Friday, September 26, 2008

Sylvan Lake

We moved our house to Wind Cave National Park, so we could be closer to Custer State Park and the southern Black Hills. Renita’s friend, Kate, e-mailed her about the trail around Sylvan Lake and so we headed there by way of the Wildlife Loop road and Needles highway.
Entering Custer State Park from the south, we passed a fairly large herd of Buffalo and a few really large buck antelope. One sported really large horns, probably 16 inches, which is a really nice antelope anywhere. Anyway, we paid our entrance fee, and then turned south to drive the Wildlife loop road.
Wildlife Road is aptly named! We passed buffalo, antelope, Merriam turkey, and of course the herd of wild donkeys, the hit of the loop! They were a bit far from the road, but after waiting a bit, one donkey walked over to the truck to see if Renita would give it a handout. Soon others headed our way. We took some pictures and then explained to the donkey that we were on a fixed income, being retired, and had no extra food to share with beggars, (Our stock answer to Rainbow family members and other lazy animals).
Driving a bit further we came to the roundup corrals where buffalo were being penned for culling and study. We noticed after taking pictures that they had been branded with a large letter “C”, unlike the buffalo at Yellowstone, (no brand). At the nearby visitor center, a Audubon’s Bighorn sheep was mounted and a display explained that the sheep were extinct. These sheep had roamed the prairies of South Dakota.
Continuing our scouting we headed north and east intending to hike the Lovers Leap Trail. However we discovered that the trail was muddy and extremely primitive so we decided to drive the Needles highway, to Sylvan Lake.
What a crazy road. The road has two tunnels, one of which is only eight feet seven inches wide! We had to fold in the side mirrors on the truck to make it through without damaging them. The road is narrow, with sharp curves, and has few guardrails. Luckily, I was too busy driving to look over the edge and Renita was treated to the acrophobic view. It reminded her of the road at Crater Lake National Park.
Passing Super Pin, a 5.10 rated needle that I climbed a long time ago, we soon drove through the narrowest tunnel and we arrived at the Eye of The Needle. A spectacular sight and a beautiful panorama of other spires greeted us! A bus of other visitors drove up and we were caught in a crowd of retirees.
Finally arriving at Sylvan Lake we were able to find a parking spot four our large truck and headed to the lakeside trail. It was immediately obvious why Kate or anyone would love the place. Sylvan lake is gorgeous. It’s a small lake that has thrusting spires of granite rising from the lake waters. Tall Ponderosa Pines and small meadows edged the lake. We walked on the trial and stopped at a beautiful spot for a picnic lunch, sitting on a granite spur. Thank you Kate!
Returning home we drove through Custer, but our day wasn’t over. While cooking brats on a wood fire, a ranger came by and invited us to the Elk presentation and the evenings elk bugling trip! She used a power point show while talking about the elk herd in the park. At one point she showed an mpeg of an elk bugling, and a real elk answered the movies call! Going to the American Elk turnoff we listened for the elk. While Renita and the other were able to hear them, my hearing is so bad that I simply enjoyed watching the stars,(The next morning an elk bugled near the camp and I was able to finally hear one).
A long and full day. Clear skies.

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