Sunday, July 23, 2017

2017 July 8 - July 21 Bear Country USA

We have not been forgetful in updating our blog. Actually, we have just not done anything worthy of reporting until now. All last week we attended to seeking to change our phone company as Sprint died in Sioux Falls SD. There is absolutely NO SPRINT DATA service around here. We were told by Sprint not to worry about our travel plans as they are linked to Verizon and that we would have ROAMING data available (from the Verizon towers). Well, technically they did not lie, but in our mind it was worse. Yes we have (HAD) Roaming, but only 100MB worth of Roaming. Do you know how much that is? It was used up in just 2 days, searching campgrounds and places to visit. And then we had nothing... with no warning. Just cut-off. So we figured that we needed a service that would be as good as Sprint in Florida (or other places where we used to get Sprint), PLUS in these more remote, northern plains and mountainous states like South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, etc.  As we had no contract with Verizon, except for the 24 monthly payments on two Samsung Galaxy S7 phones (which Bill did was not even able to get used to having had an iPhone for over 7 years), the only problem was the phone payoffs. Well, as it turns out Verizon has a program where by they will payoff our Sprint Galaxy S7 phones, in exchange for our buying a Verizon phone of our choosing (Mary got a Galaxy S8 and Bill got an iPhone 7sPlus), PLUS they gave us EACH $200 per phone due to Bill's military service, PLUS two Mophie Power Stations. Each phone has the same Sprint unlimited data PLUS 10 Gb of Personal Hot Spot to share with our computers or each other while away from the coach. We also got a Verizon MiFi for the coach with Unlimited data (though after 10 GB they just lower the data speed from 4G to 3G. NOT BAD at all. So that is what has taken us all of last week and most of the beginning of this week. Now we can stay connected and keep the Blog up to date.

Given that we have constantly been on the lookout for more critters than just the wild but shameless beggin' burros, mule deer, white-tail deer, antelope and bison (buffalo) that seem to predominate openly in Custer State Park, to satisfy tourists, we have been unable to find any others like the elusive Elk, we decided to go visit BEAR COUNTRY USA, which is sort of like a zoo, except that (for the most part) the animals are roaming free in their cattle-guard and fence segregated habitats, and we (the paying public… for $15 each with ‘senior’ or ‘military’ discount) get to drive through the roadway through it, able to observe them from inside a safe and secure, locked car. It is strictly enforced that people should not get out of their cars or even open a window to take photos, as it happened once that someone did and a mountain lion jumped into the car... (NOT a pleasant outcome.)  Enough said, and except for the elk habitat, we kept our windows closed (because the elk’s antlers are too big to get into the car. That said, some photos are not too clear as they show our reflection on the windshield or window, for that reason.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
"Shh... Be quiet and nobody will see us in the tall grass."
 
Reindeer... Dasher, Prancer and Blixen in foreground.
 
 
Donder just joined them.

  
 Big Horn Sheep (females have the little horns)
 
 Arctic Sheep
 
 
Mountain Lion (Puma)
 
Control Tower
 
 Arctic Wolf (asleep on the job)
Big Horn Sheep (females have the little horns)


 
 
 



Here are the differences between the Black and Brown Bear. However, if you see one heading towards you don't worry about identifying which one it is. Just make a lot of noise, or run for the nearest solid shelter, if it is not impressed by your sound effects. ;-)


This is what Mary would look like to a Grizzly(and vice versa).
 
At the end of the road through the park (which houses the larger animals) one can walk through the habitats for smaller animals, like foxes, badgers, beavers, skunk etc., and for some unknown reason the Grizzly Bear’s enclosure is here as well. Of course, these are all separated by separate enclosures with walls or electric fences. However, by far, the main attraction seems to be the bear cubs, which drew the largest fan club… for good reason. Hence, forgive us our putting in so many photos of them, but they are just so darn cute (especially at feeding time).


 Racoons
 A Skunk (the little stinker) can spray his scent up to 15 feet so stay away.
A Beaver (with 2 babies)
 The antler differences between Mule Deer, Elk and Reindeer.

The Timber Wolf was in his den (out of sight).

The American Porcupine (Ouch).
 
Coyote
 
 Mr. Red Fox (not Redd Foxx, RIP)
Arctic Fox pups
 
 The Groundhog
 
 The Lynx (above) and the Bobcat (below)... pretty kitties.
And why this guy was put next to the Small Critters we'll never know, but there you have it, the biggest and baddest of the bunch... The Grizzly Bear. Sadly he was all alone in his habitat and obviously lonely. Anyone want to volunteer to go in and play with him? This one is actually honey-colored, instead of the usual dark brown.

And finally, la 'piece de la resistance', those adorable bear  cubs...
It was funny to watch. The bear bcame up to the handler and raised its arms to be picked up, just as a woman said "Oh my God, they act just like humans".. But we think they may be better than humans.
Sadly these bears will never be able to be returned to the wild, so they will either stay here or be sold to a zoo.
 
Rough-housing with a playmate.
 
 Would you look at this guy (or girl)...
 It was after a butterfly.
 
 
 
 
 
"OMG! I can't believe I ate ALL of it. Now I'm stuffed."
 
 "Yeah!! I did it."
 
 "Oh boy... oh boy.... it's time to eat."
Put the food down, already!!
 


Gee, I ate too much and now I can't even climb the tree trunks.
 
 
One evening while driving through the Wildlife Loop Road at Custer State Park, at about 8:40pm (just getting dark here) we happened to hear Elk bugling in the distance and just managed to see their figures through the trees about 1000 yards away.  Yep! It was too far to get a good look at them in the wild and too dark for the cameras to get a good picture, even with the zoom lens. So, perhaps we’ll see some in Yellowstone as we drive through parts of it in the next few weeks. I'll be sure to go to Cabela's and get an elk bugler and antlers to knock together, then maybe they'll come by looking for another male and we can get some photos of these majestic animals in the wild.  

After Bear Country USA we went for a drive to Mt. Rushmore (again), but Bill is not a fan of large crowds (i.e. lots of tourists with screaming children) so it was just a drive through the park and some more photos of Mt. Rushmore; however, today we also drove by the Crazy Horse Memorial (which is still under construction).
 
 The road through the Black Hills see all around.
 An interesting wooden bridge. Yes, that's treated wood planks.
 Driving through Keystone SD
 An interesting décor (like the Wells Fargo Stage) in Keystone.
 First view of Mount Rushmore.
 Getting closer.
 At the entrance to the parking garage, RVs park outside in an area for them.
 And here's Crazy Horse...
 Though it is still under construction...
 
On the way back through the Wildlife Loop Road we encountered a big traffic jam in front of what from the distance could be seen to be a large herd of bison. Around here that means one of two things... EITHER someone got out of the car to go pose for a photo next t o a bison and was attacked... OR the bison are on the roadway and cars can't get past them, because like trucks they are much bigger, heavier perhaps and certainly meaner, so they ALWAYS have the right of way.
 This was the first sighting of trouble....(in the distance)
And as we approached the problem was obvious...
With this many bison there just had to be some blocking the road. 
 
And given their size and potential for getting hurt or one's car damaged 
 It's just best not to confront them, especially when they are with a female. Eventually, when they are ready they will move, on their own accord, at least enough to drive past them... S-L-O-W-L-Y.
Bison males don't mate until they are about 6 yrs old, so the ones mating are the big boys. Mating season starts in July and can run through September. During mating season the bulls which usually go off by themselves, move into the female groups and select a mate. They then "tend" the female. During mating season they can be very aggressive, therefore since it is JULY, it is not wise to provoke them.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 A happy couple... 
 The Bison Safari tour jeep trying to get past the bison.
A cow and her calf. By late fall the cows will start to wean the calves but the calves will stay with their mother until the coming spring and by two at latest is considered an adult. A cow can live 20-25 years and will generally have a calf each year under the right conditions.
 
Then we took an alternate scenic drive back to the campground, stopping at a scenic part of Stockade Lake (at the Gordon Stockade Historic Site), located between the City of Custer and Custer State Park. Right next to what was the “Permanent Camp” of General Custer and the 1874 Black Hills Expedition, is a wooden post enclosure known as The Gordon Stockade. Originally built in December 1874, the same year of the Black Hills Expedition, the Stockade kept the first “gold seekers” relatively safe from attack from Indians who frequently came into this area. History records that the builders of the fort consisted of 26 men, one woman and one boy.  They drove six wagons and 15 yoke of oxen from Sioux City, Iowa.  They left the Iowa town on October 6th, arriving at the location of the Permanent Camp on December 21st, 1874 in spite of the order by Army General Sheridan forbidding any white gold seekers from entering the Black Hills. The builders of the fort consisted of 26 men, one woman and one boy.  They drove six wagons and 15 yoke of oxen from Sioux City, Iowa, leaving on October 6th, and arriving at the location of the Permanent Camp on December 21st, 1874 in spite of the order by Army General Sheridan forbidding any white gold seekers from entering the Black Hills. That’s a travel time of 5.5 miles per day. Soldiers later utilized the “old fort” using it as a headquarters, first to keep miners from coming to the Black Hills, and later to protect the new town of Custer which grew up just west of the stockade.(The below B/W photos are courtesy of the 1881 Courthouse Museum)


 
 
 
 
Through the years, the stockade was used by a wide variety of people until it fell into disrepair.  In 2004, the old stockade was torn down and replaced by the present-day structure, at a cost of a little over $800,000.  Today, tourists and others stop by the Gordon Stockade, getting a feeling for how those that migrated to this territory 140 years ago, actually lived and protected themselves from hostile Indians.
 
We drove around Stockade Lake and found a lovely area deep into the forest and just about 50 in from, and about 30 feet above, the lake shore, where we set up our folding camp chairs and cooler and had a lovely picnic, which we shared with a delightful squirrel, who liked bread with mayonnaise and a little chocolate chip cookie.  The scenery was a sight to behold. https://d.adroll.com/cm/aol/outhttps://d.adroll.com/cm/index/outhttps://d.adroll.com/cm/n/outAll in all it was a wonderful day of exploration and critter enjoyment.
 


Stockade Lake....
 
At the rear end of the lake is a picnic area (for day use only) with a covered building and even a fireplace, with this view of the lake.
 
Mary enjoying the view and weather, and taking some photos.
 
 
 This s the spot we chose for our picnic. Our own chairs and cooler, sitting outside in the shade with a lovely view.
 Closer....
 Closer....
 And voila!
 
 This is the view of the opposite shore in the photo below...
 
 Wish we had brought our fishing poles.
 
 
 Bill feeding this squirrel
 
It's amazing how a few hours changes the light which
changes the views and the landscapes in South Dakota.
 
Mary's impression of Donald Trump's expressions (and she's a Republican) Actually, she is just grimacing at Bill for taking so many photos of her (but Bill thinks she is something Special so he loves to photograph her.)
Mary's impression of Carol Burnett... ;-) Actually just scratching her ear.
 

At the campground (from our coach) after a rainstorm with sunshine... a rainbow.

And another one. It rains a lot around here which is why everything is so green.

The cloud formations in the late evening are AWESOME to watch... during Happy Hour


 

Doesn't this one look like the cloud of the invading spaceship from "Independence Day"?
 

This campground's version of Mt. Southern Hills... at the entrance.
Kennedy, Reagan and 'W' Bush. What a combination.

 Views of the campground, which is usually FULL.


 
 
And a few videos...
 
 

 

- - - - - - -
The rest of this time period we have been planning our next few weeks of travel, Sundance, Buffalo and Ranchester, in Wyoming, and then Garryowen in Montana, which is where Little Big Horn is. There we will be meeting up with our RV friends from Oklahoma (and retired Coast Guard Master Chief) Brett and Susan Wickett, which we met in Lake Conroe TX and then again at the REV Group (Fleetwood factory service facility in Decatur IN) last year.
We shall be leaving Southern Hills RV Park & Campground on July 27th with the fondest of memories (recorded in our blog) as to the new friendships we have made and all the wonderful places we have visited. Until the next post...

Happy trails!

Bill 💗 Mary

 

 



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