The Arch March

Heading west from Colorado makes travel planning rather hard… too many National Parks to choose from in Utah!

We narrowed it down to the most unique for us and headed north to Arches National Park. Small for the national parks, it had everything we wanted: unusual landscapes, a challenging hike (for us) and a campground… sold!

We arrived late morning, with everything on schedule… until we noticed the sign at the entrance “Campground Full.” Hmmm… really?! We asked just to be sure, and were assured that it had been booked up for 6 months!

We completely failed to notice that as we had been heading west the weather had been getting warmer, which meant that even though it was out of season in the parks of Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota… it was very much prime time in Utah. Oh well, we’d do the hike and work out our night’s accommodation later.

We had been building up the hiking gradually… getting older and being out of hiking practice, it was a wise decision. But we felt ready for the 7+ mile hike Tadd had planned for the Arches, “primitive trail” and all…

 

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell  Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

It was definitely the most grueling thing we had done so far in the trip. We realized we needed more water containers if we were going to carry on with the hiking thing. And it was totally amazing walking up and down and around the truly alien landscapes of the park, scrambling along rock walls and clambering around mud pits… fantastic!

All that was left at the end of the day, was to work out where to sleep. Moab, the nearby town only offered RV parks right on the side of the main highway… definitely not our thing… so a quick bit of reasearch turned up a national forest campground about 30 miles south. We drove through the darkness, passing all the 18 wheelers careening the opposite direction and then off into the darkness (thank goodness for the newly purchased GPS). We really had no idea where we were until the next morning… not too shabby!

 

 

Hunter Canyon Campground, Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

 Moab, Utah ©Lindsay Carswell

 

 

On The Edge

In spite of what a life-long obsession with flying might seem to indicate, I am actually scared of heights! For some reason the man-made wonders of hot air balloons, airplanes, and the mere presence of a steel barrier embolden me, and give me the freedom to enjoy amazing perspectives of the planet, looking out from above.

However, the likes of cliff edges, tiny mountain trails and winding roads with sheer drop-offs, turn my legs to jelly and induce a yucky, nausea in me. It’s something I hate, but which pushes me more to literally go out on the a ledge sometimes… well, if it’s worth it! And the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings were definitely one of those places.

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Spruce Tree House

Some time around the 10th century the natives began moving down from living on the top of the plateau and began the precarious life on the edge. They scuttled up and down ladders, from ridge top field to the next and routinely wandered around next to a huge drop off!

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We had been warned that the entry way to Balcony House was not for the weak-hearted
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Up We Go! (there was the real drop off just below down into the depths of the canyon)
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Self-Named Crazy Ranger Dave
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For Tadd this was a doddle… no mind on the the potential plummet backwards
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Location, location, location… was true even back then
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Little Cliff-top Home
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All kinds of building materials were used… this was pine fronds between stone and wood and morter
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The natural color of the rocks is amazing
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The Front Door! (these people were tiny)
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Rock
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Grinding Tools
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Looks like good security
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Luckily I’m not claustrophobic too!
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Their communities were dotted all across the cliff tops for miles and miles
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We had hoped to hike down to Square Tower House, but alas no… or thank goodness I didn’t have to scramble over rocks etc
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Amazing they could build this complex a house on the side of a cliff

 

Million Dollar Moments

After a cosy night in our cabin, we drove down into Boulder to catch up with friends… once again we were having too much fun to remember to take any photos 🙁

We could easily see why the Trimmers decided to move there from Chicago…. we will definitely be back to visit again soon!

Just Wandering Through The Neighbourhood
Just Wandering Through The Neighbourhood

We drove through some amazing highlands in Colorado, with vast pasture surrounded by the picturesque peaks of the Rockies. The clouds came down as we went over the passes.

Rainy Roads of the Highlands
Rainy Roads of the Highlands

 

We had done our research and were headed southwest from Boulder. A night soggy night in the Curacanti National Recreation Area let us enjoy a short hike in the morning with some signs of autumn and views of the Blue Mesa Reservoir.

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Sunset Over Winnie
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We’ve Been So Lucky With The Weather, So A Night of Rain Was Fine
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Morning Light On The Blue Mesa Reservoir
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Wonderful Light
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The Colours Just Kept Changing
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Blue Mesa – Colorado’s Largest Lake
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Cool Rock Formations – Pinnacles of the Mesa
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Finally Some Signs of Fall

Such an amazing and unexpected location, but we were on a mission that day… and we didn’t yet realize how time-sensitive it was. We drove on to Montrose, CO and stopped in for some free WIFI in the parking lot of the McDonalds just to check our directions (our less-than-useless wifi hotspot had failed to provide us with up-to-the-moment navigation, and we had not yet given in to getting a GPS).

But just as we were about to to get on the road to the Million Dollar Highway, we discovered that it was closed!!! We couldn’t believe it… just because it was a weekday… they were doing road works. There was just one chance… if we could make it to Ouray in the next hour, we would be able to catch the lunchtime window (the road workers are literally eating their lunch at the side of the drop-off).

An exciting sprint south and we made it in perfect time… if not, we would have had to spend the day in Ouray (at least they have hot springs!) and wait until the end of the workday, to get through at 5pm… dusk and descending clouds be damned.

It was nothing short of amazing…

The Rockies

Tadd has decided that Colorado is now his favorite state (bad luck Montana!) and I am inclined to agree… we haven’t been able to find an ugly or boring part of it yet!

After a cozy night in our loaner cabin in Estes Park, CO, we woke up to see a small group of Elk crossing the stream behind the cabin. And so it was time to go explore some more of this Elk territory – off to the Rocky Mountain National Park.

As the whole world seemed to be headed up to Bear Lake for the view, we decided to turn back and find our own space… which we did pretty well; not seeing more than a few others on the trail we found along the south side of the Moraine Park.

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Autumn in the Rockies

And autumn means Elk mating season….

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In The Middle There’s a Male Elk “Singing” for All His Worth

 

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Views and More Views

 

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I Seem To Find Thistles The World Around

 

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More Amazing Contrast

 

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Mountains!

 

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Headed Over The Pass and Down to Boulder

 

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Last Glimpse

We have fallen in love with the mountains!

The Lows and The Highs

Having left behind the marvels of nature in the Grand Tetons, we headed south then west towards Colorado. We had planned to stop for the night at another wonderfully remote campsite on a hillside… I had even heard there was a possibility of spotting wild horses in the area. However, we changed plans at the the last minute in order to try to catch up with friends back up in the Rockies. So, we found another, less-picturesque spot…

 

We Weren't The Only Ones There
We Weren’t The Only Ones There

We made good time and shortened our drive for the next day so that we could spend time our friends… but the best laid plans and all that…

Rawlins
Not What We Had Planned for the Day 🙁

At least things worked out better than we initially thought: the very nice tow truck guy, Mr Brown from Jamaica, started out saying that as it was Friday, and Rawlins has 10 times more mechanic work than mechanics, no-one was willing to look at the RV that day… and we had the prospect of spending the WEEKEND in Rawlins, WY… certainly not a destination we had added to our Google Map when we researched the trip!

Luckily Tadd is rather persuasive… and convinced one of the crazily, overworked mechanics in town to have a look at it… it was only electrics after-all. I still wasn’t at all happy, but at least there was free WIFI from the “by-the-hour” motel next to us.

Rawlins 2

We lost 4 hours of our day, and limped away with a temporary fix… which meant by the time we got going again, there was no way to make our date in the mountains. But, our friend Kim was kind enough to let us stay in the cabin she wasn’t using that night, so we had a welcoming place ahead of us for the night. This was a particularly good thing, what with all the rain along the way.

 

Rainy Colorado Highlands
Rainy Colorado Highlands

 

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The Weather Didn’t Bother The Wildlife

 

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The Sun Came Back Out The Next Day, Estes Park, CO

 

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Idlewild by the River, Estes Park, Co

We enjoyed a lovely night with hot showers (as much water as we wanted), TV, unlimited internet and a queen-size bed…. gorgeous!

National Treasures

After a couple of weeks on the road, generally trying to get far enough west to make Tadd smile… we made it to our first National Park…. Yellowstone!! We have been really excited about checking out some the amazing natural areas of the U.S.

We drove in through the east gate, and luckily something triggered Tadd’s memory and he got us hooked up with an interagency pass getting us into all the National Parks and more for just $80USD for a whole year… SCORE!!!

We climbed up and over the Sylvan Pass and finally got our first glimpse of what lay ahead.

 

The View West into the Heart of Yellowstone
The View West into the Heart of Yellowstone
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Sylvan Lake
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Continued Good Luck with the Weather!

Having passed a crowd on the main road (apparently there a mother brown bear and her cub had been spotted…. but no sign of them by the time we got there), we stopped off a few miles into the park for our first hike of the day at Indian Pond, along Storm Point trail.

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Our First Sight of the Immense Yellowstone Lake

Happily this was not a popular spot, so we had the whole trail to ourselves… or so we thought!

 

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This Guy Took Little Notice of Us

 

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Just Stunning

After a quick stop at the visitors center, and lunch on the side of the road, we set off to bike the trail to Natural Bridge… finally an actual bike trail!

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A Bit More of a Trek Than We Thought, but Worth the Effort

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Of course, no trip to Yellowstone would be complete without a visit to Old Faithful (well, at least when it’s your first visit!)

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Actually Rather Impressive

We stopped in to the Lodge and the Inn to explore the classic hotels

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The Hallway Lights Were Cool

And then a little further north we reached the Grand Prismatic…

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA --- Grand Prismatic Spring --- Image by © Pete Saloutos/CORBIS
Image by © Pete Saloutos/CORBIS
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I Like the Closeup Colors and Patterns for Change
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Mars?

As we wound our way back over the Continental Divide for the 5th time… we fit in a quick stop for a waterfall.

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Kepler Cascade

From here it was time to head south out of the park, on another whirlwind taster of U.S. and out into the spectacular Grand Tetons.

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Finally A Little More Than Just Yellow

And then we turned the corner…

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Grand Teton National Park

I had found us another free campsite in the Bridger-Teton National Forest just off the main road a few miles to the east…

They Said The View Was Good...
They Said The View Was Good…

Free Camping!

Given the amazing location and the fact that Tadd owns an original print taken somewhere just below us in the valley, we renamed the spot “The Ansel Adams Campsite,” Moran, WY.

 

Certainly Not An Adams

Getting Backcountry

Our journey took us through Cody, WY, but we decided to only stop for lunch and then head back out to nature for a hike, rather than spend the afternoon inside a museum.

The town is named for for the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, an impressive man, who among other stuff he’s probably more famous for, he worked on Native Indian rights and protecting the native buffalo!

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Buffalo Bill Reservoir
North Fork of the Shoshone River
North Fork of the Shoshone River

We went for a hike that turned out being a horse trail, but we made the most of it and scrambled up the hillside and enjoyed the views.

Almost All The Way West to Yellowstone
Almost All The Way West to Yellowstone
View Back East Down the Valley
View Back East Down the Valley
Winnie Down Below
Winnie Down Below
Trying Some Artistic Stuff Again!
Trying Some Artistic Stuff Again!

Unfortunately, when we got back down to the camper, we’d been left a note by a ranger, letting us know that we weren’t allowed to stay at that campground below (unless we had horses or stock animals!) and would have to drive back 15 miles along the valley to Elk Creek Campground (our second of the same name on this trip!). But when we arrived, we were very happy with the spot, and finally we had arrived earlier in the day at our site for the night, so we got to enjoy the area a bit.

Elk Creek
Elk Creek
"My first time mountain biking in the mountains," commented Tadd, although we didn't get very far before the trail went up and turned into another backcountry horse trail.
“My first time mountain biking in the mountains,” commented Tadd, although we didn’t get very far before the trail went up and turned into another backcountry horse trail.

So we went back to camp for cocktails and …..

Wittling!
Wittling!
Dusk Light
Dusk Light

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Another Amazing Camp
Another Amazing Camp

Head For The Hills

After a long day of touristy fun, we found a great little RV park in Custer, SD, where we were one of the very few travelers at this time of year. It was wonderfully quiet location, among the pines – the perfect place to watch the blood moon eclipse!

Sadly Not My Picture
Sadly Not My Picture

The next morning we cruised into town… sadly to go see a mechanic…. gotta love that check-engine light. They were too busy to really help, but one nice guy agreed to check the diagnostics to see what was going on. So we had a moment to enjoy the local wildlife…

One of the Many Delightfully Painted Bison in Custer, SD
One of the Many Delightfully Painted Bison in Custer, SD

Luckily we found someone willing to take a look at the electrics in the delightful town of Gillette, WY, and pretty speedily diagnose the issues, replace some stuff and get us back on the road ready to head off into the mountains and the national parks.

Can't Stop Taking Pictures of the Landscape Along the Road
Can’t Stop Taking Pictures of the Incredible Landscapes Along the Road

Finally able to escape from the interstate, we launched ourselves up into the Bighorn Mountains and the National Forest. As we rapidly gained altitude after leaving Buffalo, WY, we were assaulted by the beauty of White Birch trees turning yellow against the backdrop of all the pine trees.

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 We were headed to Meadlowlark Lake campground, but unfortunately it was closed, like most of the others, so as the sun was close to setting, we decided to make our own campground. We drove off the main road onto the old one, and found the perfect spot.

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The View from our First “Boondocking” Site

There were a few cows around, but they didn’t seem too bothered by us, so we weren’t either. We were just a short ways from the road, but out of site. And as the sun set, we realized we’d found the perfect spot up at 8,199 ft (2,499 m)!

The Sun Set in the Valley
The Sun Set in the Valley

It was almost a full moon so the light show after sunset was almost amazing.

The ridge above the camper glowed in the moonlight
The ridge above the camper glowed in the moonlight

And I got carried away playing with my camera and tripod again….

Night Sky In Bighorn
Night Sky In Bighorn

It was our first really cold night, but thanks to the handy furnace in the camper, we stayed toasty all night long.

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We were greeted by the dawn and mooing cows!

Curious Cows
Curious Cows

Then it was off on the road down into the valley and on to Cody, WY.

Descending the Windy Roads of Bighorn
Descending the Windy Roads of Bighorn

Badlands, Black Hills and Buffalo

Leaving behind the home comforts of Estherville, it was time to head out West… as fast as possible. Well, that just meant flinging ourselves along I-90, where the speed limit quickly rose to a whopping 80mph when we crossed into South Dakota! Not that we could keep up with all the big rigs, but the whole 80mph were on offer.

Our boxy RV was buffeted by blustery crosswinds as we headed across the plains. The sidewinds of overtaking semi trucks added to the white-knuckle steering task of keeping it between the painted lines.

 

Badlands, SD Arriving 2

Finally, by late afternoon, we arrived at The Badlands of South Dakota.

Badlands Lindsay Taking sunset

We stopped at a scenic overlook at I finally broke out the “good camera.”

Badlands, SD Moonrise 2

The moonrise over the first peaks, as the sun set on our backs, was just too amazing to miss.

Badlands, SD Campground sunset 2

After we got settled into our campground, the sun was really setting, so it was time to play some more

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The wind was picking up to about 20 mph and it was getting cooler outside

Badlands, SD Campground sunset WINNIE

But I couldn’t resist capturing yet another shot of our RV and it’s scenery.

Badlands, SD Tadd Wide

The next morning we were off and running early, driving through the”les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through,” as this land was known by the early 1900’s, French-Canadian fur trappers.

But long before they even ventured into the area, the Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad.” Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name.

Badlands, SD

Today, the term badlands has a more geologic definition. Badlands form when soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded in a dry climate. The park’s typical scenery of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges is a premier example of Badlands geological formations.

 

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Badlands, SD 3

The land surrounding this area of erosion is relatively flat and has some grasses growing, just like the rest of South Dakota.

As we passed all the others visitors entering the park from the northwest, we headed for an obligatory stop at the famous Wall Drug.

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In 1931, Ted & Dorothy Hustead bought the only drugstore in a town called Wall on the edge of the South Dakota Badlands. Business was bad… well, really bad… until Dorothy came up with the idea to offer free ice water to the passing visitors as they drove through the parched local landscape…. and the rest is history!

Many of the people driving through the are coming or going to check out one of the coolest National Monuments in the U.S. – Mount Rushmore. And as much as we like to generally avoid the super touristy spots on our travels, sometimes it’s just important to suck it up and enjoy the view!

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Not much to say…  George, Tommy, Teddy and Abraham!

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So many amazing views of the carvings as you explore the area!

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Rushmore, SD Abe 2

The incredible feat it was to sculpt these mammoth heads was a wonderful piece of American history alone.

Did You Know?

Black and white photograph showing the original position of the figure of Thomas Jefferson on George Washington's right side (our left when viewing the mountain).

The figure of Thomas Jefferson was originally started on Washington’s right side. After 18 months of carving the figure of Jefferson had to be blasted off the mountain, as the type of rock they found over there just wasn’t hard enough to complete the task, and restarted on Washington’s left side.

We learned lots at the Mt. Rushmore Memorial!

Leaving the presidents behind, we drove up through the twisty mountain roads into the national forest and on through the Custer State Park.

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD FALL

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Blackhills Natl Forest, SD Curves

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD Tunnel #2

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD

Blackhills Natl Forest, SD Tunnel #1

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The amazing view across the high plains

Custer SP, SD Lake

Now, the yearly roundup had just taken place in the Custer SP, where they drive all the bison south to different pastures in order to decide which members of the herd will be sold off to reduce numbers. So, we had decided not to spend too much time in the park, as I though my first chance to see the American Buffalo wouldn’t happen….

But then we found this guy (?) who had evaded the cowboys, and was just hanging out grazing at the side of the road!!! Spectacular!

Custer SP, SD Buffalo 1

Custer SP, SD Buffalo 3

Custer SP, SD Buffalo 4

One hell of a day!