“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.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Driving along the Wildlife Loop in Custer State Park

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.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Approaching bison

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.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Oops…excuse me please while I cross in front of your car. 

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park, South Dakota

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).

Custer State Park, South Dakota

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.

Custer State Park, South Dakota

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.

This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Oops. 


  1. 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.


    1. 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. 😌

      1. 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). 😌

  2. 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!

      1. 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.

  3. 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.

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