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Campsite Photo Trip - 2013

Custer State Park Part One

We begin our visit to the beautiful and very popular Custer State Park.

I arrived at Custer State Park late on Saturday.


There are nine campgrounds in the park and they are all on the reservation system. At Custer you can reserve a site one year in advance. This is the crown jewel of South Dakota's State Parks and it fills up fast. However, one campground, Center Lake, works a bit differently. You can only make same day reservations. That means you call up the reservation office at 6:00am mountain time to get a spot starting that day and have to be there by 10:00pm. Like all campgrounds here, the limit is 14 days. That's what I did on Saturday morning before leaving Badlands.


There were only two tent sites left and I nabbed one of them.

Sunday I drove into the town of Custer City, about 13 miles away, for shopping and laundry duties. I also bought an ant feeder. Very useful here. No mosquitos or biting flies, just pesty flies. Ant food.


But before that I walked down to the lake at sunrise.

Center-Lake-6 Center-Lake-2

The mist coming off the lake was very, umm, misty.


Looked like dancing ghosts.

On Monday I drove around looking for cell reception so I could write and post the last blog. I found a good spot at the day use area on Stockade Lake.


As I was finishing up the rain started to fall.


Yeah. It has rained every day here. Not for long and usually in the afternoons accompanied by thunderstorms. I have finally figured out the cause of the bad weather that seems to plague my trips. Me. But I will get into that later.

Over the next few days I visited all the campgrounds in the park except Sylvan Lake. I have reservations there next week for a couple of days that I made in back in March.

This is my site at Center Lake, number 3.


I am glad I got a tent site because they have nice gravel pads that drain water very well...

There are two loops here with a total of 71 sites, but no electricity. The lake is a 2 minute flat walk from the lower loop and slightly longer and very steep walk from the upper loop.

If you can, ask for site 20.


It's at the end of the lower loop, flat, easy to back into, and next to a creek. And it's very big.

Anyway, let's go check out some campgrounds.


There are 27 sites here, some with power. In fact, all the other campgrounds in the park offer sites with electricity so I won't bother mentioning it again. Half the sites are open, like number 2.


The rest are shaded along a creek that empties into a fishing pond.


I talked to some campers in that area. They have been coming to the same site at the same time for over 15 years. In fact, several other campers have been coming at the same time for many years. They call them their camping friends and have watched each other's kids grow up. Their only connection is the time they share at the campground. Kinda cool. They told me they made their reservation for next year the day they got here.

Across the road there are six walk in tent sites. Several right along a bubbling brook. I liked number 26.


A few miles to the east is Game Lodge Campground.


Like Coolidge, it's 57 sites are divided between open ones like number 2,


And shaded ones like number 43.


They also have a very pretty bath house.


It's called Game Lodge for a reason. Herds of hairy tacos seem to congregate in this area.


See the big bull on the left? He must of known what I was thinking because he gave me the evil eye.


I stopped back at camp for lunch and thought of him.


I love alfalfa sprouts with tacos and burgers. Have not been able to find them in a while and it was a treat.

Legion Lake campground is about 6 miles west of Game Lodge.


There are 21 sites here with numbers 13-15 having some shade. Here is number 14.


A few hundred feet away is Legion Lake.


There are four resorts in the park. Game Lodge, Legion Lake, Blue Bell, and Sylvan Lake. I will check them out this week and feature them in my next blog post.

The dock in the left of the photo above is the boat rental concession at Legion Lake Resort.

Another 5 miles west is Stockade Lake.


This is the day use area and beach where I do my uploads.

There are two campgrounds that share this lake. North and South.


South has 24 sites and I was impressed by number 12 the most.


It has a rock fireplace, electricity, and plenty of room to spread out.

I found an even better campsite at Stockade North.


There are 42 sites here spread around under the pine trees. Get number 37 if you can.


I had to take this photo from a distance to show the size of the site. There were people lounging on chairs in the first bit of shade below the trailer. Through the magic of Photoshop I was able to delete them. I hope it didn't hurt too much.

Between the two campgrounds and on the other side of the road is Bismarck, a National Forest Service campground.


You have to enter Custer State Park to get to it but if you don't plan on exploring Custer (highly doubtful) you can avoid the $15 entrance fee, good for seven days, or the $30 annual fee.

I currently have four annual State Park passes on my car. Colorado ($70), Nebraska ($25), South Dakota, and Minnesota ($30). I'll try to remember to get a photo some time. I also have the National Park pass ($80) which covers entrance fees to all federal lands. California charges, at last look, $250 for their annual pass and that doesn't include parking at some of the more popular beaches. Gotta love the Golden State.

But I digress.

Bismarck has 23 sites, no hookups, and was booked solid for upcoming weekend. This is site 21.


Maybe it had something to do with lake and, according to the people I talked to, the excellent fishing.

Bismarck-Lake Bismarck-Fishing-Pier

Heading back east and south 10 miles we run into the horse area of Custer and Blue Bell campground.


There are 35 sites here and since the Sturgis Bike Rally was starting the next day, Friday, Harley's were starting to sprout like mushrooms, like in site 33.


You can rent (lease?) a horse here for trail rides.


But the real horse crowd heads 3 miles up a dirt road to French Creek Horse Camp.


About a mile up the road I was flagged down by a gal on a horse holding another by the bridle. The conversation went something like this:

"Can I help you?"

"Are you heading up to the horse camp?"


"I need a favor"


"Can you tell a gal named Bernice that her daughter Bell fell off her horse. She isn't hurt but refuses to get back on. She needs to bring a friend and drive back here to the bridge (we were at a bridge, luckily) and pick up Bell in the car"

"Um, I have heard that if you fall off a horse you need to get right back on"

"Yeah, but she won't. She's only ten"

"OK, how will I find Bernice?"

"She has a red Ford F350"

I left and headed towards the campground. There are only 26 sites. How hard could it be to find a red Ford truck.

Very easy, as it turned out. There were 8 of them. I finally found the right one and Bernice and her friend left to pick up the daughter and horse.

Anyway, site 9 was one of my favorites, even though it was the wrong truck.


The horses gave me a look as I left but I told them not to worry.


Not yet, anyway.

Friday I took a break from visiting campgrounds and went for a drive up the Needles Highway.


Those are the Needles on SD 87, not a great photo, but I plan on doing more of that stuff this coming week.

There are also a few tunnels on this road, the narrowest being a mere 8 feet 4 inches wide. Seriously.


It gets a little narrower as you head into it.



On either side of the tunnel the road has two lanes which caused quite a bottleneck as cars and motorcycles ventured in at the same time from opposite directions.

I finally made it to Hill City, 20 miles north of Custer SP, still about that distance south from Sturgis if not more.


The roads were getting crowded and I wanted to get back to camp before dark, so I turned around and headed back south.

Saturday morning at 3:30am. A massive thunderstorm hit the area.

I turned on my phone to capture the sounds and the lightning flashes using the video recorder. It didn't pick up most of the flashes, which were happening almost constantly, in fact the video is mostly black, but the bigger ones show the inside of my tent. And the sound of rain and thunder. It's only 2 minutes long. Turn up your volume.

Around noon, after processing all the previous campgrounds at my site and heading towards my upload area at Stockade Lake, I passed by this on the side of the road near Legion Lake.


Yeah. It was melting quickly but we did get a good dose of snow/hail in August. A ranger told me that they had to plow the streets of Custer City and the tunnels on Needles road were blocked. The ones I went through the day before.

So I finally figured it out. I am a Rain Maker. Wherever I go the water follows. And that could be a good thing. Maybe I should start camping in drought-stricken areas. The Moisture Man.

I will let you know how that works out later. For now I still have Yellowstone ahead in September. Place your bet on an early snowfall.

Regards, Park Ranger


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