Custer State Park and Mammoth Site

Our second morning in South Dakota, we hopped out of bed, had our healthy breakfast at Aunt Joyce’s house, and headed up to see whether we could beat the crowd to Mt. Rushmore.

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We took lots of combinations of family pictures. We probably should have just flagged down a stranger and asked for him to capture us all at once. Yen’s (understandably) fussy about who he allows to touch his camera, though, and has established the rule of only letting someone with an equally impressive set-up take the photo. He’s not worried about someone dropping it, but he knows that people who shoot photos using their iPads won’t be able to figure out how to focus. We saw no such person milling about, so you have to sit through three different configurations. Poor you!

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Here’s Borglum, the guy who dreamed up the whole thing. We actually started down the hill to visit his studio and to take the trail that would lead us under the presidents’ noses. But there were just so many steps that I vetoed and we got back into the car.

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We did make sure to follow Aunt Joyce’s instructions and looked for the little turn-off where we could see just a little sliver of Washington’s profile.

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Then we carried on with our drive through the hills and into Custer Park. We were a bit worried about doing this, as it was a special day of free admission into the park, and we expected crowds. There were quite a few people there, but nothing like what we’re used to after visiting during Bike Week.

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And here was our first REAL bison of the trip. Just a bachelor off on his own.

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More prairie dogs, naturally.

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I picked out a walk for us. I chose it because it was advertised as 2 miles (about my limit before I hit the wall), and because the elevation change was only 300 feet. Of course that elevation change was not cumulative, and we found ourselves in a little saddle, climbing up once again after having come down. It was a nice walk, though. Even if it did turn out to be rather more than 2 miles.

Enough complaining. It started here, going through a few trees. Dad was smarter than the rest of us and had his walking stick. David put on his backpack as training for the more serious hiking he’ll be doing in New Mexico in a couple of weeks. He graciously carried everyone’s water so he’d have the extra weight.

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After leaving the trees, we found ourselves on a prairie hillside and set up. Look at them letting me lead the way! Slow and steady…

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We didn’t see a lot of animals on the walk, but did come across this pronghorn. She watched us for a while before turning and showing her big white bum and walking away.

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Pausing for a break. I really needed it! Pumping all of this extra blood and carrying around 23 extra pounds is an awful lot of work. Oops. Now you know how much weight I’ve gained. Well, it’ll come off again one way or another. I swear it.

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Here was our view at the top, looking back toward the Loop Road.

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This may have been everyone’s favorite part of the hike, when I had to negotiate Baby through this little gate. I found that letting him lead the way, then sort of twisting around him did the trick. I would have laughed too.

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The saddle I mentioned before had a little creek running through it. David did a great job of helping me cross all of the narrow “bridges.” My balance isn’t so good…

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Oh, great. Another gate. I guess I should have known that if we went through once, we’d have to cross back out again sometime.

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After the walk, we finished driving through and headed to Hot Springs for some lunch. Yelp led us to a place called Dale’s, where Yen had an elk burger and the rest of us had meatloaf. We appreciated that after the meal, it was Dale himself that we paid for the meal.

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There was a chance of rain, so we decided to duck inside for a bit with a visit to the Mammoth Site.

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The count here is up to 61 mammoths, and they’re still digging.

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Hmph. Here’s one of those people I was talking about before. They look so silly taking photos with an iPad. I guess whatever works…

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The Mammoth Site doesn’t just contain mammoths. This short-faced bear skull was found there too.

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Here we are in a hut made from mammoth bones.

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There’s that short-faced bear again! He looked terrifying.

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And now this is a line-up of bears of the world, some still around and some extinct.

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This exhibit shows what a mammoth kill might have looked like. They’re going to be eating that for a while!

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This really fascinated me. It’s a copy of a baby mammoth that was found frozen. It was so well preserved, that they were able to identify the stomach contents and the cause of death (asphyxiation from mud, probably while crossing a river behind mama).

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Back outside again, we found it wasn’t raining at all, so we drove back through the Park. And finally found some bison close to the road.

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See the babies?

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More pronghorn butts.

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This coyote was hoping to catch a prairie dog. I don’t think he managed it.

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