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Black Hills Overview
When the first pioneers and prospectors blazed a trail into the Black Hills in the mid-1870s, they discovered a beautiful land teeming with mountain streams, rocky crags and abundant wildlife. The splendor of the ancient mountain range so struck them that they dubbed the Black Hills an "emerald oasis," an "island of green in a sea of prairie."
Visitors to the Black Hills today can experience the same sense of discovery when they visit this pristine million-acre playground, which has remained relatively unchanged for over 125 years. An uplifted island of mountains in the middle of the roaming grasslands of the Great Plains, the Black Hills of South Dakota encompass one of the world's most ancient mountain ranges. Criss-crossed with backcountry trails, brimming with pine-clad cliffs, and dotted with clear running creeks and alpine lakes, the Black Hills are a recreation paradise, a quintessentially American visitor destination.
Below are just some of the attractions that make the Black Hills a premier vacation destination for nearly five-million visitors each year.
Custer State Park - Down the road less traveled, in the 71,000-acre Custer State Park, visitors explore scenic backcountry watered by crisp, clear trout streams and inhabited by elk, antelope, deer, mountain goat, Big Horn sheep, mountain lion, wild turkey, prairie dog and the second-largest publicly owned herd of bison in the world (second only to nearby Yellowstone National Park). With its finger-like granite spires and panoramic views, Custer State Park also is home to some of the most scenic drives in the country. The annual Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival (set for October 1-3, 2005) attracts thousands of spectators each year, who watch the park's 1,450 bison thunder through the hills before strolling through the Western-themed art and food expo.
Memorials to Democracy and Plains Indians - Two granite mountain memorials - one finished and one still in progress - rise from the ponderosa pine forests of the Black Hills. Completed in 1941 after 14 years of toil, Mount Rushmore National Memorial is one of the world's most recognizable icons. A half-hour away, Crazy Horse Memorial which, when finished, will be the largest work of art in the world, is the creation of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and was created to honor the Native American heroes from the American frontier.
Tatanka - Tatanka is a Lakota word that literally means "bull buffalo," but Tatanka meant more than that. Ceremonies and daily life revolved around sacred reverence for Tatanka. Tatanka: Story of the Bison offers discovering a saga as compelling as any in American history. From its origins to its virtual extermination - and ultimate revival - the bison's story is captured in this visionary new attraction in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The Mammoth Site - The Black Hills & Badlands were once home to decidedly different inhabitants than they are today. In 1974, a bulldozer operator preparing a site for a new apartment building in Hot Springs unearthed a giant tusk that had once belonged to a massive Woolly Mammoth. Work stopped and the digging began in earnest. Today, 52 Woolly and Columbian Mammoths as well as 35 other species have been discovered at The Mammoth Site, all victims of a slippery sided sinkhole that once lured animals to their deaths.
The Badlands - Almost a quarter million acres of eroded buttes, jagged peaks and sandy plateaus make Badlands National Park one of the most striking landscapes in the world. Sunsets and sunrises are especially beautiful times of the day, casting hues of pink, yellow and orange against the rock walls. Wild bison, coyotes, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs roam freely within the park's borders. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation encompasses the southern Stronghold Unit of the park, where the Ghost Dances of the 1890s were held. The area is also one of the world's richest Oligocene epoch fossil beds, where animals 25 million years old continue to be discovered.
City of Presidents - Often considered the gateway to the American West, Rapid City is nestled on the edge of the beautiful Black Hills, home to the towering granite portraits of four of our nation's greatest presidents at Mount Rushmore. Today, visitors are encountering presidents on nearly every street corner in the historic downtown district.
Rapid City has truly become "The City of Presidents," as 27 of our nation's leaders have been forever immortalized in life-size bronze sculptures, which keep watch at virtually every street corner.
Roam with the Wildlife - In the heart of the Black Hills, free-roaming wildlife are common, from the buffalo herds of the 110-square-mile Custer State Park to unusual private attractions such as Bear Country U.S.A. The latter affords motorcoaches an opportunity to get close to elk, black bear, bighorn sheep, bison, wolves, and numerous other species. In addition to Bear Country's three-mile wildlife loop, visitors have access to "Babyland," where they may view grizzly and black bear bear cubs, Canadian lynx, otters, and other young animals.
Thundering Herd: Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup - As the chilling autumn air nips at an estimated 10,000 spectators, a faint rumble is heard echoing in the distance. As the sun peaks over a ponderosa covered mountain, bathing the roaming hills in a ginger hue, the storm of 1,500 buffalo comes thundering over the grasslands.
This is roundup day at Custer State Park, an annual celebration so unique that spectators come from across the globe to witness the amazing force of a herd of free-roaming American bison stampeding across the plains. Each autumn, cowboys and cowgirls join park staff to gather one of the largest herds in America in a ritual as regular as the changing of leaves.