Date of Trip: July 2003
Visit two of America’s largest manmade monuments plus an awesome natural one in a one-day trip from Denver. My excursion to Devils Tower, WY and Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monuments in South Dakota’s Black Hills made it a wondrous and relaxing 400-mile loop.
Devils Tower National Monument:
The excursion to Devils Tower, WY and Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monuments in South Dakota’s Black Hills is wondrous and relaxing. As you leave the Colorado foothills, north on I-25 into Wyoming and split at Cheyenne onto U.S. 85, expect flat terrain through places like Chugwater, Torrington, Lusk and Bill. But as you near windswept Gillette and Hulett, you might expect the dramatic suddenness with which Richard Dreyfuss first saw Devil’s Tower in the 1977 classic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” However, unlike that character, expect to gradually view the monolithic volcanic neck as you approach and enter Devils Tower National Monument on the banks of northeastern Wyoming’s Belle Fourche River.
Once there, you can easily park, check out the visitors’ center, then circumnavigate the granite formation on any of three concentric hiking paths. Each affords a different view of the formation. The shortest, which I took, winds rather close to the dense brush. This proximity gives you a feel for the tower’s vertical scale as you can readily spot its climbers. Or, climb it yourself if you pre-register with a park ranger.
Stroll a while and peruse easy-to-read signs such as “Collapsing Tower” and “Impossible to Climb.” Learn about the fool who parachuted to the summit one July Fourth only to remain for days because high winds prevented his rescue. Then, from a safe distance, glance at the dangerous prairie dogs burrowing in their world surrounded by fangs.
Named in 1875, Devils Tower itself is a 1,280-foot tall prehistoric volcanic neck which glacially revealed itself over eons as the surrounding plains eroded away. These vertical striations have spawned numerous Native American explanations including a lovely one in which bears chased seven maidens to a tree stump which saved them by magically rising to the heavens to become the constellation Plieades (“The Seven Sisters”) As the bears tried to climb the rising stump, their claws marked the stump as it turned to stone.
Next, it’s east into the Black Hills of South Dakota via a long cut through Alzada in Montana’s southeast corner.