When you live life on the road, and are mobile, you really don’t pay much attention to the calendar. We look at the year in segments….a few months here, a few months there, and then winter in a warm place. So when we headed out on our day off to Bear Country USA, we completely forgot that it was the Fourth of July Holiday weekend. Until we pulled in to the entrance and were stuck in long lines…..!
Bear Country USA, a drive-thru wildlife park is about 8 miles South of Rapid City. Open since 1972, the park allows animals to roam free on over 200 acres, while us humans remain caged in our vehicles. The park has elk, wolves, reindeer, big horn sheep, rocky mountain goats, buffalo, and the largest privately owned group of American Black Bear. Each species is sectioned off from the others, in case they don’t ‘play nice’ with each other.
Bear Country is open from May to November, (the bears still hibernate for the winter), and costs $16.00 per adult (maximum charge of $60 per vehicle. (We received free admission with our VIP pass).
The tour starts with a drive through the Rocky Mountain Elk area, which has many beautiful Elk, including this guy, just lounging right by the side of the road. This is the first time I have seen Elk, and they are quite an impressive animal.
We encountered several Arctic Wolves in the next section, including this one licking its chops as it walked past my window. I opted to keep the window closed, so there is a bit of reflection on the photo.
When the wolf was at a safe distance, I rolled the window down for a better photo.
Although we didn’t see Rudolph, there were quite a few Reindeer, counting down the days until they have to go back to work at the North Pole.
They had some very beautiful Big Horn Sheep, including this big guy…
And this one as well, happy to pose for photos, it seems.
The Rocky Mountain Goats were busy snoozing.
And then we entered the Black Bear area, where you are not permitted to roll down your window (actually you are not supposed to do it in the other areas), and they have a person with a shotgun stationed in a tower in the middle of the bear area, just in case something goes amiss.
Mating season is May and June for bears, so we weren’t the only ones who forgot that it was July!
Black Bears can vary in color, from black, brown, cinnamon, blonde and white. In the wild, they live 10-15 years, but in captivity, 15-30 years is the norm. These three bears were causing quite a traffic jam in the park.
Signs in the bear area indicate you are supposed to continue driving slowly, and the bears will move out of your way. But it is a bit intimidating to have a large bear walking right in front of you!
After exiting the drive-thru portion of the park, you can park and walk over to see an impressive looking Grizzly Bear. These bears are identified by the hump on their shoulder, which is from the large muscle used to strike with their paws and dig holes. They can run both uphill and downhill at speeds of 35 MPH, so don’t plan on outrunning one of these in the woods!
Babyland has smaller animals, such as the state animal of Wisconsin, the Badger. Although they look cute, especially while sleeping, they can be quite mean. They are excellent diggers (the Badgers also had a nice basketball season, making it to the Final Four….oops, a bit off topic!)
The state animal for South Dakota is the Coyote, which adapts itself to both rural and urban settings. We hope to never encounter one of these, as they have a tendency to eat small animals.
They had several Red Foxes on display. Makena (our dog) was bred to hunt fox, although she is too afraid of most animals, so I am not sure what she would do if she spotted one of these cute little animals.
They had a few baby Pronghorns on display. Pronghorns are generally lumped in to the antelope or goat family, but they are neither. They are the sole survivor of an ancient species, and are only found in North America. They are the second fastest land animal, with a top speed of 60 MPH, and can sustain speeds of 30 MPH for several miles. Oddly, they crawl under a fence, instead of jumping over one.
But the highlight of the Babyland area are the bear cubs. I took several videos of them running around. They are so cute! The cubs were born late January/early February. After three months with their mothers, the park weans them off and away from them, for their own protection. In the wild, only 40% of the cubs make it to one year, as many are harmed by the adult males.
We both enjoyed the park, and would recommend this to anyone visiting the area.
Quote for the day: “Bears are not companions of men, but children of God, and His charity is broad enough for both…bears are made of the same dust as we, and breathe the same winds and drink of the same waters. A bears days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart-pulsing’s like ours and was poured from the same fountain….” John Muir