Devil's Tower: An Overlooked National Park
The first time I drove through Wyoming was in the summer of 1981 on a road trip with my my mom. Somehow, in a pre-Internet time, I knew that the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind had been filmed at Devil’s Tower.
This was not a scheduled destination on our road trip but as I looked at the map I realized we were driving by this National Park on our way to Mount Rushmore. I convinced my Mom that we needed to make this side trip and that it would somehow be worth it. Looking at the map we determined it would be at least 45 minutes off the highway to get there and 45 minutes back and however long we would take once we got there. So, best case scenario this would add two hours to our overall trip time. ** This is one of the reasons I have always added extra time to any road trip so that I could allow for unexpected side trips.
A Magical Close Encounter
If you have never heard of Devil’s Tower and/or never seen the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” you should check it out. My mom had seen the movie and asked me what the big deal was – after all this was just a big piece of rock in the middle of nowhere.
For me it was much more. It was a landmark that inspired Richard Dreyfus to sculpt potatoes and the location of a spectacular alien invasion. It was mythical.
As we drove toward this massive landmark I kept looking out the window for a glimpse of what I was sure would be a recognizable landmass. The road to Devil’s Tower winds its way through the countryside and goes up and down and around hills and rocks and trees.
Finally, I saw it off in the distance. It was Glorious. It was just as I had imagined. Then we went around the corner and down into a valley and the Tower was out of site.
I kept looking for it in the direction I was looking before when all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye it appeared again in a completely unexpected spot. What? I was completely turned around. This continued to happen along the way for the duration of the drive to the base of the Tower. This only added to my preconceived notion of this place being somehow magical.
Hiking at Devil’s Tower
We were finally there. I was thrilled but I was also sure that my mom would want to just take a picture and get back on the road because this was an unscheduled stop. To my delight and surprise she said “Let’s Go!” She tightened the laces on her Tretorn tennis shoes and we headed off to trek around the trail that went around the entire base of the Tower.
I was expecting that this would take us a while because my mom was so old (41) and we didn’t really know how long the trail was. As it turned out I could barely keep up with her.
The trail around the base is spectacular. It is paved, well marked, and has interesting markers along the way. It was fun for me to read about the history and mythology of this landmark and the importance it held to the Native American community.
As we worked our way around the base we noticed a group of people all looking up. So we stopped and looked up too. It was a trail of climbers working their way up the sheer cliff sides of the Tower. You won’t see that if you visit today. The park has issued a voluntary climbing closure out of respect to the American Indians who consider Devil’s Tower to be a sacred site.
Since that visit I have been back with my kids who had never seen the movie, but enjoyed the visit any way. They got a very special stamp in their National Parks passport. They also loved Prairie Dog town that is down near the entrance where Prairie Dogs can be seen popping their heads up from underground like a whack-a-mole game.
While the trail around the base of Devil’s Tower is paved, the National Park Service does express concern that portions of the trail are steep and may not be appropriate for wheelchairs. The steepest portion of the trail can be seen from the parking lot and people are instructed to use their own judgement.