#Instagram #birds #buffalo #unobservant

I stepped out into a crisp July day at about 7:49 a.m. this morning and was met with the sound of laughter. Or was it crying? Nope, definitely laugh…maybe someone was crying. It was coming from the naturalists’ storage shed, and there were a couple cars parked out front, so I went to investigate.

“Joe?” I asked warily as I came upon the shed. It sounded like she had her leg caught under a fallen piece of equipment and was screaming.
Then there was riotous laughter.

Two of the park’s naturalists, Joe (also known as Joe-Joe) and Melissa emerged from the shed looking like they’d been dipped in honey and then rolled around in massive amounts of mangy looking feathers. It wasn’t far from the truth – while looking for supplies for an educational canoeing program, they had come across a couple of sweatshirts that someone had fashioned into bird costumes. The dark cloth had been extended below the arms to create wings and large feathers had been attached. The hoods even sported two giant white fluffy balls that represented some of the weirdest bird eyes I’ve ever seen, but the whole getup was pretty brilliant in my opinion.

But after a time in the shed, the costumes were beginning to look frayed and worn. So, the two goofy naturalists had put them on and were dancing wildly around the storage shed singing some disco-era tune. It was a pretty funny sight and put me in a happy mood as I walked to work.

Fast forward about an hour. Someone posted an Instagram photo of the park to our Twitter account, so I attempted to check it out and see if it was re-tweetable. The page slowly loaded and the photo I was looking for was strangely MIA, but another buffalo picture loaded instead. It was taken and uploaded at about 8 a.m. by one of the girls who lives in the dorms. It read:

sarah89765: Good morning!!! Buffalo love our volleyball court. #custerstatepark #buffalo

The photo showed a large hulking buffalo lounging in the sand of our volleyball court. This wouldn’t be anything unusual except for the fact that I had gone outside and walked right by that spot and not even noticed him. Had the laughter and the bird costumes really been that distracting?

How does one not notice a giant brown life form sitting mere yards away from them? I don’t know – maybe I was still technically asleep or maybe I just missed him and he wasn’t even there. All I know is that from now on, I’m looking both ways before leaving the dorms.


We’re all just a bunch of buffalo.

When you’re around animals a lot, their daily habits start looking a little less like random behavior and a lot more like a soap opera.

First, it was the deer – the same two deer that have been stalking on my way to and from work, actually. They were apparently a couple and have now spawned an adorable little fawn that is too quick to get a good photo of. So, they still stalk me, but it’s different now that I know they’re a mom and a dad. The baby deer always sees me and runs into the tall grass to disappear while mom and dad don’t move at all and stand there as if to say, “What? Oh, you thought you saw something? You must be mistaken. Move along.”

What's that you say? Oh, there's nothing to see here, I promise. You can trust me; I'm a deer.

What’s that you say? Oh, there’s nothing to see here, I promise. You can trust me; I’m a deer.

And then there’s the buffalo. This time of year is known as ‘The Rut,’ which basically means it’s mating season. The feisty buffalo are a lot more active and are obviously paired off. Groups of yearlings and calves are always accompanied by two or three mature bull/cow pairs, and watching them dance around the inevitable is pretty entertaining (and a little terrifying). It’s as if you’re watching the ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ or ‘Guiding Light’ when a smaller, more feisty bull approaches the big granddaddy and tries to spar for the female – who really has no choice in the matter at all. The biggest and baddest bulls always win, but it’s still kind of fun to root for the underdog.
I present to you 'The Bold and the Buffalo'

I present to you ‘The Bold and the Buffalo’

All of this animal-watching has made me think about our behavior in the employee dorms. After all, we’re merely animals, right? For those of you who disagree; read on.

What’s funny is that we totally do the same sorts of things the wildlife around the park does. The most experienced male, the unicycling park veteran Cody, was the alpha male. Even though he lived with two other guys who we all liked equally as much, it was always “Cody’s cabin” or “Cody and the guys.” He always was subconsciously given ownership. It wasn’t a conscious choice – it just happened. Then, when Cody was gone for a week at a unicycling nationals, it kind of just morphed into “Charlie’s cabin” and “Charlie and the guys,” because he was the next in line. No voting, no decisions – just nature.

It was the same with the girls. Sarah, the loudest and most boisterous of the group, was just automatically rallied around as the alpha female because was the first one here, she was the one who motivated us all to hang out together, and well…she was just kind of the loudest, so it wasn’t exactly easy to let her fade from your mind (and I say that in the most loving way possible).

But then, just like the buffalo, as the summer wore on we separated into smaller groups. Yes, we all still hang out together and we all get along, but we’ve separated into smaller herds. Mouse-finding Kori and I have split off with our respective boyfriends because, well, that’s what animals do. It’s biology. Sarah has kind of created her own smaller herd that all hangs out together, and another quieter herd has also formed with some of our group’s more docile members.

It might be a little offensive to refer to humans and friends in such animalistic terms, but I’m trying to make a point. While we’re a more intelligent species, when you break it down, we’re just as wild and primal as the buffalo. It’s not a choice – it’s a feeling, a pull toward something you don’t even realize is happening until you reflect back on it. And yes, our ability to reflect back on things – heck – our ability to use utensils and drive racecars and bake cookies and eat worms for $5 as a kid all make us a more superior species.

But we’re a species nonetheless; nothing but animals. Maybe that’s why I like it here so much – it’s bringing me back to my animal roots. Who knows?

Anna the Intern – Lightning Chaser Extraordinaire!

It has been a lightning-filled summer here at Custer State Park. I’m not a meteorologist so I have no idea why, but the sky has been filled with lightning almost every night whether it rains or not. Sometimes it’s a distant thunderstorm over Rapid City and sometimes it’s just dry lightning directly over the park, but it’s been pretty cool regardless.

But not everyone agrees with me. For reasons I cannot grasp, Dennis and my boyfriend and a couple other people who work with me are afraid of lightning. Ok, when confronted with the phrase “afraid,” they’ll deny it fervently, but let’s just say they are extremely and, in my opinion, unnecessarily cautious when it comes to thunderstorms. My boyfriend insists that lightning is powerful and should be respected while Dennis launches into rants about how dangerous lightning strikes can be…yadda, yadda.

But I want a lightning photo!

Like this!

Like this!

Or this!

Or this!

Or even this!

Or even this!

I don’t even know if my camera(s) have a fast enough shutter speed, but I’d like to try and capture the light as it shoots across the sky in bolts. Because of this, when stormy clouds rolled into the park today, I headed for Mount Coolidge.

Mount Coolidge serves as the park’s lookout point for almost anything; fire, buffalo, nuclear warheads, Batman – you name it. It’s high up and has lots of tall metal posts, so I was breaking pretty much every lightning rule there is and I acknowledge that it was mildly stupid. You see, I respect weather, but I also surrender to it. I’m not going to go 20s-era pole sitting during a storm, but in my opinion if lightning wants to strike you, it’s going to strike you. There are too many “I was in the safest place possible and I still got struck!” stories out there for me to ever think I could hide from fate.

So, I drove up the steep winding road hoping to capture something cool for our Facebook page (facebook.com/custerstatepark – like us!) or for a future brochure, I didn’t know. I just knew it would be cool.

And then the clouds cleared. As if by some magic, the clouds moved on and I was left standing on top of a hill in the brilliant sunshine. I was disappointed, but I still snapped some photos. This is the best one I got:

You'll notice there's a lack of lightning. Or bad weather at all.

You’ll notice there’s a lack of lightning. Or bad weather at all.

Or maybe this one:
Of course, it looks like Narnia when I need it to look like Mordor.

Of course, it looks like Narnia when I need it to look like Mordor.

So, I’ll keep chasing the lightning until I get what I want. Maybe it’ll never happen and maybe it will, but until then, I’ll be that crazy person driving toward the storm instead of away from it.

Eeeeeeek. Rally time.

Beware – I’m going to be working at the gates during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

For those of you who live under rocks, the rally is a huge gathering of motorcycle enthusiasts from every corner of the country. They come in their cutoffs, pleather and Harley Davidson gear to ride around the Black Hills and consume large amounts of alcohol (hopefully not at the same time).

So. Many. Motorcycles.

So. Many. Motorcycles.

It draws in a lot of interesting people and is great for the tourism industry, but from what I hear from the park veterans, it can get pretty stressful at the park gates. That’s where all the motorcycle riders are stopped and charged to enter the park, and while that might seem simple, it’s not. Gate workers are expected to keep traffic flowing smoothly while keeping track of sales, selling passes in the right order, and running credit cards (which takes time and annoys people).

But it’s a giant party. (If you click on that link, you’ll see a photo of Pee Wee Herman with some scantily clad biker chicks prancing around on a stage). People are here to celebrate their love of motorcycles, see some great scenery and have a good time. That’s great. But I’m really nervous. I’ve never worked at a gate before and while I won’t have the most complicated of jobs (I’m merely selling bands for motorcycles – not cars) I’m still worried that my coworkers are going to want to kill me.

For the three days I will be doing this, I will be out in the hot sun on my feet all day. It’s reminiscent of my 3 years working at Dairy Queen, so I do have some experience catering to people, but I’m not looking forward to the heat.

So, if you see a girl running around frantically selling passes to motorcyclists, please cut me some slack. And please don’t rev your engine at me. And please bring me some cold water. Thank you.

Harney Peak

We six women stood in a hot parking lot with the breeze blowing through our hair and pondered our future. We could turn back – we could certainly find other things to do. I could go work with photos at work and they could all go lounge on the beach and throw back a few cocktails. But we knew we had to do this. We knew we could do this. But we really didn’t want to. Nonetheless, we began our journey up Harney Peak.

Harney Peak is the highest point in the state, and I’m pretty sure it’s the highest point for a very long distance, but I don’t know the specifics. It’s a beautiful area and for a lot of the 3ish-hour hike I felt like I was on the set of ‘Twilight.’ The trek was actually pretty uneventful for the first ten minutes until I heard a voice behind me.

“Hey Anna,” my friend Abby called out to me. She was hanging pretty far behind the group and didn’t look as if she was enjoying herself.
“Oh come on, think about how many calories you’re burning!” I coached her, “Think about how this can be like your workout for the month.”
“I don’t know why I agreed to do this,” she moaned, but kept walking.

But five minutes later, she called out again. She had decided she hated it and had no desire to do it, so she was going to go lay out at the lake…or something.

The rest of us fought onward. The tail winds upward for the first mile at an unimposing angle. The second mile makes you think you’re just that in shape because it takes a turn downhill for a while. Then, when you’re most confident about your hiking skills, everything gets rocky and you’re forced to climb up, up, upward to the high point on the mountain.

We all felt like death. Our calves burned and our legs ached. Our knees cried out to stop. But we kept walking-and sometimes almost crawling. When we finally did reach the top, we were met with a series of small steps. These were the absolute worst part because they were spaced so closely together that it forced you to this kind of hop-skip-jump thing as you climbed, which only made your calves scream louder.

But once you’re up there it’s beautiful.

Not my photo. Sadly.

Not my photo. Sadly.

It’s like being on top of the biggest rock in the world and it’s hard to believe that they managed to build a small fortress up there. We had lost a friend, but most of us had made it and it felt amazing to stand there and let the wind tickle your sweaty cheeks. The land stretched outward as far as you could see and the clouds were…

Dark. Brooding, dark, dreary, awful, and a little apocalyptic. We didn’t know where they had come from or why they were there, but we weren’t going to let them ruin this previously sunny and gloriously painful hike. We took pictures, answered questions for tourists, and had a jolly good time while this thick black cloud hung heavily in the air mere inches from our heads.

Maybe it was our optimism and maybe it was something in the atmosphere, but the cloud just hung there and never did anything. It never rained and it never hailed – which is a nice change from what the weather has been doing here lately. We left the top without incident and made the trek down with a group of very attractive German (or Dutch) guys and had a rousing conversation about the ‘Lord of the Rings.’ We were mid-flirt when my left toe caught on a rock, my knees gave out and I suddenly found myself on all fours in the dirt. Gravity can be really mean.

I wasn’t scraped up very badly, but I was super embarrassed so all conversation ceased. Except for one of the girls (Jess) having to stop and pee in the woods, that was really everything that happened. It was hard, but it felt good mentally to know we had done it. On the other side of things, it didn’t feel good physically at all and even as I sit here, I ache all over. I make old man noises when I sit and stand and people are looking at me strangely, but I don’t care because I did it. I hiked Harney.

Ways to not get charged by a buffalo:

Treat them how you would like to be treated.
It’s as simple as that. Imagine that those giant, hairy beasts are your neighbor Tom or your mother-in-law Angela. Each one has its own personality and each one can do a lot of damage to a human or a car if they have half a mind to. Granted, maybe your mother-in-law can also do damage to a person or a car, but buffalo can do it faster and more efficiently.

1. Honestly, would you like it if you were walking down the side of a road minding your own business, and a car pulled up next to you and started snapping photos? What if that car even managed to block your path a little and went from mildly inconvenient to super annoying? You’d kick their car if you could – only, when a buffalo kicks your car, it does a lot of damage.
If you’re going to take photos, give them enough room to breathe!

2. If you were standing in a mall with your child, would you like it if a stranger came up and tried to pet your kid? Your kid that you had just birthed and began raising, only to be assaulted by well-meaning strangers who have all kinds of their own useless advice on how to properly raise a child. And what If these strangers began congregating around you and snapping photos? Revving the engines of their cars? What then?
You’d get super ticked off and probably lash out – only when a buffalo lashes out, they can kill you. I know the buffalo calves (or ‘cinnamons,’ as I like to call them) are adorable, but they need their space.

3. How would you like it if people honked and yelled at you just to get you to look at them for a photo? You’d get pretty mad pretty fast, right? It’s no different with the buffalo. When the herd is crossing the road, let them do it at their own speed. They’re going that fast so that everyone is able to keep up, and if you’re late to something important, using the excuse that a herd of buffalo was in your way is always accepted without protest West River.

Dear tourists, I beg of you to heed my warning. The buffalo are starting to show that they’re so over having to deal with we tiny, annoying humans, so give them room to breathe and be respectful.

The end.

Cathedral Spires Trail

It rained a lot on Needles Highway yesterday, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from doing my job. I had planned to walk Cathedral Spires Trail and collect GPS points for the app we’re helping develop, and so by golly, I wasn’t going to let a little sprinkle stop me.

I drove all the way to the trail head (which takes about half an hour if you’re coming from the office and happen to get behind a slow caravan of cars that stop every time they see a bird) and parked in the lot. It was sprinkling still, so I reached back to get my coat – only to realize that I had forgotten it.

But no matter! I am resilient! I am young! I can do this!

So, I got out in my work shorts and button-up collared shirt and proceeded to walk the trail. It wasn’t too bad at first; it was merely misty out and it made everything look green, luscious and beautiful. But then it started to rain a little harder. And harder. And harder.

I knew I was trapped because I had already walked about a mile down the trail and there was no turning back. I tried to take cover under a pathetic little Aspen tree, but it didn’t do much good. It was starting to look like I had entered a wet t-shirt contest and my hair so wet it was dripping, so I knew it was time to move.

And speaking of my hair, my friends at the park and I had dyed it a nice auburn red the night before. If you’re a girl reading this, you know that means I was in danger of having rivers of blood-colored rain flowing down my face like Carrie if I had missed any of the excess dye on my skull when I washed my hair the night before. And I always miss excess dye.

Ok, maybe this is a little dramatic, but sometimes hair dye runs! Also; great movie.

Ok, maybe this is a little dramatic, but sometimes hair dye runs! Also; great movie.

Not wanting to terrify any tourists, I took off running toward a group of giant rocks. They were slightly slanted, so I thought I might be able to hole up against one and stay dry. I was right; there was a wide sliver between two rocks where I was able to wait out the rain.
Simply breathtaking.

Simply breathtaking.

As I sat there and examined the beauty around me, I heard a faint whistle in the distance. I couldn’t believe my ears, and I shook it off.

But then it happened again.

Somebody in the park was doing the Hunger Games whistle repeatedly, and it was epic.

For those of you who don’t know, the Hunger Games are a series of young adult books about kids killing each other that got made into movies. In that process, a whistle-theme was developed, and it sounds like this:


It’s haunting, slow, simple, and beautiful – and it was perfect for that moment as I sat wedged between two enormous rock formations. I felt like I was in Ireland or Scotland and the moors were giving off mist in the distance as the rain fell and the fairies danced just out of sight.

This park’s beauty just takes you by surprise sometimes, and it’s magical.