Before our South Dakota trip, I had one goal: to see a buffalo up close.
Also, to eat buffalo. That part was easy enough: I ended up having buffalo, in one form or another, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner today.
Seeing a buffalo? That was a little trickier. It was looking like a bust three-quarters of the way through the Wildlife Loop at Custer State Park. In the end, we saw upwards of 50 buffalo, some of them literally close enough to touch. And I’m a writer by trade. When I say “literally,” I mean, they were right there, just a few feet away.
But first, our day.
After 4 hours and 21 minutes of sleep Thursday night and a 15-hour drive, I was hoping to catch up on some zzz’s Friday night. But I woke up naturally at 5:30, and was too excited to fall back asleep. It was our first day in South Dakota, and we had a full slate of activities planned. I was excited and raring to go!
We showered, got dressed, and headed into downtown Rapid City nice and early. I love how compact the city is in comparison to Portland, and how simple it is to navigate and get around in. Portland’s population is 639,000, and Rapid City’s is 72,000. The difference is striking. A few initial observations: there aren’t homeless people on every corner like back home, traffic is practically nonexistent, there are no parking meters, and the city is clean.
Also, we did not have to wait in line an hour for brunch. We actually walked into Tally’s Silver Spoon and were seated right away. I ordered the buffalo hanger steak and eggs, with hash browns and whole wheat toast. Breakfast was delicious, and the coffee was especially good. Afterward we walked around downtown for a bit, making a beeline through Art Alley, a funky area of legalized graffiti and murals, then checked out the farmer’s market. It’s small, maybe a tenth of the size of our market back home, but charming nonetheless.
Then it was on to Mount Rushmore. Tara had never been, and even though I have seen it many times in my life, it had been six years since my last visit, and I was excited to show it off to my wife. She was impressed, but you’d have to have a heart of stone not to be. We walked along the Trail of Presidents for some up close views, and made the requisite purchases from the gift shop before leaving. Dear family: hope you enjoy your souvenirs.
I crammed a lot into my visit back in 2011, but regretted not hitting Custer State Park, so I made it a point this time to visit. The drive up there was stunning: the fall foliage in the Black Hills was explosive, the aspen leaves a smorgasbord of yellow and gold amongst the green forests of Ponderosa pine. The timing of our trip was perfect, as the autumn colors are surely at their peak this weekend. It seriously couldn’t be any prettier.
The main point of our trip to Custer State Park, though, was the aforementioned buffalo. They are notoriously abundant throughout the park, so I figured we’d have no problem seeing them. But for the first 45 minutes of our drive along the Wildlife Loop, they were nowhere to be found. The weather was especially beautiful today, clear skies and temperatures in the low 70s, so we decided all the animals were sticking to the cool shade of the surrounding forests and resigned ourselves to the fact that we wouldn’t get to see any. And then, near the end of the loop, we pulled over to the side of the road to photograph some prairie dogs, when a buffalo emerged from the woods. It was followed by another, and then another, and before we knew it a herd of at least 50 of them had wandered down into the field no more than a hundred yards away. We were joined by throngs of onlookers, all of us busy snapping pictures with our cameras, as the bison drew closer and closer. And suddenly they were right next to us, crossing the road and wandering right up to our cars. It was a breathtaking sight, as we were practically surrounded by dozens of these magnificent yet fearsome beasts.
After watching them for close to an hour, we decided it was time to move on. We’d planned on doing a little hiking and it was getting late, so we pushed on, driving down the Needles Highway to the Little Devil’s Tower trail. This part of the Black Hills is especially spectacular, with stunning granite pillars that resemble castle-like formations rising from the forested countryside. Because we got such a late start we limited our hike to about 2.5 miles, but what a hike it was nevertheless. Very different from our hikes back home, which are all ferns, moss, and waterfalls. A cool wind blew through the hills and the aspens put on quite a show. My only regret was that we didn’t have more time to explore. Quite frankly, I’d like to hike the shit out of this area. There is so much to see!
But the sun was racing toward the western horizon and the hour was late, so we retreated to the car and drove back to Rapid City. Stopped by our motel room to freshen up, then headed back into downtown for dinner and drinks at Murphy’s Pub and Grill. I’d read positive reviews on Yelp, and sure enough, the food did not disappoint. The fried pickles wrapped in prosciutto and mozzarella were the star of the show, but my open-faced buffalo meatloaf sandwich wrapped in bacon, stuffed with portobello mushrooms, and served atop a slice of sourdough bread certainly did not disappoint. Best of all, Murphy’s makes a really good Bloody Mary, so I can rest assured that should we end up moving to South Dakota my cocktail needs will be met.
Tomorrow we are checking out some neighborhoods in and around Rapid City, scoping out houses and apartments, and planning a drive out to Wall Drug. We’ve got some other stops to make, and then a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant. It’s sure to be another busy day, and look at the time: already 11:00. I’d better get to bed!