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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Where to Begin?

~Friday, June 3, 2022~

Day 719

Gearing up for our Canada/Alaska trek and limited delivery options in the next few weeks, I had a few questions for border patrol. It seemed silly to be talking to an agent about dog food as he seemed a bit annoyed about my question, but it really was a legitimate inquiry. We’re not going to spend $180 for 2 large bags of dog food only to have it confiscated at the border. What’s perfect is the food we buy for Sadie is made in Canada (First Mate brand) anyway. We did think about purchasing it there, but it would cost ⅓ more. The agent told me if it’s made in Canada, even opened, it should be o.k. A sealed bag is preferable. It just can’t have any poultry in it due to concerns of the Avian Flu. Well that helps me narrow down which one’s to buy….a bag of kibble with fish, and a bag of kibble with lamb. Yay!! So yes, we’ll be hauling around (2) 30-lb. bags of dog food all summer. Anything for our Sadie!! Now to coordinate the shipping.

With this campground being our last opportunity to receive mail/packages, I tried calling the campground first to see if they would accept deliveries, but no answer. It seems the office is a bit behind on updating their phone greeting, which said they were closed for the season and reopening in June of 2022. Not true!! You’ve got 50 people staying in your campground! Driving instead to the office, I mentioned the outdated phone greeting to which she replied, “Oh, maybe that’s why we haven’t received any calls today!” Hopefully they didn’t lose any business over it. But yes, they do take packages. And it looks like our Chewy delivery will arrive before we leave.

Next on the to order list: a part for our screen door. The plastic slider (like a small window) that allows a little access into the trailer, has cracked. That’s one thing I hate about plastic…..yellowing and brittleness. As of recently, Lance’s part’s department is carrying very little so we’re going to have to get the part from a Lance dealer. Our go to……Meeks RV in Acampo, CA. Hopefully I can pick it up when I’m in California next week. It’s small enough I may be able to fit it in my suitcase. Alrighty, the to do list for today is done….now time for some sightseeing.

Not leaving until 1:30, we made our way with Sadie in tow to Custer State Park. This park is very dog-friendly so we’re thrilled that she gets to take in the scenery with us. Based on the map and tour magazine we received at the entrance, you can tell that this place is a big deal. Between its lodges, wildlife, scenic drives, the annual Buffalo Roundup, lakes & streams, and multiple campgrounds, it is a must stop when touring the Custer area. Entrance fee was $20/car and good for 7 days which is perfect since we have plans to do more than 1 visit. The attendant was so nice to offer us his favorite spots in the park which included the Needles Highway (Hwy. 87), consisting of amazing scenery, several hiking trails, tunnels (very narrow tunnels) and a wildlife viewing road.

On the initial part of our drive, we noticed a lot of fire damage with piles of destroyed trees with quite a few, stubbornly standing. We learned that the destruction was from the 2017 Legion Lake Fire. This fire occurred in December burning over 57,000 acres. How can so many acres burn during rain/snow season? Evidently the fire started by a tree falling on a Black Hills Energy power line. Hmm…..sounds all too familiar doesn’t it? But, it was clear the park is in its recovery/rebirth stage with much of the ground now covered in green, dotted with infant Ponderosa Pines finding their place in the forest once again.

To get to our first suggested stop at the Cathedral Spires (also known as The Needles), we had to drive through 2 tunnels….the first being the Iron Creek Tunnel which seemed a tight squeeze for Hank at 8’-9” wide x 10’-10”. But it wasn’t until we got to the Needles Eye Tunnel that I really didn’t think we’d make it at 8’-9” wide x 9’-8” high.

Everyone think thin!!! I think I heard the radio antenna brush the walls. Not a road for new drivers for sure. By the time we arrived for our hike to The Needles, the parking lot was full. With nothing else roomy enough for Hank, we decided to return later in the day when parking might become more available.

In the meantime we drove to the end of the highway putting us at Sylvan Lake, known as one of the most beautiful lakes of the five in Custer State Park.

Of course we were envious watching several kayakers enjoy their float time (one big regret we have of the trip is not bringing ours). There is a trail that loops around the perimeter with perfect access points for Sadie to have a cool off. The large granite rocks seemed to just float on the glass-like surface. At the east end of the lake, we were able to walk across the short earthen dam that was constructed a century ago to irrigate early agricultural settlements. We may have missed the Sylvan Lake Lodge, but not the General Store where they sold delicious sweet treats of ice-cream. Can you just picture Sadie licking her chomps for a bite?

Making our way back to the Cathedral Spires Trailhead, we found a perfect spot for Hank this go around. It’s always preferable to let our excited pup off leash where she’s free to roam, but this trail, considered moderate to strenuous, is in prime mountain lion country. So having her on leash was not a question.

I do take comfort in knowing we have hiking poles and bear spray. Luckily things went without incident. And there’s nothing like getting up right next to these grand, eroded granite pillars, making the 500-foot elevation gain in .8 miles well worth it. Good to get the heart pumping again since our Colorado hikes. Now we see why this was the original proposed site for the Mount Rushmore carvings until it was rejected by sculptor Gutzon Borglum. Evidently, the spires were too thin to support the beefy sculptures.

After our heart pumping hike we went south, still in Custer State Park to get to the Wildlife Loop Road, in a counter-clockwise direction. They’ve recently repaved this 18-mile stretch of road that meanders through open grasslands and Ponderosa Pine hills. By the time we arrived, it was late afternoon and perfect animal viewing time, where we crossed paths with bison, pronghorns and prairie dogs. Of course the bison (also known as Tatanka by Native Americans) are THE STARS,

so we were fortunate to spot several of the 1,500 that call the park their home. They’ve also recently opened a new Bison Center along the loop road, opening just 2 weeks prior. Hundreds of bison are herded to the grounds of the museum for the Annual Buffalo Roundup held the last Friday in September (mark your calendars). Can you imagine hearing the rumble of hundreds of buffalo coming at you? Wow!! But today wasn’t our day to visit I guess, when we approached the building, a docent had to turn us away due to a water leak issue. I guess they’re still working out the bugs. He assured us the museum would be reopened tomorrow… even better reason to see the Wildlife Loop Road again.

Lucky us, the Custer State Park Visitor Center holds late hours (open until 8:00 p.m.). It was clear that the building was fairly new and still in the process of enhancing their exhibits. But we were missing the best part of the museum…..the 20-minute Imax film about the park, narrated by Kevin Costner. The docent suggested we come back another day, just to see the film. You don’t have to tell us twice. He also informed us he was working the night shift for his sick wife, and was eager to show us photos of a few bison that recently visited their campsite. He and his wife own a Class A motorhome, camped right across from the visitor center (docents receive free lodging in the park). Man, having a bison visiting your front doorstep would be quite breathtaking and scary at the same time, wouldn’t it?

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