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Where the Buffalo Roam

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10:34 a.m. (Mountain Time), June 28, 2006

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Surprises are the best part of any journey.
The drive from Mount Rushmore to Custer State Park should typically take 15, 20 minutes, or so I was told. It took me two hours to get to my little cabin at Legion Lake in Custer State Park.
Some kid at the Mount Rushmore concession stand gave me bum directions — or maybe I wasn't paying attention.

So I wound up driving through dark, one-way tunnels and sharp switchbacks along Iron Mountain Road southwest to Custer. I wanted to stop at the small town of Keystone to stock up on rations for my cabin. I'm not an outdoors person, so I thought it wise to get insect repellent, food, aspirin, alcohol, Mountain Dew, chocolate chip cookies, orange juice, vitamins and a copy of Sports Weekly for my eight hour stay in the cabin.
I missed Keystone.
By the time I emerged from Iron Mountain Road at Spokane Creek, it was 7:30 p.m. — feeding time for the buffalo in the state park. Holy moly.
Now, I've been up close to buffalo in a zoo and once before on the road outside of Jackson Hole, Wyo. But I have never seen so many buffalo life like I did in South Dakota. Traffic was stopped twice for herds of 60, 70 buffalo crossing the street. I was listening to the Cubs game on my satellite radio. One huge bull with big horns came right up to the window of my car. I could smell him and he was doing a deep grunt. I was a bit freaked out. Maybe he didn't like the sound of Ron Santo. So I gently rolled up my window and the bull walked around my car like a cop on the highway. I bet that kid at Mount Rushmore did all this on purpose just to mess with me — since I was the only person visiting Mount Rushmore alone.
I finally got to my cabin around 8:30 p.m. I was able to snag a nice trout dinner at the Lake Legion Lodge while I attempted to convince my Indonesian waitress that my cabin was surrounded by grizzly bears. I retreated to my retreat with a copy of my South Dakota WPA guide, trying to get some kind of 1940s handle on what I had been through (thanks Bill Lindemann!, I should have been alive back then). I also heard the Cubs lost — again.
Maybe I should trade in my lifelong love of the Cubs for camping. There's campgrounds in Wisconsin, right?
All the campers I saw this morning were so happy. They smiled and waved at me as I tried to find my way out of the dense forest. It was 7:30 a.m. People in Chicago aren't so happy at 7:30 a.m.
And camping is like being a Cubs fan in the same way you're sitting around waiting for something to happen. You sit, and sit, and sit. Camping is like being a Cubs fan in the way I was swatting at moths trying to find the light in my cabin. Those moths never found the light.
I gotta hit the road. I'm writing this from the restaurant at the Alex Johnson hotel in downtown Rapid City and people are starting to talk about whiskey and they're migrating to the video poker machines. I'm heading home and this should be a fun day, for this is the first day without an agenda, appointments, interviews etc. I may make Sioux City, Iowa to see my friend Ed Nottle, who now manages a minor league baseball team there. Even if I don't make it, or if I drive by Sioux City, I'll share that story of Ed with you tomorrow.
Send money!!!

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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This page contains a single entry by David Hoekstra published on June 28, 2006 11:29 AM.

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