Late Day Exploration of Custer Trail 

Work wrapped up about an 90 minutes before sunset.  We figured that gave us enough time to take a roundabout road trip on the Custer Trail.  Maybe even Initial Rock?

Day light was disappearing under a bank of clouds.  Some would give up at that point — and miss the subtle pastel painting of the landscape. Sunsets in the Badlands and Grasslands always present a visual gift.

National Grasslands Custer Trail

On our way to the Custer Trail across the National Grasslands.

We left our master map, the U.S. Forest Service Map at home, but with a bit of a weak memory and a smart phone we figured out the maze of gravel roads to get us there, south of Belfield and Fryburg.  It didn’t matter, because we were in no real hurry, and the drive along the Custer Trail is an exquisite visual gift. 

We think everyone should get the gift of visual stimulation from the Grasslands and Badlands.

Initial Rock

It’s a short drive to Initial rock.  As the crow files, it’s about eight miles.  Double that distance because of the curvy, hilly, windy gravel roads.  Still, in about 25 minutes you can find the turn in to Initial Rock Historic Site.

Historians say Custer’s troops camped here on May 28, 1876, less than one month before Custer’s troops took their last stand. It’s on the route that Custer took to his fateful moment at Little Bighorn. 

The soft sandstone near the campsite was the perfect canvas for a couple of young soldiers to leave their marks.

The tall prominent rock is protected from vandals who had started destroying the site years ago.  Since about 1964, a cage around the rock and a transparent plate over he initials preserve the moment in history.

The rock is approximately 6 feet high by 10 feet long and projects
from a hillside. The topography behind the rock is hilly with a
gentle flat in front of the rock.

Privates Frank Neely and William C. Williams were not under Custer’s command at Little Bighorn because they were assigned to Major Reno’s command and Captain Benteen’s command.

Custer Trail Initial Rock auto tour

Signs at the Initial Rock Historic site detail the trail you can follow.


The Custer Trail Auto Tour

The auto tour for the Custer Trail, and General Sully’s march to the Killdeer Mountains is promoted here by the North Dakota Tourism division of the ND Commerce Dept.


Try timing your trip when the light is goo, especially the last or first hour of the day.  Be sensitive to the colors of the landscape.

You’ll find more than you think, golds, reds, yellows will paint the vista…and if you look beside the road, you’ll see the petrified tree stumps from a large cedar or sequoia forest that once flourished here.

The petrified stumps were here when Custer marched through.  You’ll likely see antelope and mule deer along the way — and maybe a coyote or two.

Custer Trail auto tour National Grasslands

The road past the Initial Rock Historic Site continues on northwest. Some day when the roads are dry, we may explore that. Until then, there’s plenty to be found sticking to the main road.

Is it Friday?

A mouthwatering video!

We finished our evening tour by driving north toward Fryburg, and then over to Belfield, right on the Interstate. An easy drive to civilization. And if it’s Friday, Belfield is the place to go!

There are many amazing landscapes surrounding historic points such as Devils Pass, or Pleasant Valley Ranch, or Chimney Butte.  We’ve written about them, here on Beautiful Badlands ND.  Use the search box to find them. We’ll deliver upcoming stories from the Badlands such as a modern day cattle drive, a wonderful book to buy for yourself or a gift, or — who knows?

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