wouldn’t know it though, as this guy seemed well at home.

A Chukar!  A type of partridge.  I love those stripes!

A Chukar! A type of partridge. I love those stripes!

After the Frary Peak hike, we checked out the other side of the island.  There is a restaurant there, where you can dine on bison burgers.  It also has good access to the lake, so we walked down the metal gangway to see it close up.  It was much less impressive than I expected.  We did the obligatory pics with the lake and headed back to the car.

 

The Great Salt Lake - Meh...

The Great Salt Lake – Meh…

As we were driving away from the restaurant, I saw something out of the corner of my eye.  I looked over and saw a Burrowing Owl!  He (or she) was hanging out by the burrow, calm as could be.  What a treat to see!  I took many photos of that beautiful, little owl.

A Burrowing Owl!  What an experience to see this guy (or gal)!

A Burrowing Owl! What an experience to see this guy (or gal)!

We wrapped up our day with a few more photos of bison, and of a beautiful Western Meadowlark, before we departed from Antelope Island.

A Bison grazing on Antelope Island

A Bison grazing on Antelope Island

A gorgeous Western Meadowlark

A gorgeous Western Meadowlark

We had a fantastic day; I would recommend it to anyone who wants a great nature experience.

Have you been to Antelope Island?  What was your favorite part of your visit?