Roadside America

Devil’s Tower National Monument

In spring 2014, a friend and I traveled to South Dakota and parts of Wyoming, stopping at Sturgis, Deadwood, Custer State Park, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and many other cool places. Devil’s Tower was our last stop. That region defines “wide open spaces.” In eastern Montana, the vast prairie rolls into the Black Hills. Jutting from the undulating landscape, a volcano tens-of-millions of years old left this cone of solidified magma when the surrounding sedimentary rock eroded away. You can see it for miles around.

According to Kiowa and Lakota legend, two girls were being chased by giant bears and sought shelter on a rock. They prayed to the Great Spirit to save them, and he/she made the rock raise toward the heavens. The bears dug deep grooves in the sides trying to climb to the top, but the girls escaped. There are several other versions of the tale, but giant bears are common to all. That’s why American Indians called it “Home of the Bear” or “Bear’s Lair”. Colonel Richard I. Dodge coined the name “Devils Tower” sometime in the 1870s.

In 1906, Devils Tower became the nation’s first National Monument. It rises 867 ft. Apparently hundreds of insane people climb to the top every year. I’m afraid to climb to the top of a ladder, so I enjoyed it from the ground. William Rogers and Willard Ripley were first to make it to the top, on July 4, 1893.

Apparently there’s a whole ecosystem up there. Native grasses, cactus, sagebrush, chipmunks, mice, pack rats, and snakes somehow survive at the summit, which is about the size of a football field.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) famously portrayed Devils Tower as a landing pad for UFOs. The tower certainly inspires awe and wonder, and is considered a sacred place where the earth meets the heavens. If an alien craft were to land anywhere, I suppose this would be a logical place.

On the way back, my friend and I stopped at Buffalo Jump Saloon and Steakhouse in tiny Beulah, WY for dinner. What a treat! When I picture a Western steakhouse, this is it. It was originally a general store dating back to the late 1890s and has a natural stone fireplace. Its menu features a 24 ounce Porterhouse for $39. The name “Buffalo Jump” comes from an old Indian practice in which hunters stampeded herds of bison off a cliff, breaking their legs so they were easier to kill.

Visiting Devils Tower was a wonderful way to end our trip. It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind, watching TV, playing video games, or going on Facebook to unwind, but it’s good to get out and experience what nature has to offer. When is the last time you’ve stood in awe, overwhelmed by the size and magnitude of a mountain or rock formation? It’s hard not to be reminded of how small you really are staring up at this magnificent tower.

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