Niobrara National Wildlife Reserve

Saturday we visited Niobrara National Wildlife Reserve. We were a quarter mile into the park when up there on the ridgeline loomed the silhouette of a buffalo bull: a big boy, for sure. Moments later we saw the whole herd behind him, maybe 100 of them. These bison are more tame than wild so they didn’t stampede nor would any run. Still an impressive sight, and there was more to come. A pheasant cock ran across the road sporting mating season colors. Then came a prairie dog town: a bunch of energetic scamps, them. The elk were hiding, but the river was running clear and clean, and on the way back we noticed that the buffalo calves had come out of their hiding places and were now nursing. What a place this must have been 200 years ago!

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This park is located at the intersection of the four major plant groups in North America. It’s about as far west as you find oaks and as far east as you can find the conifers of the west. And it’s as far south as the paper birches and cottonwoods can make it. Now I know why I haven’t seen a redbud for 300 miles.

Niobrara River Valley
Niobrara River Valley

We planned to drive 90 miles and boondock at a city park 60 miles short of The Badlands. We should have realized “It’s Saturday; there’s no free parking.” The locals had already occupied the park. They were grilling, getting ready for a little league game, and playing pickup basketball. There was no place to park another vehicle, let alone a truck and trailer. We drove on to The Badlands National Park.

We had to negotiate some rugged roads that barely qualify as blue highways (I’d call SD 73 gray). But we got to The Badlands around 5:00, tried our luck at the park’s only campground, and BINGO! We had our choice of half the sites. The horizon is incredibly beautiful on three sides, and Kat took a bunch of pictures, including some killer sunsets. By the way, Monet was right: depending upon the angle and intensity of the sun, everything will look different at various times of day.

View From Today's Front Door
View From Today’s Front Door

 

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Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and neither 30-something calf asked me to buy flowers or champagne. I should have bought the champagne anyway (I like it too). But in Indian Country one must think of the necessities first, and that I did. Chardonnay!

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