The second day of our Epic Road Trip looked to be filled with many unusual sights. We had started at Badlands National Park, before making our way into Wall, South Dakota. After a quick lunch break in Rapid City, we returned to the road and continued our path west. Our goal was to add a second national park to our day’s schedule. This one would cause us to divert from the interstate and wind our way to the north. We would soon discover 3 ways to explore Devils Tower National Monument, which has been drawing in visitors for decades. Hopefully, at least one of these would fit our timetable.
Approaching the Monument
The rolling hills that surround Devils Tower are covered with plenty of vegetation. We were making our way along a winding road but had yet to spot the prize we were seeking. It was still quite pleasant, so we took in the beautiful landscape as we continued forward. It was about 20 miles off the interstate before we came to the turnout for Devils Tower. Seeing the sign renewed our excitement and it would only be a few minutes until our diligence was rewarded. Cresting a hill, the monument suddenly popped into view. It was still a ways off, but we now could see our prize.
The Story of Bear’s House
Before we begin looking at the 3 ways to explore Devils Tower, let’s get some background on the site. The lands surrounding the monument were common to the Lakota and Kiowa tribes. Their legends tell of a group of girls out playing, when they were spotted by some bears. The creatures began to chase them and the children climbed a rock to escape. Out of fear, they prayed to the Great Spirit for assistance. Their prayers were answered and the rock began rising from the earth. The bears attempted to climb after and their claws raked the grooves into the sides of the rock. In the end, the girls reached the sky and turned into the star cluster known as The Seven Sisters.
Getting an Education
In 1906, President Roosevelt declared Devils Tower as America’s first national monument. The two-square-mile park is covered with pine woods and rock outcroppings. Arriving in the park, we showed our National Parks Pass and made our way to the visitors center. The first of 3 ways to explore Devils Tower, it is a great place to begin a visit. Inside the center, we found an array of exhibits showing the history of the area and the people who have inhabited it. Constructed in the 1930s, the space also includes a gift shop filled with various souvenirs.
Hiking the Base
After picking out our mementos, and stashing them in the car, we turned our attention to the second way to explore. There are five trails that criss-cross the park grounds. Whether you are planning an extended stay or just have an hour, there are options for everyone. We were on a tight schedule, so we chose the shortest version, which is the Tower Trail. At just over one mile, it offers hikers views of the tower from all angles. Along the route, we found a selection of signs that told more of the story of Devils Tower. While the hike had some steep inclines, we were still able to complete it in our timeframe.
Scaling Tree Rock
As we made our way around the monument, we kept our eyes peeled for climbers. Every year, many choose to scale and rappel down Devils Tower. Being the third way to explore the monument, it was not one we would select. Still, it was intriguing to watch a pair of climbers in action. We learned that you have to have a permit to scale one of the thirty-one climbing trails up Devils Tower. This is done for the climbers’ safety and to ensure that every climber is accounted for at the end of the day. We are betting that it is very exhilarating to experience a climb on this amazing natural feature.
The Many Faces of Devils Tower
The 275-foot tall pillar is about 100-foot across. As we made our way around the monolith, we started to notice the different appearances it presents. In the bright sunshine, we could make out the greenish tint of the stone. On the other side, shadows highlighted the crags and fissures that scale the monument. It was easy to see why this place has held special meaning to so many people for so long. Besides the Lakota and Kiowa, there are stories from other tribes that include bears creating the unique ridges along the monument’s sides. As we stared up at it, it was easy to imagine such a scenario.
3 Ways to Explore Devils Tower
While we only participated in a couple of the 3 ways to explore Devils Tower, we came away with a healthy respect for this national monument. Day 2 of our Epic Road Trip included about 600 miles of driving. We noticed the afternoon burning up and knew we still had four more hours behind the wheel before we stopped for the night. Dinner would be a quick stop between the park and our lodging in Billings, Montana. While the promise of a soft bed was enticing, we dedicated ourselves to enjoying the scenery along the way. This was an opportunity to see some landscape that we had never experienced and we love a good road trip.