Now that we got the craziness of Crazy Horse out of the way, it was time to get in to Custer State Park and do some wandering. Luckily, Custer State Park was only about 15 minutes from Crazy Horse – so at least felt redeemed that we didn’t go out of our way much to stop at Crazy Horse.
We entered on Route 16 coming in on the Northwest side of the park. We stopped at the ranger station, paid our fee, and asked what there was to do. The ranger gave us some sarcasm back “To do? What do you mean, to do? There’s hiking, you can rent a boat on the lake, you can take the wildlife drive loop around the park…but I’m not sure what you mean by “to do.” Um…thanks. She didn’t answer our question at least. Incidentally, there’s a section on the Custer State Park website that says “Things to do” – so we definitely weren’t the problem.
More helpful than the ranger was the map:
Since we had no real agenda for the day, we decided to take the wildlife loop around (hoping that we’d see, you know, some wildlife) and make some random stops along the way for food, pictures, hiking and what have you.
Our first stop was at this tunnel in the mountain. There wasn’t much to see other than the tunnel, which we then proceeded to drive through – after honking a few times to make sure no one was coming the other way since it was a one-lane road.
We bypassed the first lake right near the Park entrance (Sylvan Lake) since we weren’t quite yet ready to stop, but did take a stop at the next, smaller lake – Legion Lake. Were we glad we did. While we initially thought we might rent a paddle boat or a canoe, we ultimately decided to take a hike around the lake. Although looking at the boats were nice.
It was about a mile around and provided with some *incredible* views. Yes, it really did look that perfect.
And we couldn’t believe how well the water captured the reflection of the sky and mountains. Really quite picturesque.
We also got to see the hills glisten with quartz and other interesting minerals (but no gold, sadly). Here’s my attempt at a close-up. Side note – taking pictures super close-up of repeating patterns is one of my new favorite things to do with my camera.
After our lake walk, we had worked up a sweat and the weather had warmed up considerably. Enough so for me to strip down to shorts and a t-shirt. Finally, the weather was starting to turn our way.
Next up, on the wildlife loop, we encountered some….you guessed it…wildlife! First, an ass in our face.
This startled Elana so much that she practically jumped in to my lap and out the driver side door. I was annoyed that he was drooling all over my new car (how dare he!).
They were pretty cute (if not a little mangy) until we noticed this… Can you see it?
Then that’s all we saw. But we couldn’t help but look.
How about now?
All this activity made us….hungry. So a little while later we took a pit stop at the Game Lodge at the Northeast corner of the park for lunch. It was kind of a higher-end place and so we took advantage of the opportunity to order some real food, and avoided the buffet. We got a salad (with old lettuce), pasta (with too much cream sauce), and a club sandwich and sweet potato fries, that were actually pretty good. Sigh, they just don’t know how to do salads in this part of the country.
After taking another stop at the convenience store nearby to stop up on munchies for hangry Elana, we embarked on a 3 mile hike – unintentionally up to Lover’s Leap. The guide said that it was a strenuous climb, so we meant to avoid it because of my ankle and choose another easier trail in the same vicinity, but we inadvertently took the harder hike and found ourselves 2 hours later at the top of a mountain.
We both really appreciated not only the view, but also this sign.
It did help us get our sanity back. We had already lingered too long, so we headed back down the mountain and began our journey to Wall, SD – near Rapid City and the Badlands – via Mount Rushmore (at last!).
On the way out of the park we some a few more animals at dusk. Mountain sheep:
They should really warn you to watch out for animals at dusk!
And the pinnacle of the day was this photo, with sunset creeping in and a perfect view of the monument nestled between the mountains and trees of Custer State Park: