Black Hills National Forest, SD, RV Boondocking – Camping with Cows!

July 2017 – The US Forest Service, which manages all the National Forests in America, dubs its land the “Land of Many Uses.” The uses we love most are camping with our RV, hiking, biking and photography. But when we are on public land, we share it with folks who hunt, fish, ride horses, graze cattle and extract various natural resources.

For urban and suburban folk who come out to America’s public lands to smell the pungent fresh air and see the stunning scenery, the omnipresence of cattle can be a bit of a surprise. In our many years of nightly boondocking, we have found ourselves sharing our back yard with cows quite a few times. It is, after all, open range.

Open Range Grazing Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

In the west, the public lands are Open Range. Literally!

Cattle ranching is very much alive today, and cowboys really do exist in the real world, far from the classic TV shows and western movies. The other day, as we were driving to town in Buffalo, Wyoming, we came across a cattle drive going right up the highway.

Cattle drive across highway

On the highway one day we came upon a cattle drive. How cool is that?!

We crept past and were amazed at the huge number of cows and calves. The cowboys herding them were on horseback.

Cattle drive on horseback

The cattle were being driven by cowboys on horseback.

Slow traffic for horseback cattle drive on highway

This is what a traffic jam in the big western states looks like!

As we went down the line of mooing cows and watched the calves trotting along to keep up with their moms, it was like stepping back in time. America has a rich history in cattle ranching, and in many ways it is a way of life that hasn’t changed all that much in the past 150 years.

But technology has definitely made deep inroads, and besides using ATVs to zip around the many square miles of a ranch, it helps simplify many other things too. Towards the end of the herd of cows we came across a cowboy riding his horse with a coiled rope in one hand and a cell phone in the other! How much easier it must be to coordinate the herding process when you can simply call your buddy cowboy at the other end of the herd!

Cowboy on cell phone during cattle drive

Modern day ranching: a coiled rope in one hand and a cell phone in the other!

In South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest we found a lovely spot to camp with our RV for a few days, and as we were first setting up, we couldn’t help but take a few photos of our idyllic little campsite.

RV boondocking and camping in the US National Forest

Finding a beautiful place to camp in the National Forest is one of the biggest highlights of our lifestyle.

Boondocking in the National Forest is always a treat for the senses. In the early mornings we spotted deer nearby.

White tail deer in Black Hills National Forest South Datkota

Hi Neighbor!

A wild turkey caught Mark’s eye on a solo hike he did at dawn another morning.

Wild Turkey Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

A wild turkey fluffs his feathers and shakes his tail.

He’s not a birder, but his camera managed to catch a woodpecker searching for bugs, a robin carrying a bug in his mouth, and a stunning Western Tanager.

Woodpecker in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Woodpecker.

Robin with bug in its mouth Black Hills National Forest

Robin.

Western Tanager Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Western Tanager.

Flying Western Tanager Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

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The nights were glorious. The Milky Way marched across the sky all night every night for a few days.

Milky Way with RV boondocking in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Starry, starry night!

Beautifully mysterious trail of clouds crossed the sky one night, and we were astonished later when Mark lightened his photos on his computer later and saw how much orange and pink lingered in those clouds.

RV under the Milky Way in Black Hills South Dakota

Wispy clouds cross the Milky Way.

RV under the Milky Way in Black Hills South Dakota

Clouds whirl past the stars.

But the most humorous and heartwarming aspect of this particular South Dakota campsite wasn’t the stars or the natural wildlife.

We were both jolted out of bed one morning by the raucous braying of a huge animal standing right under our fifth wheel’s overhang. Right under our bed! Good grief, what was that?

I jumped out of bed and poked my head out the door and found myself face to face with an enormous brown bull with a white face and an expectant expression. It was the ideal photo op. Our trailer and awning framed this huge bull’s head as he stared at me.

But I was in my PJs and was still wiping my eyes with disbelief, while my camera was tucked away in some safe place out of reach. By the time I got my hands on my camera, the bull was walking away to greener grass.

Cow by an RV in the US National Forest Black Hills South Dakota

This big bull stood under our bedroom and bellowed loudly to wake us up!

It turned out that his noisy braying — he sounded suprisingly like a very loud donkey on steroids — was a call to the herd to come check out our trailer. Before I knew it, our little buggy was surrounded with USDA Choice Grade A Grass Fed Beef!

Cows around fifth wheel trailer RV Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

Cows and calves check out our trailer.

Fifth wheel trailer RV boondocking with cows in the National Forest

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Over the next few days these cows came by our campsite on a regular basis. They seemed to be fascinated by us. And we were fascinated by them. We’d be sitting quietly minding our own business in our trailer when suddenly we’d hear the sound of grass being ripped out by the roots and footsteps clomping around in the dirt. We’d look out the window, and sure enough, there they’d be.

Herd of cows surround RV boondocking in the National Forest

We’re surrounded!

On a few mornings we woke to the trailer rocking as the cows rubbed their shoulders and scratched their itches on its corners.

Cow outside RV window camping in Black Hills South Dakota boondocking

I look out the window to see a peeping Tom!

Cow outside fifth wheel trailer RV Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

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Moms and calves would gather together and stare at us whenever they heard us come out of the trailer. The calves were skittish and would run away if we got too close, but the moms would stand calmly facing us, slowly grinding grass in their mouths and staring.

Cattle herd with fifth wheel camper RV in Black Hills National Forest

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Fifth wheel camper with herd of cows in Black Hills National Forest

The herd moves in on us.

One morning we were both woken from a deep sleep when we heard another strange sound just outside the trailer. We ran outside to see what it was and saw a balloon floating past. The sound we’d heard was the balloonist firing up the gas flame. Every few seconds he’d do that and the flame would fill the balloon with hot air to make it rise.

Balloon over RV boondocking in Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

The sound of a balloonist filling his balloon with hot air woke us up at dawn.

But it was those darn cows that kept the smirks on our faces and gave our days a special funkiness. I began to imitate their mooing, and that would make them turn around and look at me. I had to laugh when Mark commented, “That’s pretty good. You sound just like them!”

Grazing cattle Black Hills National Forest

All ears perked up when I mooed.

Mark took out his guitar one day and sat on our steps and played for them. They seemed to like the music and began mooing. Just like howling dogs, they seemed to want to add their own melody to his tunes.

Playing guitar for cows in US National Forest

The cows responded to Mark’s guitar playing by adding their voices in a moo-along!

A few calves got bold and ventured close to our truck. They were very intrigued by it.

A calf visits our truck in the National Forest

A brave calf approaches our truck.

Baby calf sniffs our pickup truck US National Forest

Another calf sniffs our bumper.

One day I came out of the trailer to find myself facing a lineup of cows. If I hadn’t knowd better, they would have seemed a little intimidating. They looked a lot like a gang of thugs in the hood.

Herd of cows and grazing cattle Black Hills National Forest South Dakota

The gang’s all here — in the hood!

Mark got busy taking portrait shots of a calf one day, and it was hilarious to see the little guy’s mind turning as he approached the camera.

Cow checks out Nikon camera

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Photography cow inspects Nikon camera

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Closeup of calf face

By placing the camera so low, Mark got a neat angle on this calf’s face.

Suddenly Mark saw his big wet nose and thick black tongue going for his camera. Uh oh!!

cow inspects Nikon camera Photography_

What does that thing taste like?

He pulled his camera away just in time, but when we started to pack up to leave the campsite a few days later, he discovered that one of the cows had gotten into our barbecue and had damaged the latch on the cover. He did a quickie repair job on the fly before we hitched up to leave.

Mother cow and calf in US National Forest

Camping in the National Forest sometimes gives us close encounters with cows.
It’s most fun with moms and their calves in Spring!

After we arrived at our next campsite, we found gooey prints from cow lips in a few places on our truck and trailer. Oh well! That’s all just part of the unusual experience of RV boondocking in the National Forest.

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An Old Time Country 4th of July – Custer, South Dakota

Some of our favorite 4th of July celebrations have been in small towns, and this year we were very fortunate to be in Custer, South Dakota, in time for their festivities which they call their Old Time Country 4th of July.

Custer town is nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the normally quiet streets were overflowing with visitors as the townspeople gathered for the parade.

Fourth of July Parade preparation Custer South Dakota

An RV in town for the 4th of July is passed by fire trucks as they head to the parade start.

There are loads of little tourist shops in town, and red-white-and-blue-wear was available in every style and every size.

Red white and blue clothes for 4th of July

Local shops offered many ways to wear red, white and blue!

The younger set were particularly fashionable.

Children's parade 4th of July Custer South Dakota

Kids went all out to dress up for the 4th.

We had arrived in Custer a few days earlier, and we had heard from everyone we met that Custer’s 4th of July celebration was very special. And they were so right. We got a huge kick out of it!

As people arrived with chairs in hand to stake out a spot along the parade route, an announcer got the crowd fired up on the front steps of the museum. He called on people in the crowd to find out where they were from. Lots of folks were from Utah, Arizona and Colorado, but there were people in town from North Carolina, New Hampshire and other far flung states as well.

Announcer 4th of July Custer South Dakota

There was a hub of activity around the museum in the middle of town.

The hallmark of Custer’s 4th of July parade is the kickoff when nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base, over in Rapid City, South Dakota, sends a B1 bomber right down the main drag for a flyover. What a rush! I got a video clip, but like the real thing, it’s over almost as soon as it starts!

B1 bomber 4th of July Custer SD

After burner glow…

The parade began with all the town kids dressed up in America’s colors riding their bikes. What a great idea!! From toddlers on balance bikes to little kids with training wheels to big kids zipping along on two-wheelers, they were all decked out. Some even had balloons.

Children's Parade kids on bikes 4th of July Custer South Dakota

The parade started with all the local kids on their bikes decorated and dressed up in red, white and blue.

Then Old Glory arrived followed by the Mayor carrying the Custer city flag, and soon after we saw Uncle Sam strolling past on stilts.

Flag bearers 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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Uncle Sam on stilts 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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There were lots of cars and trucks including an old Fire Department Salvage Truck.

Old fire truck 4th of July Parade Custer South Dakota

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The junior fire fighters put their fire hats on and plugged their ears as the big fire trucks drove by.

Junior fire fighters 4th of July Parade Custer, South Dakota

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A snake oil salesman snuck into the parade, along with several vehicles honoring American veterans. Then a very cool old yellow truck went by with a huge flag representing a group that cares for disabled vets. We got a closer look at it after the parade was over as it drove back through town.

4th of July Celebration Custer South Dakota 4

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Operation Black Hills Cabin 4th of July Custer South Dakota

“Operation Black Hills Cabin” cares for disabled vets.

Later on, the day was capped off with a fantastic fireworks display.

The fireworks were shot off at Pageant Hill, but they could be seen from all over town. Before the fireworks began, the city’s fire trucks circled the town with sirens blaring. At first we thought something had gone wrong, but as people continued to arrive all around us and calmly set up their chairs to watch the fireworks, we realized the parade of fire trucks with lights and sirens whirring was all part of the show.

It seemed to take forever for darkness to fall, but at last the fireworks began. The show went on for a very long time and ended with a big finale. We had a blast taking photos…

4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 1

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota

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Fireworks 4th of July Custer South Dakota

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4th of July fireworks Custer South Dakota

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4th of July Fireworks Custer South Dakota 8

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When you begin planning your RV travels for next summer, if you’re looking for a fun town to celebrate the 4th of July, head to Custer, South Dakota!!

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Black Hills, SD – Mt. Rushmore and More

"Wild" Burros roamed around.

Wild turkeys trotted along.

Traffic Jam in Custer State Park

Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln

George Washington.

Approaching Mt. Rushmore

Crazy Horse

Skinny tunnel at The Needles.

The Needles

September 14-17, 2007 - After watching Devil's Tower retreat in the

distance, we made a brief stop in the Black Hills, visiting Custer State

Park and Mt. Rushmore.  There was lots of wildlife in Custer State

Park.  A group of buffalo took their time crossing the road and caused

quite a traffic tie-up.  The burros were wandering across the road and

lazing in the shade of a tree near the road as well.   Some wild turkeys

caught our eye as they pecked along at the roadside, and a deer

stopped to look at us.

We enjoyed the three dimensional nature of Mt. Rushmore's

famous sculptures of the four presidents as we caught them first

from one side and then from the other.  Another famous sculpture

in the area is of the Indian Crazy Horse.  It was begun shortly after

Mt. Rushmore was completed in the 1940's, but has been funded

solely by private donation, making progress very slow.  The

organization leading its creation has turned down federal funding

several times.

We drove through The Needles.  These granite formations are very

thin and tall, and the road is extremely narrow and twisty.  After we

barely squeaked through a tunnel carved in the rock, we watched

in awe as an experienced tour bus driver expertly took his bus

through the same opening.  His passengers reached out their

windows to touch the rock wall on either side of the bus.

Custer State Park was a real

jewel, and we would have

happily stayed several weeks.

However, the cold weather

was starting to penetrate our

sweaters and jackets and we

had a long way to go to get

back to the warmer climate in

Arizona.  So we headed west

through Wyoming, making

our way to northern Utah, stopping first at Flaming Gorge

National Recreation Area.