Road Trip

Custer State Park, Tatanka, Needles Highway – wow … just wow!!! (and the problems with hitting “publish” before you’re ready to post)

Oops, part of my post got published before I was ready. Dang-nabbit (that’s a way to express displeasure that I reconnected with in South Dakota). Somehow or other as I was saving this draft, the post went ahead and published and I wasn’t done yet. Good grief … what a novice error to make. I promise folks, it’s a beginner’s error and I’m hoping it won’t happen again. But if it does, well then, I’ll come up with an excuse then.

So, away we go, here’s the total post. And thanks for your patience and understanding.

So, we spent a day in the Black Hills touring Custer State Park.  It’s not as well known as Yellowstone or Glacier, but let me tell you, it’s just as beautiful and majestic.  Each of those three parks is unique in its own way.

We’ve been to the Black Hill numerous times before and we really didn’t want to do any of the things we had done before.  (Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Cosmos, the various Caves).  We wanted to see some of the other sites we had heard so much about.

That meant hanging out at Custer State Park.

Two of the best sights we saw were the Tatanka and Needles Highway.  I bet there were over 1000 Tatanka and we were right smack in the middle of them.  Did you know that the Sioux word for buffalo is Tatanka?  We saw a herd of over 1000 in the middle of the park, and then we kept seeing individual bison next to the road.

The buffalo that walked in front of our car was huge. He easily weighed as much as our little car, Larry. It was amazing.

“In the Lakota language, the word “Tatanka” is translated as “buffalo” or “buffalo bull.” However, according to native Lakota speakers, the literal translation is something more like “He who owns us.” Lakota elders explain it this way: “The four leggeds came before the two leggeds. They are our older brother, we came from them. Before them, we were the root people. We came from them. We are the same thing. That is why we are spiritually related to them. We call them in our language “Tatanka,” which means “He Who Owns Us.” We cannot say that we own the buffalo because he owns us.
Today, “bison” is considered to be the correct name for the species. Though both “buffalo” and “bison” are widely accepted and are often used interchangeably, the scientific name for the species is “bison bison.” The term “buffalo” is more frequently used in American Indian communities, especially when referring to the buffalo in its cultural context. (source:

We also saw a number of Black Tailed Prairie Dogs and a Prairie Dog Town.  Black Tailed Prairie Dogs once ranged the Great Plains from southern Saskatchewan to northern Mexico. Originally named “petits chiens,” or “little dogs,” by early French explorers, these highly social animals are not really dogs, but rodents. They are members of the Sciuridae or squirrel family, closely related to ground squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks, and marmots.Prairie dogs are small, short-tailed animals with eyes and small ears set far back on their heads. Their light-brown fur blends well with the dirt of their mounds except when the animal has been blackened by burrowing into coal seams. Named for their bark-like warning call and black-tipped tail, prairie dogs average 14 to 17 inches in total length and weigh 1 to 3 pounds. With short, muscular legs and long-nailed toes on their front and hind feet, they are well equipped for a burrowing lifestyle. A prairie dog colony or “town” consists of a large number of closely spaced burrows, each comprising an elaborate network of interconnecting tunnels and multiple entrance holes that provide escape routes from pursuing predators. The primary prairie dog social unit is the “coterie,” an acre or so of territory with 50 to 60 burrow entrances that is occupied by a single family group. A coterie typically consists of one adult male, several adult females, and their offspring. Prairie dogs warn of territorial trespassers from adjacent coteries or approaching danger by emitting a series of “barks,” which sound more like high-pitched squeaks. Specific threats are associated with distinctive vocalization patterns that serve to alert all residents of a town to the common threat. (source:

From there, we toured the beautiful Needles Highway, a 14-mile section of road through needle-like rock formations and very narrow tunnels. And it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

“The Needles Highway is a spectacular drive through pine and spruce forests, meadows surrounded by birch and aspen and rugged granite mountains.
The road’s name comes from the needle-like granite formations which seem to pierce the horizon along the highway.
The roadway was carefully planned by former South Dakota Governor Peter Norbeck, who marked the entire course on foot and by horseback. Construction was completed in 1922.” (source:

It was such an inspirational drive and awe-inspiring.


Next up … we’ll tell you a little bit about Deadwood, the Lead Home Stake Gold Mine and the Saloon Number 10 where Wild Bill Hickock was killed.

Stay safe out there and keep making those memories.