A Buffalo and a Dog
Twenty years ago, Kay and I were living in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota seven miles south of Hot Springs and about 50 miles south of Rapid City. We made frequent trips to Rapid City as we had friends and family there and Rapid was the “big city” in western South Dakota.
There were two convenient ways to get back and forth. State Highway 79 ran straight north and south on the prairie at the edge of the hills. It was four lanes wide and bypassed the small towns along the way. Highway 79 was the fastest way. If we weren’t in a hurry, the other option was a beautiful scenic drive through the hills out the back way from Rapid City and south on US Highway 385 past Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument, through historic Hill City and Custer, crossing the southern tip of Wind Cave National Park into Hot Springs.
The Wind Cave National Park features Wind Cave, consisting of miles and miles of caves and tunnels of incredible beauty. The park and cave are popular tourist attractions tended year-round by the National Park Service, who lead tours into the interior of the cave and care for the park. The park has other attractions that include a large herd of about 1,500 buffalo (bison), small herds of elusive elk and deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs. The animals are all wild, of course, but they are carefully protected from human predators and they pay little mind to the steady stream of tourists who drive through the park every day along Highway 385.
I drove through the park more than 100 times and rarely failed to see buffalo. Small herds were almost always visible from the highway. There were several turnouts along the highway to stop and take photos of the animals and scenery. It was not unusual for a group of cows and calves or a huge bull to graze right near the road. This inevitably caused cars to line the road and tourists to spill out to take pictures.
One winter day I was driving through the park with my black lab, Captain III. There wasn’t much traffic that day and I happened on a huge bull buffalo standing alone facing one of the turnouts. On a whim, I turned in to the turnout and parked my pickup next to the bull. I was almost close enough to touch him. He was a monster. I had to look up to see the top of his hump. His front hooves were as big as dinner plates. His eyes were open, but he did not acknowledge my presence in any way. I was a little nervous, but I figured we were safe enough inside the pickup. I started to roll the window down.
And Captain started barking at him. That did it. I backed out of there and we went on home.