The Trail Home – Devils Tower

Hi everyone,

Welcome back to Traveling With Tom. I appreciate all the views, likes, and comments on my Ukraine posts. If you missed them, here are links to Part 1 and Part 2. My Traveling Partner and I continue to closely monitor the situation in Ukraine and keep in contact with our friends who are displaced. Glory to Ukraine!

When we left Death Valley on the morning of November 19, 2021, our goal was to make it to the border of Nevada and Utah along 1-80. This is a distance of about 425 miles across some of the remotest country in the United States. We had a full tank of fuel in the Red Rover, enough to make the trip, and plenty of food. There were only two towns of any size along the route: Tonopah, population 2000; and Ely, population 4000. In between, there were a few small hamlets and an occasional convenience store. Along the route, the Nevada highway department conveniently placed a few rest areas. It was about lunch time when we made a stop at one out in the middle of the desert. It was so quiet with fresh, crisp air to breath. Below are a couple of photos I took of the scene.

After spending the night in Wendover, Utah, we headed across Utah to our next stop Riverton, Wyoming. There we would meet up with one of my high school classmates and her husband. This stop was on our route to North Dakota where we would see our families for the first time since the pandemic began. We would then return to our home in Madison, Wisconsin. Meanwhile back in Wyoming, we witnessed a beautiful sunset out on the high plains where four rivers meet.

Devils Tower National Monument

After an evening visit with our friends, we began our trek across Wyoming to the far northeast corner of the state. There we would stop at the Devils Tower National Monument. As we got closer, we noted the terrain began to change. It was more rugged yet very picturesque with heavy cloud formation in the distance, as shown in the photo below.

It was early afternoon as we approached Devils Tower. It’s hard to miss as it protrudes out of the surrounding plains to attract attention. Neither my Traveling Partner or I had been to Devils Tower, even though over the years we’d been close. Here’s our first glimpse from a few miles away.

Devils Tower looms 867 feet above the trees and prairie that surrounds it. The columns of igneous rock were created when volcanic magna penetrated rock to form intrusions. After an estimated 40-50 million years of erosion of sedimentary rock, the formation we now know as Devils Tower was exposed. Erosion still plays a part in the evolution of Devils Tower. Portions of the columns periodically collapse and break off. Some of the photos you’ll see later will show the rubble laying at the base of the formation.

The Kiowa, Lakota Sioux, and Cheyenne Native American tribes consider Devils Tower scared, each having their own story how it came to be. Bear Lodge was one of the many names for the Tower. It’s believed that the name Devils Tower came in 1875 during an expedition led by Col. Richard Dodge whose interpreter apparently misinterpreted the native name as Bad Gods Tower. Recent attempts by the tribes to have Devils Tower National Monument renamed as Bears Lodge Historic National Landmark have failed due to political opposition.

Devils Tower was the very first national monument designated by President Theodore Roosevelt after the Antiquities Act of 1906 gave presidents the power to proclaim national monuments by executive action. His action protected the Tower from commercial exploitation. Wyoming was also the location of the first national park, Yellowstone, in 1872. National parks are established by Congress. In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) improved the road and built many of the buildings, many that still stand today.

Devils Tower National Monument consists of 1346 acres of land and receives nearly half a million visitors each year. The day we stopped, the Monday before Thanksgiving, the parking lot was nearly full.

Upon dismounting from the Red Rover, we stood in the parking lot and gawked at the Tower for a few minutes. We couldn’t get over the magnitude and stateliness of the Tower.

After a quick tour of the gift shop and ranger station, we walked the trail to the base of the Tower. We didn’t make the full circuit around the Tower due to the time of day and the need to get back on the road. There are several other hiking trails and a 46 site campground in the park. 

At the base of the Tower note all the bits and parts of the columns that have fallen over the years. About 5000 visitors per year climb Devils Tower using traditional climbing techniques. Climbers are required to register at the ranger station. Native American tribes have objected to climbing, considering this a desecration of the Tower. As a compromise the Park Service asks but does not prohibit climbing during the month of June when most of the tribes conduct ceremonies at the Tower. Most climbers comply.

Near the Tower Trail at the base of the monument, we noted trees with colorful ribbons and cloth strips tied to the branches. These are prayer bundles placed by Native Americans to send prayers into the wind as the branches sway. Visitors are asked not to touch or photograph the cloths. We honored this request.

Too soon, it was time for us to get back on the road, We had 250 miles to drive to reach our destination in North Dakota. We vowed to return to Devils Tower when we could spend more time exploring the area. For those readers traveling to the Black Hills of South Dakota, drive another 60 miles to take in Devils Tower, you’ll be glad you did. For more information on Devils Tower National Monument, click here

It’s interesting to note that Devils Tower changes in appearance depending on the viewpoint. Here’s my last photo as we left the Monument grounds.

Join me next week when I’ll take on a November visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora, North Dakota.

Until then, happy travels!


4 thoughts on “The Trail Home – Devils Tower

    1. Thanks Neil. It was my first visit to Devils Tower. It won’t be my last. Not sure why I haven’t stopped there before. Take care. Tom

  1. Great photos. A lot of us remember the prominent role Devils Tower played in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind

    1. Thanks for checking in and your kind comment. Yes, I failed to mention that tidbit about Devils Tower. One of its many claims to fame!

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