08/20 - Day 3 of my vacation was the highlight so far.
In the morning, late morning, I was starving and learned that Wall Drug has a cafe. So I visited Wall Drug, which is sort of a drug store meets general store meets flea market meets cracker barrel meets mystery spot. It’s full of all sorts of old trinkets and crap that old ladies and little kids like to buy. But, I did have an excellent breakfast moments before the 11am cutoff. Also, all the touristy stuff aside it did have a pretty cool fossil store which had life sized replica casts of dinosaur bones, skulls, etc.
After buzzing through Wall Drug and grabbing the free bumper sticker I headed back to the Badlands as I didn’t finish driving through the park. I visited dirt trails that had not yet viewed when I ran out of sunlight the night before and after spending two days there I think I have more appreciation for what an amazing place it is. Also, I finally saw my first wild buffalo! But… it was off on the horizon. I could only barely tell it was a buffalo with my 400mm camera lens, he was so far away the heat was putting a mirage in front of him.
I was also welcomed to my first prairie dog village. I could tell I was welcome because as I approached all the prairie dogs began yelling at me and to each other. I could tell they were very excited to see me.
I took the scenic highway heading south towards the buffalo grasslands and the southern part of the Badlands. The day before a lady at one of the visitor’s centers recommended I skip taking the scenic drive, but I ignored her advise. I feel like she was trying to X-Files me by leading me away from the scenic drive, which made me only want to go there even more! Glad I did, it had some gorgeous views and took me all the way around the Badlands park. Also, I got to see my first wild buffalo up close, four of them. I got some great shots of these.
Drove through Sioux territory. Due to construction had to wait 20 minutes for construction escort vehicle, talked with the construction traffic moderator who was a Native American. While waiting visited the Sioux visitor center and got up close and personal with a very large stuffed mountain lion. Did not realize how big these things are.
From there, headed towards Custer State Park which is part of the Black Hills area. The park has a herd of 1300 bison that roam freely through the park, but they’re all tagged and the herd is thinned depending on the expected amount of grassland vegetation available to them. I knew it was likely I would see some buffalo, but I didn’t think it was a sure thing; so I was very surprised when 5 minutes after entering the park I was blocked from driving to the visitor’s center by about 150 buffalo walking through the visitor’s center. The park enforcement ranger was bumping them with his truck to get them out of the road. Once stopped directly in front of me and decided to drop what appeared to be a couple gallons of Bear Grylles survival lemonade. You’re supposed to stay away from the bison and not approach them as they can be dangerous; however, in this situation there were kids at the visitors center that were within 20 feet of these guys.
I snapped some photos and then headed to the game lodge as I was starving and it was the closest restaurant. I felt a tad bit under dressed as it was a white cloth dining area and the menu was fairly upscale. So, I dropped $40 on a buffalo rib-eye on a bed of asparagus mixed with carrots and potatoes. Delicious! I couldn’t help but notice that they seated me next to a giant stuffed mountain lion in the game lodge as well. Damn those things are scary! Since I splurged on dinner I decided to go frugal on accommodations and figured out where there was primitive camping allowed which was in a canyon/valley in the middle of the park where you could hike in and camp anywhere. There was a sign in sheet and a $6 camping fee. What I failed to realize was that the sign-in sheets were on each end of the trail, but I was entering in the middle since the map indicated there was access there.
It was a pretty remote spot in the park, took awhile driving on dirt roads that were absent of other people, but when I got to the parking lot there was one other car parked there with hikers. This was the point when I realized I wasn’t quite following the rules though as there was no sign-up sheet. Also, it was already dark at this point and I was thinking you could just walk into this area and set up camp. So, in the dark I started packing my camping gear in a very disorganized and unthoughtful manner which included me carrying my sleeping bag. Then I took off down the trail (after emailing my Dad where exactly I was going and to expect to hear from me the next day). The trail ended up being more difficult and steeper than I thought, so the first flatish spot I could find after hiking for about 20 minutes I set up my tent, not really sure if what I was doing was “legal” as far as park rules are concerned. At this point I was either going to get eaten by a mountain lion or fall and then get eaten by a mountain lion.
While setting up my tent all I could think about was that mountain lion at the Sioux Info Center and the other mountain lion at the game lodge. Well, that and the snapping of twigs and rocks rolling all around me in the dark. After I got things set up and I was safely separated from any mountain lions by a super light and thin sheet of synthetic fiber and screening I layed myself peacefully to rest while clutching my 11.5” Ontario Knives Spec Plus Navy Divers dagger and listening carefully to the horrendous sounds coming from the blackness that surrounded me.
At first I was certain that I was being stalked by a lion, but then after additional sounds were made out I determined it to be what I believe to be some strange sounding birds and squirrels moving around and making a ruckus; HOWEVER, there were a couple of recurring sounds that give me goose bumps while typing this in the safety of my hotel room tonight. There were some Jurassic Park sounds coming from above that narrow valley I was lying in. The one sound, which I wish I could have recorded could have been either a large cat or some terrifying bird. This usually repeated 2 or 3 times in succession and only happened twice. Once after I got up in the morning and could see. The other sound could have been some sort of canine, perhaps coyote or werewolf; or BigFoot. Nothing I heard sounded like Bison which was another fear, getting stepped on by a clumsy herd of bison.
I am very tired from getting up at 5:45am today so I have not bothered to proof read this, hope it makes sense. I’ll leave you with this cliffhanger:
Did I survive the night? To Be Continued…
- stevebumbaugh posted this