Custer’s Gulp

22 July 2008

Custer’s Gulp

Funny how some things work out. We had been told by several travelers that we've met along the way that there are some parts of Custer State Park and the Custer area that are difficult, if not impossible, to reach when driving an RV.

So a week or so ago we phoned ahead and pre-arranged to rent a car for a day, so that we could take a scenic drive without taking the sides and roof off our RV. This morning the rental car arrived at our hook-up, but our blind date with that white car was not to be as the rental company didn’t provide cover to anyone without US insurance; something they had neglected to tell me when I booked. The delivery man (all the way from New Jersey) was polite and helpful, but we were left looking for an alternative way to explore the twisty roads that I’m sure must have made General Custer gulp.

Custer is only a small town and our only other visible option was to call the local Chevy dealer. But to no avail, as they only accepted business from people holding United States or Canadian driving licenses. We all looked and felt a little down in the mouth, our expressions not too dissimilar from the stuffed bison heads that seem to line so many walls in this part of South Dakota. That was until there was a knock on our RV door.

Ray, one of our hosts at Custer’s Gulch RV Park and Campground, made us an offer that we couldn’t refuse. His idea was for us to take our RV around the Custer State Park wildlife loop in the morning and then in the afternoon he would personally drive us in his car to those hard to reach places. If his hands weren’t behind his back we’d have probably bitten them off.

The wildlife loop is a great deal for anyone coming to this area, only twelve dollars for three people for a week pass and with roads wide enough even for an RV driving Englishman to navigate. Along this loop road we were promised deer, wild donkeys and a herd of about 1500 buffalo. The deer were certainly in evidence and we did encounter one wild begging burro who was hanging around a viewing spot, but 1499 buffalo must either have been hiding in the shade or have had something better to do.

After a nasty hot-dog and a few big drops of rain, we were back at Custer’s Gulch and before you could say Where the hell were all the buffalo? our personal guide and driver had appeared and we were on our way, first to Iron Mountain Road and then back via Needles Highway.

The drive through some of the most beautiful scenery we have seen so far was peppered by Ray’s commentary and by his amazing ability to negotiate 180 degree mountain bends while holding a map with both hands, neither of which were on the steering wheel. We chatted the whole way round about almost everything from helicopters in the Vietnam War (Ray took one tour of duty), Robin Hood and how far you can drive in the UK without having to turn around and come back again. Along the way we got up-close to a few more, always hungry burros and two more buffalo; one of which was making a noise as if to say Go on, get out of the car. I dare ya!

It would certainly have been impossible for me to drive our RV along these roads, where some of the narrow tunnels had only four inches of headroom clearance and one on Needles Highway was two feet narrower than our RV. Of course we could have easily have negotiated these tunnels and turns ourselves in a rental car, but somehow having Ray’s company made seeing the sights along the way all that more special. In the end I think that we all had a better day than we could possibly have had if we were left to our own devices.

Thanks Ray, you really did make our day.

By Andy Clarke

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