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Photographer's Note

Tatanka

North American Bison in a morning rain.

Needles Highway
Custer State Park
the Black Hills
South Dakota.

Tatanka is the Lakota (Teton Sioux) word for the North American Bison .. otherwise known as the American Buffalo .. although other than being a large herbivore with horns the species has nothing in common with the Cape Buffalo, Water Buffalo or other true buffalo.

After Sylvan Lake (see previous post) as my first early morning opportunity ... I returned to Custer State Park after some more dawn shooting on my second morning. I had run out of time while hiking on the previous day and didn’t get a drive through the park.

There are two main reasons that make a drive through Custer State Park (and the adjoining Wind Cave National Park) a necessity on any Black Hills visit. One is the wonderfully scenic Needles highway ..a narrow road filled with large unusual rock formations .. (the area is a national attraction in rock climbing circles) ..

The other reason a visit to Custer State Park is a must is the North American Bison. Custer State Park has a massive free roaming herd 1,500 strong. The adjoining Wind Cave National Park also has a large herd .. one of four genetically pure herds in North America (Bison were bred with domestic cattle to boost the gene pool and population when the animal was on the verge of extinction).

My trip through Needles was disappointing .. as soon as I reached the road the early morning sky opened up with a torrential downpour .. I was headed down to the valleys below when I rounded a corner on the narrow road and .. see Workshop 1 .. this workshop is also there since if you have never met one of these critters in the wild I don’t think my original post really communicates the scale .. the workshop will allow you to compare the Bison to say a Toyota. Bison can reach 6.5 feet (2 meters) tall and 10 feet (3 meters) long .. they can weigh 900-2500 lb. (400-1150 kgs).

I have no idea what this fellow was doing up here on the narrow mountain road just after dawn .. I guess it is easier to walk through than the bush and the Needles are a scenic place.

Workshop 2 is my favorite picture of my whole vacation .. as I was slowly tailing the Bison we rounded a corner and there is a guy who has pulled over and is snapping shots of the deep valley to our right .. seemingly oblivious to this Bison barreling down the road at him. Bison are very dangerous animals .. There are signs all over the park to remind you of this .. Yellowstone did a study and found that four times as many people were injured or killed by Bison than by Bears. The Bison stopped between us. For a moment I was worried he was going to turn around and come at me .. No way I was going to back my car up the little twisting mountain road .. Luckily this guy finally got back in his car and the Bison and I continued down the mountainside.

Finally we got past the deep valley .. the road widened and the Bison pulled over for a lunch break .. I shot this out my passenger window at 45 mm. (35 mm. equivalent of 90 mm.) .. way closer than felt comfortable ..

Looking at my image I wonder about him .. those scars .. the little injury on his back leg ..

Bison were hunted to near extinction in the nineteenth century as part of a United States government program to starve the plains Indians. Bison have recovered to a stable population of around 350,000 (compared to an early nineteenth century population of 60-100 million).

I have head an incredible time to visit Custer State Park is at the end of September when they have their annual Buffalo round up .. see this video (real media_ .. or here .. for more information .. They round up the herd into the corral to run health checks on the animals and to keep the population at a sustainable level (excess animals are auctioned to private ranches).

After my close encounter with this fellow .. and one more resting with his back to me in some trees .. I never got the shot of the herd I was hoping for .. all the rest of the buffalo I met that day in herds were at about 800 meters ..

For more general information on the Black Hills see the note to my post Paha Sapa.

Some techinical information in this note from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Bison

needless to say that map coordinates are a bit aproximate (at least it is the correct road).

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Additional Photos by John McLaird (jmcl) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 2514 W: 131 N: 4070] (14535)
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