“Then she gave something to the chief, and it was a pipe with a bison calf carved on one side to mean the earth that bears and feeds us, and with twelve eagle feathers hanging from the stem to mean the sky and the twelve moons, and these were tied with a grass that never breaks”. – Black Elk
The joy of any driving trip through Custer State Park in South Dakota is the sighting of the Great American Bison. Once a prominent presence throughout this landscape, today their numbers are sadly dwindling. At the height of the bison population, there were over 30 million of them roaming the grasslands of North America. However, the arrival of European settlers and the desecration of Native American communities and territories significantly reduced the bison population to almost extinction. We almost lost one of the greatest symbols and species of the American West.
Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a special place because it is one of the only truly wild places left in the United States where bison roam free. In fact, there are nearly 1,300 of these magnificent beasts wandering about the parks 71,000 acres.
During a family vacation to South Dakota last summer, we spent many hours driving through the beautiful, winding roads of Custer State Park. Yet it was not until our last day while driving along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop of prairie land that we finally encountered our first bison.
The kids were busy listening to a book on tape and didn’t realize what was in front of us until my husband Paul slowly hit the brakes. I nearly jumped out of my seat with joy! There directly in front of us was a herd of bison, the first we had seen during our trip to South Dakota.
I couldn’t believe our good luck! It was our last day in the park and we were headed back to town. I have never seen one in the wild and it was pretty amazing. We stopped the car and rolled down the window slightly to catch a glimpse. None of us said a word as the bison crossed directly in front of our car, making grunting sounds.
He even stopped and turned to look at us directly inside the car. We were amazed. (Unfortunately the picture did not turn out at all or else I would include it).
Once he was safely across he began to graze and ignored us. We watched in wonderment at this incredible creature, living freely like so few do. I wondered whether bison would be around in future generations or if they would disappear forever off the face of the earth.
I sure hope not. Their majestic symbolism struck a chord in my heart and reminded me that we all belong together on this planet. It is not only ours, but all of ours to share.
how lucky! <3
Love the wide, open sky and sweeping hills. The car and road seem like they really don’t belong, in my view.
Yes it is a little strange but the good thing that there is so much open space and nature in South Dakota. There are not many rods through the park tooz
Wow! It’s my dream to see these amazing beasts up close!
Yes they are huge!!! It was quite a treat.
What a beautiful creature.
Yes the are amazing. I took these from the car so they aren’t that great but still wanted to share it.
How amazing! And so sad they are almost extinct 😕
Yes they are quite beautiful.
Did I miss the “Oops” moment here? Or was it the bison crossing the road? We have photos like this from Yellowstone. I just love seeing all the bison and imagining what it must have been like when the entire plain was covered with them as far as the eye could see.
Yes the oops was the bison crossing in front of our car. I was rather rushed so perhaps didn’t do the best correlation but I wasn’t sure exactly what to do for the challenge and then remembered how funny it was when he walked right in front of our car, so close I could have reached out and grabbed him. 😌
It’s amazing and a bit sobering when they walk right up to and past your vehicle, isn’t it? SO big up close.
Yes. They just are so huge and we all just sat there in silence watching it. When he turned and stopped rift in front of the car it was pretty wild. That picture was terrible so I didn’t include it but I should have for the oops! I have lots of oops stories to share but due to time constraints didn’t today. I can think of where I slipped and fell in the rice paddy and was filled with mud in Tanzania as the most recent experience. I realize too that I normally delete every oops picture automatically and most are of me! Me with some odd or silly expression on my face (in the rare chance I’m in a photo as I usually don’t like to be). 😌
What a sight that must have been! I hope to see this magnificent animal in the wild sometime.
Yes it was pretty amazing. I’m so glad we got to see them in their natural setting and also so close.
What a magnificent creature! In your last photo he looks quite content lying in the prairie grass, ready for a little snooze. I’m glad your kids got to see him!
Me too! They really enjoyed it. I think bison are pretty spectacular. I also once saw a moose in the wild in Northern Minnesota and it was amazing.
We got similarly lucky early one morning in Teddy Roosevelt National Park when a huge herd of these guys crossed right in front of us. It was a misty, moody morning and seeing those beasts emerge from the haze was magical! Did you get to TRNP on your trip? – it was awesome!
Cool! Where is Teddy Roosevelt Park? I’m assuming not too far from Black Hills? I know there are tons of great parks in South Dakota. I need to go back!
It’s actually in North Dakota. We took a northern route out and a more southern route back. I wasn’t sure of your whole route.
Will have to do it next time Lexi!
I am sending you this link because of the bison photo – but there are many other super animal photos as well! http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/PhotoZone/Archives/2015/2015-National-Wildlife-Photo-Contest-Winners.aspx?s_email_id=20151213_MEM_ENG_December_NWM|MLL
Thanks so much Marilyn! This is wonderful!!! I wish I could take such amazing pictures of animals.
Some beautiful shots there Nicole – and OH those westerrn skies!!! Lovely story.
Wow! What fabulous experience. I would love to see that. I can feel your wonder and excitement!
Yes it was really cool Alison!
Look like a great experience. I would love to see a bison one day. You have captured some lovely photos.
Yes, you should make a visit to Yellowstone and to Custer State Park. It is really special. The old wild western plains. Very beautiful.
The bison are impressive seen in relation to your car. I imagine a herd thundering across the plains as they must have done in the past and perhaps sometimes still do must be even more so.
Yes, they were pretty amazing. It is hard to believe how many millions used to popular this part of the world, isn’t it?