Day 39: “Bear Country USA” and “Reptile Gardens” in South Dakota
Friday, July 9th, 2021
Another day I didn’t really plan, in fact, I had planned on hibernating in my hotel room for the day because it was supposed to rain. Well, it passed over night, so it was beautiful sunny morning and with my morning routine back on schedule (thanks Amanda for the encouragement), I decided to not waste any time and just get out there…at least for the morning.
I have to say, being located in Rapid City for the week has been a GREAT central location to everything I have wanted to see. The most I have driven is about an hour to Deadwood, and then about 45 minutes was Custer State Park from here, but everything in between is Mount Rushmore, Hill City, Keystone, and of course….Bear Country USA!!
I have never wanted to see one IN FRONT OF ME, as I am still nervous about camping in Yellowstone and experiencing one in the wild. That being said, in a wildlife sanctuary, it was the PERFECT way to get up close and personal to these furry friends, a long with reindeer, wolves, bighorn sheep, and many more. No reservation needed, nor any ticket bought ahead of time, just drive on up, I paid $18 for myself, they give you a map and tell you the rules. That’s pretty much civilization until you drive back out. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to drive, look, and pull over for pictures. Being the driver and photographer, I had my work cut out for me. I pulled over a lot and I am SO glad I did…take the time to sit and watch, too many just drive through. You are ALLOWED to sit as long as you’d like, there is no time limit. They just ask that you pull over and not hold up traffic for those just driving through.
I loved it so much that I did it TWICE! Yep, I had to pay again, no big deal, as I loved it SO MUCH. The first time I drove in and around at 8:30 a.m. (they open at 8 a.m.) – NOW- this is JUST like Safari at Animal Kingdom on “When is the best time to see all of the animals?” Morning was PERFECT because they were all being fed…so they were around their food sources at each spot, then playing and running around, full of energy from breakfast. The difference in when I drove through around 11 a.m. WAS SHOCKING. I had seen SO MANY animals the first time, but the second? It was literally like Jurassic Park “Now there are dinosaurs on this dinosaur tour?” They were up in the hills, hiding in the shade, and out of sight from the road. You can’t get out of your car (for obvious reasons) and you are supposed to keep your windows up. I will admit, I rolled mine down when something was off in the distance, so I could get a better shot. Needless to say, the only thing that would have been “worth it” during the second time was the bear section, which is at the very end of the Park. Except this time they weren’t in one big row, eating and walking around. Now they were spread across acres, still VERY cool and if you look on Facebook I have posted videos of how close they walked past my car on the second run. Easily one of my top favorite things I have done so far. HIGHLY recommend it, and yes, my car was fine…they are so used to cars in the Park that they don’t pay much mind to them. Just like Safari at Animal Kingdom.
After the driving section, they have a small zoo with baby bears, otters, and other small animals. I even managed to make new friends while enjoying this area. The gift shop is huge, and if you are a Bear fan, this is the store for you. I just grabbed my sticker and headed out for the second drive-through, and then headed off to “Reptile Gardens” next.
Another one that was close by, I figured why not check it out. Anything reptilian, bonus points if you speak parseltongue, bonus BONUS points if you know that that means, and basically everything you can find in the South, or Florida. $19 admission for adults, and I found that I did enjoy myself for a good couple of hours looking at everything. Actually may favorite thing of the entire park was “Tank” who is a 68 year old Tortoise, who about took my breath away when I walked in to see him there. He literally is the size of a small tank- a big boy, but wow, FRIENDLY! He let me pet him on the top of his head, and when I stroked his neck, he looked up like puppies do- it was so sweet. THAT is the stuff that I am looking for, those really neat experiences that just take you by surprise. This place is TOTALLY worth the stop, very family friendly, and they have a great big gift shop and café to grab a bite as well.
So it wound up being an animal day, yesterday was my Monument day, and tomorrow, well, I haven’t planned it out yet. Usually I snuggle in, grab the guidebooks, and peruse the pages of what adventure awaits me. See you tomorrow.
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