Custer’s State Park and the Devil’s Tower: Not to Miss

The Big Trip Out West

Though I haven’t even been home for more than a month, I’ve been pretty busy. Almost immediately after coming home, my family and Julia set out on a great adventure west. We wanted to see some of our nation’s most beautiful parks during the Centennial of the National Parks Service. Our goal was to visit the Badlands, the Corn Palace, Custer’s State Park, Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Craters of the Moon, Crater Lake, Redwoods State Park, Yosemite, King’s Canyon, Sequoias, Moab, Canyonlands, Arches, the world’s best cinnamon roll at Glen Haven, and Trail Ridge Road. But even the perfect plan can have its bumps and amazing surprises. Come along on the journey, as I’ll be posting each day (and roughly each park) throughout the next few months.

Day Three of the Great Adventure

Rocket Motel, Custer, South Dakota

This morning, we woke to cold weather. A solid 37°F and lots of wind. Last night, mom and I had hatched secret plans to get an amazing breakfast. There is a little place called 1881 Bank Café that lives in the old Custer bank. Unfortunately, this whole town seems to shut down for the season the moment snow starts hovering on the horizon. The other breakfast places we tried were also closed, so we opted for peanut butter sandwiches in the car.

Following Custer’s Wildlife Loop

We set out in the misty morning toward the Custer Wildlife area. In the first few miles of the loop, we found some antelope and deer wandering around before running into a lone buffalo.

Custer's Wildlife Loop, South Dakota

At the time, we were so amazed to have seen even one buffalo, so we stopped and gawked at it for a while. A bit further along the loop, we encountered some groundhogs. They were amazing! Little groundhog butts, bouncing along with wind-up toys. The groundhogs even stood up and barked at each other!

Custer's Wildlife Loop, South Dakota

Later in the loop, we encountered a huge herd of buffalo. Since it’s nearing winter, the rangers round up all of the buffalo into these large corrals where they can have their checkups. Moms and weak calves even get special treatment after their shots, as they are kept in the corrals and fed a supplemented diet throughout the winter.

Custer's Wildlife Loop, South Dakota

There were hundreds of buffalo in these corrals. It was truly a breathtaking sight. Incidentally, there is also a herd of wild donkeys in Custer, the descendants of donkeys left behind years ago. Much nosier than the buffalo, the donkeys tried to stick their heads into our car windows and give us a big lick.

Tunnels, Tunnels Everywhere!

After the Custer loop, we hopped onto 16A toward Keystone and followed Iron Mountain Road. This was a special tip from a motorcyclist that we encountered this morning at our hotel.

Needles Highway, South Dakota

Iron Mountain Road is much like the Needles Highway, where you pass in and out of rock tunnels. However, there is a very special tunnel on this road that perfectly frames Mt. Rushmore in the background. Completing our figure eight, we followed the Needles Highway and passed by the real Needles rock formation around 1 pm. And Julia found a treasured heart shaped rock!

Our journey ended in Custer, where we picked up pumpkin spice lattes from Espresso and More and groceries at Lynne’s supermarket. Since the town is mostly shut down, we dined in the car on potato salad and wraps.

Open Range, South Dakota

Devil’s Tower

Devil's TowerThere is a Native American origin story for Devil’s Tower. Seven princesses were out in the wilderness one day, enjoying the beautiful sunshine. Out of the woods appeared three very large and angry bears that surrounded the defenseless princesses. They all clambered on top of a large rock and began to pray to the gods to save them.

Devil's Tower

 

The gods then began to raise the rock high in the air where the princesses would be safe. But today, you can still see the claw marks on the rock face where the bears attempted to climb up and devour the princesses.

Thankfully, there were no bears present during our visit. We arrived at Devil’s Tower at 5:30 pm to some ominous black clouds and cold weather. We bundled up against the 48° weather and headed out on the footpath that surrounds the whole tower. There were no casualties on this hike, although Zach almost stepped on a very young and very, very angry rattlesnake while he was taking photos! All of us carefully tiptoed around it and continued on our way. Just be careful and keep your eyes peeled!

Devil's Tower

By the time we finished our route around the Tower, the darkness had descended upon the rock face. We stood there in the darkness for a bit while Zach took some nighttime photos, then headed toward Cody, Wyoming.

A Late Night Drive

Somehow in the night, we took a wrong turn and ended up dipping into Montana! I know, I know, it doesn’t really count as being there unless I see it in the daylight. But hey, Montana! Later that evening, we stopped in at Dayton to find a place to take a comfort break. These towns out here are so small that they function a lot like Ferdinand: everything closes at 7 pm. We managed to find a bar with a lot of character and ended up chatting to the bartender for a while. Turns out, she had actually been in a rodeo and had photos to prove it on the walls!

The locals gave us directions to take 14 up the mountain as there had been a threat of snow on 14A. However, a dense fog had settled on the mountain that evening. At the peak of the mountain, we encountered a trucker who had pulled over in the fog. That evening, we had been telling Julia about Peewee Herman’s “Large Marge,” so all of us froze up when we saw the pulled over truck! Was it a ghost? (It was just a sweet old man who couldn’t go down the mountain in the fog and was waiting out the weather, but still…)

Finally, we arrived at Cody Cowboy Village at 1:45 am. Mom had found a cool wooden cabin with a wooden ceiling and huge, comfy beds. We all settled in for a long, warm night as the snow started falling outside. All of us were dreaming of Yellowstone the next day.

Be kind to one another,

Natalie

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