Runtrails' Web Journal
Previous       2012 Journal Topics       Home       Next



"Whether you take a hike, pitch at tent, or just drive through, [Custer State Park]   
prides itself in making memories that will last a lifetime. I challenge you to
reconnect with nature and the outdoors while exploring our beautiful park."
~ introduction from the park superintendent in the 2012 Custer State Park guide

This is the best state park we've ever visited, which is why we keep coming back. It has everything we love -- thick forests, mountains, interesting granite spires, lakes and streams, winding roads with tunnels and pigtail bridges, lots of trails, and an abundance of wildlife including free-roaming bison, elk, several kinds of deer, burros, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, mountain lions, coyotes, and many smaller critters.

One of several narrow tunnels in Custer State Park

Today we both covered a lot of territory in the park -- Jim on his bike, me on my feet and in the truck. I'll cover Jim's bike ride on this page and my hike on subsequent pages.


This was another perfectly beautiful, sunny day in the 60s and 70s F. with only a few clouds and a little bit of wind. It was warmer in Rapid City and our campground at Ellsworth AFB than it was down in the Black Hills, which are at a higher altitude. 

We drove to Hill City via US 16 and 385. Jim got breakfast at Subway, then began riding his bike from Hill City south to the town of Custer on the Mickelson Trail.

Here's a map section that shows Jim's route today:

Last year Jim rode the entire 109-mile George S. Mickelson Trail in one day while I crewed for him:

Scenic setting along the Mickelson Trail:  bench, rock wall, tunnel

Jim riding near the southern end of the trail

This is a beautiful multi-use crushed rock rail-trail with interesting wooden bridges and tunnels. It  passes through scenic forested land, canyons, meadows, and several small historic towns through the Black Hills.

Jim doesn't like to stop to take photos when he's riding his bike but he obliged with a few today. The first pictures he took were of the unfinished Crazy Horse Memorial between Hill City and Custer:


Neither of us has been back to the memorial itself but we've had good views from the bike trail.

Every year before the buffalo roundup at Custer State Park there is a contest for artists to paint fiberglass bison. The painted masterpieces are displayed in the town of Custer until they are auctioned off during roundup weekend.

Jim took this picture of one of the bison in Custer today:

Someday I'd love to go to that auction, not to buy a bison but to see who buys them and what kind of prices they command. It's fun to see them displayed later on at businesses that purchased them. The one shown above is in front of the Chamber of Commerce.

Here's a typical store you'll find in historic Western tourist towns:


Jim got off the main Mickelson Trail in Custer and rode east on the spur trail to Stockade Lake in Custer State Park.

Along the way he spotted this group of wild turkeys in a field:

Although the spur trail stops at the western end of the lake, the narrow paved road around the lake is good for bike riding.

Jim took these photos as he rode around the lake :




By the lake he found this memorial to Anna Donna Tallent, the first white woman to live in the Black Hills:

Ms. Tallent, a teacher and writer, moved from New York state to Custer, South Dakota in 1874. The monument was erected by a group called the Society of Black Hills Pioneers and Tallent's "many admirers."


After looping around the lake Jim rode about 12 miles on paved US 16a through the park to the cabins near the Norbeck Visitor Center.

This road is more heavily traveled but he didn't have any trouble with traffic. Most folks were going the 35-45 MPH speed limit so they could spot wildlife and enjoy the bright fall colors.

Along the way Jim stopped to photograph these bison grazing within feet of the highway:


Up to 1,300 bison live in the park in the spring and summer. This time of year most of the large herd has been corralled in the southern part of the park for the very popular annual Buffalo Roundup event that is open to the public. About 15,000 people attended this year's staged roundup on Monday the 24th.

In late September it's harder to find any bison wandering around like this. These are probably older animals that won't be sold this fall or produce any more offspring.

The bison herd is partially culled annually so the remaining animals will be healthier. Rangers keep the numbers consistent with the available natural food supply in the park during the winter. The bison selected for the auction in November are purchased by both individuals and businesses.

The several hundred bison that aren't sold are physically examined, vaccinated, branded, sorted, and released to roam around the park again in October. Babies born in the spring will increase the numbers in the herd up to about 1,300 animals again.

I attended the buffalo roundup last year. I highly recommend visitors see this phenomenon at least once in their lifetimes. It's a great way to turn an annual ranger chore into an exciting event.


Jim patiently waited in the shade near the cabins for me to pick him up. He enjoyed his 40-mile bike ride but the 1-hour wait at the end for me to arrive with the truck was understandably tiring . . .  

At least he had some entertainment while he waited for me. A group of more than a dozen bighorn sheep wandered into his view, grazing near the cabins and another building:


I love these photos of the sheep parading in a long line past the building, which looks like a little chapel:



The sheep were close enough to hear his phone ring when I called him and scattered in fear. I saw them farther down the road as we were driving past the game lodge after I picked Jim up.

I also saw about ten deer in small groups as I drove on SD 87 through the park on my way to meet Jim but I didn't see any large game while Cody and I were hiking.

Next entrymy hike around Sylvan Lake and up to Harney Peak

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the ultra Lab

Previous       Next

2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil