Ever since I first saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind at the age of 8 I’ve wanted to visit Devils Tower. I couldn’t believe such a place could exist. This was main the purpose for our whole road trip. “We should take a road trip for my sabbatical” I said. But where would we go? “Let’s go to Devils Tower. And I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore.” That statement set in motion a series of events that led to today. One slightly used travel trailer and a new car to pull it. Four thousand miles and more than 80 hours of driving on this Great American Road Trip we finally arrived. And it was spiritual.
We made Clara watch Close Encounters a few weeks before we left on this trip and she had an experience similar to mine. “We have to go there”. As we drove across the Black Hills from South Dakota into the Black Hills of Wyoming we discussed the movie and if we were on road they had filmed with dead cows littering the landscape. Ominous road signs stating “If lights are flashing turn back to “X” town” which are meant for winter driving conditions took on new meaning. As we first saw the tower peak up on the horizon as we crested a plateau on the rolling and winding road we took from Sundance, WY we all immediately started singing “Dom dom dom dom dom!”.
We pulled to a roadside marker to read the story of the tower. The legend behind it is far more interesting and compelling than the scientific hypothesis (there are three of them) about how the structure was formed. The images it conjured in our minds made us want to rush to the tower and get close enough to touch it.
As we approached our nation’s first national monument we passed through a huge field of prairie dogs. We’d seen prairie dogs before, but never this close.
As we started our hike around the base of Devils Tower we encountered several small pieces of cloth in the trees. A sign near the ranger station had indicated that these are prayer cloths and they most not be disturbed as Devils Tower is a sacred site to many Native American peoples.
We walked around the entire tower, each side of it presenting a different perspective of this massive object. Buzzards and hawks soared on the thermals around the tower. The view of the countryside was breathtaking. And the tower…mystical…
I highly recommend going out of your way to visit here. The experience was both transcendent and transformative. I know I will be back again.
I’m not sure what my favorite part of the Terry Bison Ranch RV Park and Campground was my favorite? Was it the stench of bison dung wafting in so strong that we had to keep the r-pod trailer tight as a drum? Or was it the thundering whoosh of Ford F-150s and Semis careening down Interstate 25 at speeds well exceeding the posted 75 MPH limit? No, it was probably the yippy little dog barking in the tent site adjacent to ours starting at 5am. Or perhaps the experience of heading to the shower facilities but after seeing their condition deciding against it. Needless to say, this was not my favorite campground. But we wanted to make the most of it, so Tawny took the kids to see the giant stuffed jack-a-lope and some of the animals they have on the ranch which I had the pleasure of emptying our holding tanks.
Then we hit the road. We decided to drive up highway 89 from Cheyenne to Custer and back road it a bit. It was an excellent choice and a stunning drive. Lush grasslands. Rolling hills. Rock formations. Antelope. And no services. We saw a sign saying “Next Services 74 miles” and my trip calculator on our truck told us we had 89 miles left. That was cutting it a little close but we had no choice but to carry on. We made it to fuel with few fumes to spare in a little town called Torrington where we had lunch and visited a rock stop to buy geodes. Then we carried on. As we crossed into South Dakota we took a little detour to The Mammoth Site which is the largest concentration of mammoths in the world. It was a fascinating little tour (still excavating) and museum. It reminded me very much of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.
We drove through very cute little Hot Springs, SD (someplace I’d like to explore more) and headed to our campsite in Custer, SD at Fort Welikit and unhooked the trailer to head back into Custer for dinner. We went to Black Hills Burger and Bun which hands down had the best burger I’ve ever tasted. We all thought so. This was really one incredible burger. First of all it was Bison, and the most moist and juicy burger I’ve had. It was simple, and not oversized. It was just right – a Goldie-Locks burger. I had The Hot Granny – Bacon, cream cheese, chopped fresh jalapenos, and sweet/spicy jalapeno sauce. It was indescribably delicious. OMG. I can’t even begin to emphasize how good it was. Go there. Go there now. Get in the car and go.
We walked out of the restaurant planning to go to Custer State Park and see some animals, but a storm was clearly brewing. Dark clouds. Lightning. Winds whipping up. We decided to go anyway and see what we could see since we have limited time here. We drove the southern “wildlife loop” and saw a few antelope, elk, and a few bison, with one buffalo crossing just in front of our car. “You were delicious” I thought to myself. “And you are huge. Please don’t smell your brethren on my breath and destroy my car”.