There is no doubt what Laurie and I would like to be doing this September…but Covid-19 has changed our normal September routine for the year. We’d love to head out on a road trip and tie the trip to family visits along the way. Colorado and Utah had been our goal but that will have to wait until sometime in 2021.
In lieu of the real thing, we’ll just have to imagine that we’re spending time with our family from Omaha. I’m using their smartly planned early summer family trip to South Dakota for our virtual adventure.
Love this photo of grandsons David III and Emmett Lee in the wilds of South Dakota...but I do have a question for David III. In all the photos from this trip when he's posing with Emmett Lee, why were David's eyes closed!?
Credit for all of these photos goes to Amy, our daughter-in-law and mother of our 2 terrific grandsons… Kudos to David II for his great trip plan!
I’d used a few photos from the family trip before, showing the cabin where they stayed in Custer State Park…and the buffalo that were literally on their doorstep. In addition to the state park, they also visited Mount Rushmore. We can imagine their trip since Laurie and I have spent time in both areas.
Laurie and I love wildlife and Custer State Park is loaded with a variety of critters… The first photo is of a female Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep and of course the second picture features a more than cute baby… The sheep in western South Dakota are the easternmost examples of these animals in the wild.
Two hundred years ago, it is estimated that there were as many as 200,000 big horn sheep in the western USA. Their numbers sharply declined until the mid-1930s when the Boy Scouts of America and other entities started efforts to preserve and expand the herds. At this point, the conservation status of these attractive wild sheep is listed as being of ‘Least Concern’.
Cute little rodents aren’t they? Prairie dogs are named for their habitat and warning call…which is similar to a dog’s bark. These highly social animals live in large colonies and collections of prairie dog families can span hundreds of acres. Members of a family group inhabit the same territory and they are referred to as ‘coteries’.
Ecologists consider prairie dogs to be a keystone species. They are the primary diet for black-footed ferrets, the swift fox, golden eagle, red tailed hawks, badgers, coyotes and the ferruginous hawk. Golden-mantled ground squirrels, mountain plovers and burrowing owls rely on prairie dog burrows for nesting areas. Bison, pronghorn and mule deer favor grazing on the same land used by these rodents. It should be noted that the removal of prairie dogs causes the spread of brush which prevents the growth of grasses and damages grazing lands for livestock.
Nevertheless, prairie dogs are frequently thought of as pests and they’re exterminated from agricultural lands to prevent crop damage. Expanding human populations have also reduced their numbers. For many years, it was thought that horses were often injured by stepping in holes and tunnels dug by prairie dogs. This myth has since been disproven…
Amy also captured this photo of a female mule deer. These deer are indigenous to western North America and they are named for their ears…which are large like those of a mule.
Mule deer are only found on the western portion of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the American southwest as well as along the West Coast of North America. White-tail deer, which populate the Eastern United States can also be found around western South Dakota…overlapping the range of the mule deer. The most noticeable differences between white-tailed and mule deer are ear size, tail color and antler configuration. Mule deer also tend to be larger.
Sweet! Wait a minute! Isn’t this a baby burro? Yes it is! A small herd of burros have roamed Custer State Park for almost a century. They were originally used as pack animals for visitors to the park. When the trips using burros ended, the working burros (donkeys) were released into the wild and they’ve roamed the park ever since. FYI, a burro is a donkey but it’s referred to as a burro when it’s feral…roaming wild.
The little herd of burros is commonly seen along the park’s 18-mile wildlife loop. They are uncommonly friendly and they’ve learned to beg. They are very popular with tourists. Given the risks posed by automobiles, predators and rattlesnakes, the little herd is fairly stable…at around 15 animals. Perhaps it’s now at 16 with this latest addition to the family!
This is a Pronghorn, an even-toed hoofed mammal that is indigenous to western and central North America stretching from Canada down into Mexico. It looks like an antelope but instead, it is the only surviving member of its own family ‘Antilocapridae’.
Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the pronghorn was very abundant in the region of the Plains Indians and the area occupied by the indigenous peoples of the Northwest Plateau. It was hunted as a principal food source and it also featured prominently in Native American mythology and oral history.
The pronghorn is the fastest land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. It can run at 35 miles per hour for 4 miles, 42 miles per hour for 1 mile and 55 miles per hours for a half mile. It is the second fastest land animal in the world, second only to the African cheetah…but it can sustain high speeds far longer than cheetahs. Evolutionary experts have suggested that the pronghorn developed this speed due to an evolutionary need to escape from now-extinct predators such as the American Cheetah. The pronghorn’s speed greatly exceeds any existing North American predators.
How cute! This newly born buffalo/bison calf was being encouraged by his mom to get its footing… The ability to run is critical to its survival in these parts as coyotes and cougars roam the region looking for easy prey.
FYI, other notable mammals inhabiting Custer State Park include elk, river otters and mountain goats along with aforementioned mule deer, white deer, Rocky Mountain sheep, prairie dogs and pronghorns.
Why not scratch against a nice boulder or a big tree? When you weigh more than a ton and you’re as big as this bison bull is, you can scratch on pretty much whatever and wherever you want! He really seemed to be enjoying that nice picnic table…
Custer State Park is home to as many as 1,500 free roaming bison/American buffalo. There are so many bison living here that the park has an annual roundup and auction each September. Up to 1,000 of the bison are rounded up and several hundred are sold at auction. This is done to ensure that the remaining rangeland can support the remaining animals. As many as 10,000 people attend these events…
The American bison or buffalo once roamed North American in huge herds. They ranged from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico and east to the Atlantic seaboard…as far north as New York and as far south as Georgia. There were so many bison in North America that the trails or traces they hammered out over the centuries were followed by both Native Americans and pioneers. A well-known example is the Cumberland Gap through the Blue Ridge Mountains to upper Kentucky.
In the late 1700s, there were more than 60,000,000 bison in North America. Through hunting and introduced diseases from domestic cattle, the herds were decimated. In roughly 100 years, (1889), the species was down to just 541 animals. Today, thanks to ongoing preservation efforts there are approximately 31,000 wild bison across the continent.
Just a couple more photos…
This is our soon to be 17 year old grandson Emmett Lee. He looks great posing on that boulder with the lake behind him! His big disappointment this year are the limits on sports. He loves basketball, track and football. He’s a junior in high school this fall and he’s still growing…
David III is our oldest grandson. He loves the camera… David will be 20 this December and he just started his sophomore year at New York University in Manhattan. It will be a strange school year with a lot of virtual learning, social distancing and masks. He started out by being quarantined in his room/apartment for 10 days as Nebraska was deemed a high risk state by New York authorities.
That’s about it for now! We enjoyed seeing the wildlife at Custer State Park as well as our ‘virtual’ visit with our grandsons. We hope to be back on the road by the middle of 2021…
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for a visit!
Stay Safe and Take Care, Big Daddy Dave