Dean M. Chriss
The Needle's Eye, Custer State Park, South Dakota

The Needle's Eye, Custer State Park, South Dakota

(Click image to enlarge)

Custer State Park is South Dakota's largest and first state park and it is named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Custer attended the West Point Military Academy where he was a poor student who misbehaved often and was frequently disciplined. After being nearly expelled he ultimately finished last in his class. Custer's illustrious legend was largely fabricated through his own extensive journalism and by the energetic lobbying of his wife Elizabeth throughout her long widowhood.

Custer State Park covers an area of over 71,000 acres (287 km2) of varied terrain including rolling prairie grasslands and rugged mountains. Most of the park's environment is highly managed. Forests are regularly thinned and burned forest areas become sites of industrial timber salvage operations. All of the bison are rounded up and branded yearly in a circus-like spectacle so the surplus can be sold at auction. Populations of other animals are controlled with periodic hunts. Custer's most natural, rugged, and least managed terrain is found along the Needles Highway, where this photograph was captured.