We got to spend a lot of ‘up-close’ time with buffalo and donkeys at Custer State Park in Western South Dakota. We didn’t have a choice. They blocked the road.
I’m sure you have noticed. Peggy and I have been alternating our Monday posts between our US travel and overseas travel. The US posts tend to focus on nature while our overseas posts usually focus on culture and history. These are only guidelines, however, as Captain Jack Sparrow might note, not hard and fast rules. Today’s post is on the buffalo and donkeys of Custer State Park in western South Dakota. Next Monday we will visit the Black Forest of Germany. All photos in today’s post are taken by either Peggy or me.
Western South Dakota is truly worth visiting. Peggy and I checked out Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Black Hills Institute of Geologic Research with its great collection of dinosaur bones on our trip through there last fall. We also slipped a few miles across the border into Wyoming to visit Devil’s Tower. We’ve already done posts on the Badlands and Devil’s Tower. Including today, we have six more posts on the area, which reflects how interesting we found it.
Would you like to have your own buffalo? How big is your backyard? I’m serious. The annual buffalo roundup was taking place at Custer State Park while we were there. The maximum number of buffalo the park can hold is limited to around 1500 given how much land the animals need for grazing. All of them, except the large bulls, are rounded up and herded into corrals where they are sorted according to sex, size, age, health, etc. Enough are then sold off to keep the herd healthy. You can buy one. Bring your truck. The whole roundup is a big deal. Cowboys from all over the West (and probably beyond) volunteer to help. But first, they have to apply and prove they have the necessary skills. There’s a long waiting list. We were going to go until I learned that some 20,000 people would be there. We’d have to show up three hours early and could be expected to be stuck in traffic for at least an hour afterward. We watched the video instead.
This brings us to the donkeys. I like them. Next to dogs and cats, they are my favorite domesticated animal. We even have one. He travels with us…
The past 12 months of our travel could have been called the Year of the Donkey. They were everywhere it seemed— certainly in the remote lands of the West where they roam wild. Theirs ancestors served as pack animals for hopeful gold miners. We also saw lots of them in Egypt where they have worked for thousands of years pulling carts, serving as pack animals, and even providing transportation. They still do. We even discovered one in Germany’s Black Forest, as you will see in next Monday’s post.
They were waiting for us in Custer State Park, They knew where the tourists would be stopping to let the buffalo pass. But unlike the buffalo, whose intention, I noted, was to get across the road, they held drivers hostage.
That’s it for today. Next week it’s on to the Black Forest of Germany and the wrap-up for our Rhine cruise.
33 thoughts on “Custer State Park, SD… Where the Buffalo Are Bison and the Donkeys Are, uh, Donkey-ish.”
Most of the world would not understand a roadblock of donkeys and bisons.
Laughing. I suspect you are right, Peggy.
Perhaps if we ever get together in person, I’ll tell you of our very memorable experience with a donkey with a bent ear in Oatman, but it isn’t appropriate for a public blog.
On the other hand, I can share that we experienced our first “crossing guard” buffalo in the Wichita Nature Preserve and saw another in Custer State Park. But back then, I don’t think the herd was so huge. The roundup must be impressive to see and even more impressive to take part in.
We watched buffalo misbehaving in Oatman, Ray. Maybe it was similar to your experience, except the ears weren’t part of the action. 🙂
You can see videos of the round up. It certainly gives to meaning to the term ‘thundering herd.’
We, too, loved Custer State Park (and the whole state of S. Dakota, too)! We were trapped for about an hour and a half by buffalo going wherever they go at dusk. Fortunately, however, we didn’t have donkeys sticking their heads in our windows. But what a memory!
Happy, safe travels to you both.
Thanks, Rusha. I think I remember your reporting on the buffalo road blocks. 🙂 I was impressed with South Dakota. Especially the western part! –Curt
Excellent bison and donkey photos!
A 2018 paper in ScienceDirect looked at historical documents and scientific papers that suggest unsustainable numbers of bison died primarily from disease, environment changes, habitat degradation, overgrazing and loss of established human management by First Nations. Records suggest hunters killed less than the annual increase.
Clearly range management today recognizes the lessons from the past – how many bison can the land support.
Thanks, it was fun taking the photos.
No doubt there were a variety of reasons for the buffalos demise. Nature has a way of dealing with over population… except for humans. Grin. But when you see photos of the thousands and thousands of buffalo hides stacked up and the thousands and thousands of miles of barbed wire strung, we all get to share the blame.
Ya gotta love that sign about petting the fluffy cows! Good to know the Forest Rangers have a sense of humor!
I almost bought one, G. Actually it was put out by a clever entrepreneur. 🙂 Rangers do have a sense of humor but it grows rather thin when it comes to human/buffalo encounters…
I should think so. 😏
I love them all and the sign about the fluffy cows!
Thanks Cindy. People probably remember the fluffy cow warning much better than the usual, “You might get Gored. ” 🙂
I recall one of my dad’s favourite jokes –
“What.s the difference between a buffalo and a bison?
“You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo”
Dad humor for sure, Andrew.
I hope you saw the bison dig site in Hot Springs, too. Western Nebraska also has several interesting sights – Agate Springs National Monument, Scottsbluff National Monument, Fort Robinson, Carhenge, the Hudson-Meng Bison Kill Research & Visitor Center, the FurTade Museum, and more.
So many places, so little time, Doug. Thank you for mentioning them. Which would you say is the best? –Curt
I personally like the Agate Springs site because it features viewable in situ both fossils of Miocene mammals and artifacts that were given to James Cook by Red Cloud in thanks for friendship and inviting Rd Cloud and his band to safely stay there during the events that led up to the Wounded Knee Massacre, roughly 80 miles/ 129 km away. On the other hand, you hit most of the best of Western SD, all of which I never tire of.
Thanks, Doug. I’ve added it to my list of places to visit.
The travel area is fairly compact, making a day or two to visit all a possibility. Of course, you would want to return to SD to visit the mammoth dig site in Hot Springs, which has an excellent visitor’s center built over it, and Wind Cave, tough that take a fair amount of time to do.
Of course… 🙂
This post brings back many happy memories of our two visits to the Black Hills and Custer State Park. Back when we were still traveling in our fifth wheel we planned a trip out west around camping in Custer State Park for a few days. Sometimes there were bison just outside our campground. The donkeys were begging for carrots even back in 2011! Thanks for this post!
Always pleased when we can bring back happy memories. Thanks for letting us know. –Curt
What a sight to see buffalo crossing the road, Curt! Fabulous pics and I love the two heads are better than one of the donkeys. And your humorous narrative adds to the fun! Thanks for sharing! I don’t know if I’ll get to experience this, so at least through your blog, I have. 🙂
Glad you enjoyed the tale, Lauren. Thanks. And the way buffalo are being reintroduced to a number of areas, maybe you will get your chance. I was thrilled to see the elk when they were re-introduced to Pt. Reys. And the elephant seals (who reintroduced themselves, I believe) what gorgeous creatures.
Great post, Curt! I love all your bison shots – just beautiful. And thank you for the educational information about herds being slaughtered as part of the U.S. policy of removing Natives’ food source. Those donkeys were too cute to be annoying, and I agree with your choice of the best one of all: that whacky donkey is 100% character. I have not spent much time in the Dakotas and I think I would enjoy the area immensely.
I was impressed with the Dakotas far more than I thought I would be, Crystal. There are four more blogs to come!
As for the ‘white’ donkey, I have a special place in my heart/mind for characters.
The information about the Army’s policy certainly wasn’t something we were ever taught in school. I wonder if it is now.
Thanks as always for your fun and thoughtful comments. 🙂
Looks like you got buffaloed (bisoned?) into good press for those four-legged roadblocks. I can only imagine what a herd of thousands would look like thundering my direction…
Like “How fast can I vacate the premises?”
One of our first family vacations was to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Being Iowans, anything having to do with corn topped our list; I can’t remember even knowing that bison lived in the state. Thank goodness we can grow and learn. Today, one of my cherished souvenirs is the hank of hair a Tallgrass Prairie ranger pulled off an animal for me — from the window of the jeep we were riding through the herd.
When it comes to bison, the Goodnight connection in the Panhandle is critical. The herd now living on the Caprock is descended from those animals, and in ways I don’t fully understand their genetic line has been used to strengthen herds in different places. So much is owed those folks. Mary Ann Goodnight felt sorry for the orphaned bison calves that hunters left; her willingness to adopt and raise them helped ensure buffalo still roaming around as companions for those playing antelopes (and donkeys!).
Thanks for that addition on the Goodnights. I knew that ranchers played a n important part but was unaware of the Goodnight role. The challenge on the genetic front is that cattle and buffalo breed easily. It’s hard to find buffalo without cattle genes.
I went to the Corn Palace in 1999. I’ve driven by it a few times since. It fits my love of weird.
love it Curt.. stopping for the big fluffy cows, and donkeys in the windows….twins maybe. Grin… . lol Great pics and stories Curt! 💞
Glad you enjoyed it Cindy. It was certainly fun being there.
Twins possibly. They certainly looked like each other. Or bonded mates. No one is quite sure what criteria donkeys use in picking out their partners. 🙂