Friday was really a busy day

Gray Hughes

What a day, what a day.

Friday, Sept. 25 was a big day for me. It was my first time covering and attending the annual Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park. And what a day it was.

My day started at 5 a.m. Let me say that again. My day started at 5 a.m. This might not seem early to some of you, but for me, that’s very, very early. Like, it’s been a huge transition for me to wake up at 6:30 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. like a normal, functioning adult, so 5 a.m. is ridiculous. Anyway, I digress.

I took my morning shower, poured myself a cup of coffee, got my second coffee and smoothie out of the fridge and made my way to Custer State Park from my house in Rapid City.

The ride started off fine; I put on a podcast, drank my cold coffee while my hot coffee cooled off and got to the Wildlife Loop around 6:30 a.m. “Perfect,” I thought. “This should give me plenty of time to park and get situated in the media area.”


I got to the designated media area at 7:30 a.m. thanks to traffic. Let me tell you something: I haven’t sat in traffic that thick since I moved here. Normally, when stuck in traffic back on the East Coast, I have several lanes from which I can pick to allow me to be in traffic the least. Not here! One lane. No passing. I was stuck. Pro tip: leave a half hour earlier than you think you need to if you’re going to the Roundup.

But, like I said, eventually I got to the designated media area. It was nice. It was blocked off so that we could get unimpeded views of the herd as it comes in. I set up by a pickup truck (that I would later get into) and sat, drank my now perfect temperature coffee and smoothie. It was a nice, relaxing morning.

Then the time came: 9:30 a.m. I could feel the tension rise as my media colleagues, myself and the crowd waited for the bison. And we waited. And waited. And waited. See, here’s the thing about bison: they’re wild animals. They don’t have a concept of time, and 9:30 a.m. means the same to them as calculus does to me. It’s just a concept that we’re not smart enough — or evolved enough — to understand.

But then the herd came. And oh my, that was cool. You could see them start to pop up over a hill and make their way down. I pulled out my trusty camera and fired off dozens of photos of them as they make their way down. (by the time they made it to the viewing area I think I probably had 500 photos).

Then the main event: they’re in the viewing area. Cowboys and cowgirls — including Gov. Kristi Noem — are out herding the animals toward the corrals. And this is happening right in front of me. Believe me when I tell you that I’ve never seen anything like that.

Then it comes time to hop in the bed of my designated pickup truck. We take off after the herd. I’m able to get some good photos of the herd and the crowds.

As I’m in the back of this truck, a thought entered my head. “I’m a boy from the East Coast, and I’m riding in the back of a pickup truck, chasing a herd of bison with real life cowboys and cowgirls as a crowd cheers us on. This is so cool.”

Anyway, we get to our stopping point, and we get to watch the cowboys and cowgirls (along with some trucks?) get the bison into the corral. This was probably one of the coolest parts of the day — getting to watch how the riders work as a team to get the bison into the corral. We’re able to snap some more photos, and then we’re off to the corrals.

Now as I’m riding to the corrals, a thought enters my head: “how the heck am I going to get back?” Well, I immediately shut that thought down and focus on my task at hand.

As we’re riding to the corrals, the two other very nice people in the back of my truck and I spy a rider in a green jacket. “Is that her?” one person asks. “I think it is,” said the other. That’s right, our truck rode right by Gov. Noem as she was on horseback coming back from herding all the bison.

We get there and we media people scatter. I work the crowd, quickly knocking out my question of the week and getting some quotes for my story about the Roundup. And then I see her again: Gov. Noem working the crowd.

Now, the first thing that struck me when I saw her was: “Wow. She’s tall.” I’ve met her only once before, and that was only for a brief few minutes at a press event at a previous employer. I was so nervous about getting a good question then that I don’t even remember really anything. The second thing that struck me about her was how naturally she worked the crowd. I don’t care what your opinions on Gov. Noem are: she’s a people person and worked that crowd like a pro. You could tell, quite literally, this wasn’t her first rodeo.

I talked to more people and then got set up for a press conference. Luckily for me, I got set up early because the press conference started early.

Now, I won’t go into the whole shebang because I already wrote a 788 word story on this, but it was for a grant and a personal donation for a new center at the park. “Cool,” I thought as it was going on. “More things to show my family when they come out to visit.”

When the press conference ended, all of my memory cards were out of space. I had to get back to Hill City and get them uploaded to the computer so that I could come back to the arts festival portion of the day and get photos of that. And then that thought from earlier entered my head: “how the heck am I going to get back?”

I had two options: shuttle or walk it out. But, at this point, my brain was fried and I really didn’t feel like figuring out how the shuttle worked. So I walked the distance between the corrals and the southern parking lot. That’s right: I was so lazy that I wound up doing more work.

But my decision was worth it. I got more photos of the herd in the corrals and climbed a hill to get a good panoramic shot of the herd in the corrals. Plus, I like walking, and I felt a little better. Luckily, the walk was neither hard nor long.

I got to my car and drove straight to Hill City. I got to my office, uploaded more photos, drank my coffee that I had in the fridge at the office that I put there the day before and the drove to the arts festival.

The arts festival was pretty cool, too. I liked seeing all the vendors set up, selling their goods and educating people about their causes. I got some more photos from there and then headed back to Hill City.

I got back to town, got dinner and ate quickly (which featured more caffeine). There was a football game to cover.

It was a perfect night for football, and, since it was the homecoming game for the Rangers, the crowd was abuzz. I got there, set up and was treated to some good opportunities for good photos. But here’s the thing: I was exhausted. As much as I love covering sports, there was a part of me that just wanted to be in bed.

But, because I’m a true pro, I was there, and I’m pretty happy with the photos I got. Then something happened: Rangers were up 58-0 at half time, and the game was called. Ordinarily, I would be bummed, but I had been up 15 hours at that point, and because I drank three coffees and one Coke, I had a pounding headache and my vision was starting to get a little blurry. I was ready to come home.

Looking back at it, I have to say: Sept. 25, 2020 was one of the best days of my career, and I’m very happy it only happens once a year.

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