Sunday, June 12, 2011

South Dakota Trip, Part 2: Frybread and Serendipity

I was semi-organized enough before my vacation to have made lodging arrangements and two dinner reservations for the week. But I certainly didn’t have my days scheduled to the hour like some of the folks about the Blackhills and Badlands on Tripadvisor, whose tips I’m nonetheless grateful for. Once I got to Custer State Park, I packed a sandwich, started meandering my way around, got friendly with my maps, and kind of let my vacation unfold before me.

Needles Highway was recommended as a highlight, and it turned out my cabin at Sylvan Lake was already on it. I continued past the lake to encounter sights like these my first morning.

Needles Highway (as well as Iron Mountain Road, which I traveled later) is also known for its one-lane tunnels. Apparently even a trained tour bus driver can make his/her way through these passages, but they are quite something to come upon for the first time.

Continuing farther south toward the Wildlife Loop, I spotted these bighorn sheep. (OK, actually I spotted the cars pulled off on the side of the road – a good sign in a place like this that there’s something worth stopping to see.) When I was a wee sprout, bighorn sheep were a common sight in Rocky Mountain National Park, where I spent many happy days thanks to my grandparents’ cabin. But illness all but decimated the bighorn population in RMNP, and this was the first time in decades I’d seen them. A harbinger of a good day, in my book.

Just before I hit the turnoff to the Wildlife Loop, I saw more cars on the side of the road. Ah, yes, tatanka, or buffalo. I happily bided my time while these magnificent creatures ambled across the road, managing to snap a few pics from the safety of my car and with the aid of my camera’s zoom, when I remembered to use it.

Shortly thereafter, I had to brake for antelope, whose horns are far more distinctive than their butts, to my untrained eye. But this is the only photo I managed to snap after this guy galloped down the road behind my car.

In the biggest traffic jam of all were these animals, who I’ve learned, thanks to the folks at the Blackhills, Badlands, and Lakes Association, are “typically called burros (Spanish) here in the Hills, yet they are donkeys. They were previously used as pack animals approximately 100 years ago for tourists visiting Mt. Harney. Then turned loose in the '30s and there they have been ever since.” They were short and very tame, poking their heads into car windows.

In addition to scenic drives and all this wildlife, Custer State Park includes several lodges with adjacent cabins, numerous lakes, and boating opportunities of all sorts. This is Legion Lake, where I stopped to admire water fowl and their downy offspring. I wish I'd stopped and explored more that day. Sigh, but all the more reason to return :)

I’d packed a sandwich for lunch, but just as I was getting hungry, I came upon State Game Lodge. My sister, who vacationed in South Dakota last summer with her husband’s family and passed along numerous wonderful tips, had mentioned a memorable buffalo stew she’d eaten here.

Comments I'd read online suggested State Game Lodge offered the best food of any of the lodges in the park, although I'm not sure you'd go wrong with any of them. My timing seemed a sign I should forgo my sandwich and treat myself to lunch here. Although there’s also a lunch buffet served here (and at many of the lodges, I think), I zeroed in on two items from the appetizers section of the menu: One was a cup of this hearty and delicious buffalo stew my sister had talked about.

The other was Smoked Chicken Frybread with applewood smoked bacon, sautéed chicken, tomatoes, wild forest mushrooms, topped with fried leeks – a fantastic combination that tugged at all my culinary heartstrings. Especially the frybread, a Native American staple I’d never before had the opportunity to taste. I can’t say that this was made by a Native mom, but I did enjoy it and the forest of ingredients that accompanied it. The frybread is the crispy thing in the lower lefthand corner that looks kind of like a pie.

In case you're in need of a jolt of whimsy during this long post, here's a clip about frybread from one of my favorite movies of all time: Smoke Signals.

So, I promised you a walk around Sylvan Lake, and I'll try to keep this short as I sign off. My sister clued me in that she'd done this walk and that after you think the trail ends, you can actually go further and get "behind" the rocks.

I started off on the far side of the lake from my cabin and the camp store, over in the day-trip parking lot and went as far as I could get.

My walk on that side of the lake did not result in what I assumed she was referring to. But I saw folks hiking on the side near to the camp store, so shifted gears and walked that trail.

I came upon this bridge that appeared to dead-end straight into rock:

I wondered if the lake was just too high to traverse the water along the craggy rocks that led to the bridge.

Then I found a sliver of a trail that led to this:

These steps take you down at the other end of that slot passage:

And here's that "bridge to nowhere" from behind.

Edited to add: Additional wildlife and Sylvan Lake photos now up on my blog facebook page (which I think should be visible to anyone):

More South Dakota tales as well as local food posts coming up. But for now this is it, kids.



moi said...

Amazing, the amount of wildlife you encountered! My last visit to Needles was four years ago to climb (my third visit over all). We thought we'd be okay, timing our trip two weeks before Sturgis, but the yay-hoo riders were out in force nonetheless, scaring everything within a 20 mile radius, including us, so we didn't see so much as a bird. Grrrrrrrr.

Fry bread is sacred in these parts, too, and if you're lucky enough to visit during one of our Pueblo's feast days, look out. The food is spectacular.

darkfoam said...

The scenery is just spectacular as is the wildlife! I've never had fry bread but it certainly looks delicious, especially the way it's been presented in your photo. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful photos.

Buzz Kill said...

It looks like you were driving through a wilderness safari at six flags. I still can't believe you did it by yourself. I've had frybread before but nothing like what you had. I'm enjoying these posts.

Sharon Rudd said...

Moi, during my brief spin through Spearfish and on I-90 past Sturgis, I got the feeling they encourage motorcyclists year-round . . .

Foamy, thanks! I think another reason I lucked out on such good wildlife spotting is that I went early enough in the season that the place wasn't as packed with tourists as it will be later in the summer.

Buzzy, it was much better than Six Flags! And I am tickled at your amazement that I did this trip myself. More posts coming up, and I've got more photos up on my blog page on facebook, which I think you should be able view if you just click on this link (you, non-facebooker, you):

fishy said...

I'd saddle up and travel with you anywhere.
Beautiful pics, the food even smells good from here.
PS) inspired haiku entry over at AppleLand

chickory said...

incredible trip! I want to go too. I love the burros, the bighorns, the bison. man, lots of wild animals around and the country is gorgeous. the contrast of rocky outcroppings and glittering lakes is insane. is it awful in the winter? it must be or more people would love to live there. The hike looks great that bridge into the rock is really fun. Ive loved this Eggy - its a lot of work to do a big detailed post. thanks so much for doing so. i loved it.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff. I love donkeys! Did you climb the verticle rocks?

Sharon Rudd said...

Aww, fishy, thanks for the encouragement :)

Chicky, I haven't been there in the winter, but I'm guessing someone from your neck of the woods would consider it awful :) More detailed posts to come!

Troll, the donkeys were great fun. Nope, I didn't climb those vertical rocks - I'll leave that to people like Applebiter :)

Jenny said...

just wanted to say I'm really glad to see you submitted a haiku this week. Nicely done!

WaterDog said...

Late read on this one. Almost sorry I went to the beach instead of with you. OH well,there is always CA to be explored. Donkeys are a problem in lot'sa places like the West Indies were they were let loose as well. Some are wild, some are tame. Try to figure out the difference if you are brave. Hungry now, got to go

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