Home » 2000 Cross Country Road Trip

Devils Tower National Monument, WY

Saturday, July 29, 2000 - 10:00am by Lolo
312 miles and 6.5 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


For some reason, Tommy had been asking how many more days until Devil's Tower ever since we left Michigan almost 2 weeks ago. I guess the thought of seeing the place where aliens landed in Close Encounters of the Third Kind was kind of intriguing to him.

Early AM Lolo with Devils TowerEarly AM Lolo with Devils TowerIt really is a strange place, located in the middle of nowhere. We were probably more than 10 miles away from the park when we got our first glimpse of the Tower, rising dramatically up from an otherwise totally flat prairie. That's what makes it so unusual--it seems to come out of nowhere. Geologists think that the Tower is actually the core of a volcano that has eroded away.

We had chosen to stay in the KOA outside the park because we could make reservations there, so we took a quick dip to cool off in the pool and headed right over to see Devils Tower close up. There's not a whole lot to do here, so you can easily see everything in just a day. We hiked the 1.3 mile Tower Trail which goes around the entire base, getting different perspectives and photographs along the way. We had to climb up the talus slope that surrounds the base in order to get closer to the Tower. Since, the lighting wasn't that good, we decided that we would do more photography early the next morning.

As a former fanatical rock climber, Herb looked at the Tower in a very different way than we did, scanning the rock face for the hand and footholds that would determine a route to the top. That is the way he would have liked to experience Devils Tower--hopefully, some day he will. For now, climbing Devils Tower is still allowed, but the Native Americans are trying to stop what they consider to be a violation of something sacred to them.

Herb and I rose early the next morning to photograph the Tower at sunrise. The kids looked too peaceful to disturb, so we grabbed their cameras as well and ran down to the field in the campground where there was a clear view of the Tower. The lighting was terrific, so good, in fact, that before leaving the area, we drove back into the park to the Tower Trail to retake some pictures from yesterday. The good lighting was going fast, so Herb, laden with all types of photographic equipment hanging around his neck, jogged around the base by himself taking more pictures of the Tower in the morning light.

We said goodbye to the Tower and headed on to South Dakota.


Devils Tower National Monument is located in extreme northeast Wyoming. Despite the fact that it is way off the beaten path, it still receives more than 450,000 visitors annually, who come here to hike, climb, or just look at the incredible 865-foot-high monolith. It is probably best known as the place where alien spaceships landed in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt designated the Tower and the 1,347 acres surrounding it as our nation's first National Monument.

Devils TowerDevils TowerGeologists believe that Devils Tower is actually the igneous core of a volcano that has been exposed as a result of millions of years of erosion. The vertical columns were formed by the cracking and fracturing of the molten rock as it cooled. Most of these columns are polygonal (5-sided) and measure 6 to 8 feet in diameter at the base and taper to 4 feet in diameter at the summit. Much of the original formation that has peeled and crumbled off has created a boulder field all around the Tower.

The Native Americans have a different version as to how Devils Tower was formed. According to their legend, seven sisters ran away from their brother who was turned into a bear. A large tree stump beckoned them to climb on. When they did, the stump rose into the sky as the brother scratched it with his claws. Native Americans feel that the Tower, which they call Mateo Tepee or Grizzly Bear Lodge, is sacred to their religion. They have asked the National Park Service to not allow people to climb it so that they can conduct their religious ceremonies.

The Tower was first climbed on July 4, 1893, by William Rogers and Willard Ripley. They used a wooden ladder for the first 350 feet of the climb. 1,000 people watched as they made their hour long climb to the summit where they raised an American flag. Two years later, Mrs. Roger's became the first woman to climb the Tower. She used her husband's ladder. By 1997 more than 5,000 people had climbed the Tower. Today, climbers must register with the ranger before they begin their climb and again when they return.

For those not inclined to climb Devils Tower, a good way to experience it is the 1.3 mile Tower Trail with goes around the base of the Tower, offering close-up views along the way.

There is a 55-site campground in the park along the Belle Fourche River that works on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Devils Tower National Monument location map in "high definition"

Javascript is required to view this map.