Last week we took a road trip to the Black Hills and Custer State Park in South Dakota. It was Ruby’s first trip west and she enjoyed it much more than her trip to Cape Cod a few summers ago. She’s definitely more of a woodsy dog than a water dog.
If you haven’t visited Custer State Park, I highly recommend a trip. Custer is a state park and wildlife reserve in the Black Hills in southwestern South Dakota. The park covers an area of 71,000 acres of hilly terrain, sweeping prairies, majestic rock formations and is home to a famous herd of 1,500 free-roaming bison. In addition to bison, the park hosts elk, mule deer, mountain goats, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, coyotes, mountain lions, and feral burros (not really so feral). We were lucky to see all of these critters except bighorn sheep, coyotes (we see them in Chicago so not a big deal), and mountain lions, which are only spotted occasionally in the park.
Custer is also famous for its scenic Needles highway and wildlife loop as well as its close proximity to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Badlands National Park, and Wind Cave National Park. However, there’s enough to do in the park itself that you might not even make it to the other places. We found the Black Hills and Custer State Park pretty dog friendly – though obviously dogs should be leashed and extra caution should be taken around wildlife.
Dog Friendly Custer State Park and the Black Hills
Ruby, our urban rescue dog, was able to climb rocks, growl at antelope and bison (from the safety of my lap in our car), spend quality time with her doggie cousin Wrigley, hike up hills that left the rest of us winded, and smell things she probably never even imagined existed.
We adopted Ruby when she was about seven. The first part of her life (what we know about it at least) was spent in a hoarding situation where she had multiple litters of puppies and probably not much time outside breathing fresh air. I can’t even imagine what the vastness and wild wonder of the Black Hills were like for her.
Traveling is one of my most favorite things (though I don’t do it as much as I would like because of life, money, time constraints, etc). Quite simply, I love the feeling of being some place else. And only when I am some place else, do I really feel alive and in the moment. I imagine this is how dogs feel all the time.
Although I moved around as a kid, I have pretty much stayed in the Chicago area as an adult (aside from a few years on the east coast in my twenties). I am a wanderer by nature; I never planned on staying – it just kind of happened.
The Midwest has many wonderful attributes, but the flatness drains me in the way some are affected by the seasons and the grayness of winter. I just feel better other places. I am happier, healthier and breathe easier when I am on one of the coasts or in the mountains, the desert or any other beautiful, rugged extreme. But my husband’s job, which sustains us, is in Chicago so there’s little chance of us moving any time soon. So for now, I need to accept where we are in life – which brings me back to dogs (an awkward transition, but whatever).
Dogs live in the now. Whether they are watching a herd of buffalo or napping on the couch – for dogs the current moment is all there is and they remain totally present, focused and themselves regardless. They don’t wish they were some place or lug around a big trunk of regrets. Dogs live in the moment, even the difficult moments, and when the moment is over, they move on to the next moment and don’t look back.
I want to be more like dogs – and travel more, too.
Tune in Wednesday for our wildlife photos from Custer State Park. Here’s a sneak peak!