Thursday, August 17, 2017

Camping at Devils Tower, WY

Devil's Tower National Monument

For this stop/blog, I recommend 

  • Watching the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" to get in the mood.  It just so happens to be the 40th anniversary!  (After an encounter with U.F.O.s, a line worker feels undeniably drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where something spectacular is about to happen.  Link for the rerelease trailer on YouTube:
  • Download the theme song to play during your hike around the base of the tower or at sunset in the campground 
  • Make mashed potatoes to accompany all of the above (a friend mentioned this on FB & I thought it was brilliant!)
Why Devils Tower? (no apostrophe)  The various Indian names for the landmark include "Bear's Lodge," "Bear's House," "Bear's Tipi," and "Bear Peak".  "Aloft on a Rock" and "Tree Rock."  "Bear Lodge Butte," "Grizzly Bear's Lodge," "Mythic-owl Mountain," "Grey Horn Butte," and "Ghost Mountain."  One version of the story is an interpreter mistakenly calling it "Bad God's Tower".

Devils Tower or Bear Lodge has long been considered a sacred place by the American Indians.  It's believe French fur trappers visited the area, but the first documented white expedition was in 1859 (they were on their way to Yellowstone).  It was designated as a U.S. forest reserve in 1892 and was declared America's first National Monument in 1906 by President Roosevelt.  It's also popular with rock climbers with the first recorded ascent by local ranchers in 1893.  (We could see at least four from every angle.)

It also has an interesting geological history with different theories on it's formation, but you'll have to research that on your own.

A Herbert Collins painting depicting the Cheyenne version of the folklore courtesy

Summary of the story of its creation, 

according to the Akta Lakota Indian Museum:  
A Lakota tribe was traveling through the area 
when several little girls wandered off 
and were surrounded by a pack of hungry bears.  
The girls huddled together on a hill 
as the bears began climbing after them. 
The earth shook and groaned 
as the little knoll, began to rise out of the ground, 
carrying the children high into the air. 
The frustrated bears growled and clawed at its sides. 
Sharp pieces of rock broke away from the rising spire 
and crashed down upon the angry bears.”  (

Example of the road conditions.  Little bumpy.  Devil's Tower in the distance

Devil's Tower is the CoPilot's pick while in the area.  The Belle Fourche campground on the National Park grounds is first-come, first-serve (NO RESERVATIONS), for $20/night!  The KOA just outside the National Park grounds is $60+, a no-go on principle.  As previously mentioned, it's the Sturgis Bike Rally and peak tourist season in the Yosemite/Rushmore corridor but The Colonel agrees to roll the dice.  Alternate?  WalMart parking lot in Gillette.

It’s a short hop across the Wyoming border from Rapid City (110 miles from our campground) with an elevation gain of 1300 ft.  After leaving I-90, it’s 27 miles of winding and hilly road with a narrow shoulder (but still a truck route per our Rand McNally Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas).  It's our most challenging drive yet, with a 9% downhill grade and a peak elevation of 5000 ft.  Based on the number of motorhomes we pass going the other way, we are hopeful.  I'm breathless as the Tower appears in the distance.  

A short line at the entry gate

We arrive at the National Park gate behind a line of Harleys ($15, no NPS senior pass YET).  We are instructed to pull in & unhook the dinghy a mile inside the entrance (for those wanting to continue onto the Visitor’s Center) but this is also the entrance to the campground.

Google Maps view of Belle Fourche

Our favorite pic from this stop

I'm hyper as we unhook {snap, snap, snap—see The Colonel’s fav photo above) and I bolt off in the car to not only find a spot (there were plenty) but to find the BEST spot, which I had studied on Google Earth and reviews (turns out it's not necessary to unhook for navigating the campground).  We end up in a primo spot in Loop A, facing Devil’s Tower with no neighbors except the camphost two spots in front of us.

That's Devils Tower through the trees

Our campground, nestled in the Belle Fourche river

The pull-thrus are big enough for our 36 ft Winnebago, with good views, some shade and are relatively level.  There is no electricity or dump station (there are multiple water spigots but not at each site).  We’re basically dry camping or "boondocking", but it’s 79F with 29% humidity and a light breeze.  The quandry is, without electricity, do you want shade to keep cool?  Or sunlight for our solar panel?  We compromise (we run the generator for 30 min before sunset.  It's a nervous night, since our generator will auto-start if the batteries get low and that's a no-no during quiet hours!)  The good news is, we awoke to the same 12.6 we went to bed with.

Another view our spot

You pay on honor system but the Camphost and Park Rangers make regular rounds, so be honest!  (The Colonel took down our slip as we prepped to leave & the Camphost stopped to ask for it...)  We originally paid for one night but we ended up staying two.  We drove all this way after all!  

Our moderate shade, the trees will effect your view

We still aren't the biggest RV in the campground.  Including us there are 4 class A’s, and three fifth wheels.  The rest of the 50 campsites were tent & van campers.  The first night was full was late afternoon, but that didn't stop a few people from driving through after dark.  (The second night did not appear full & was mostly tent campers).

Prairie Dog's keeping a close eye on us

To do:

  • Visitor’s Center:  The parking lot was full of Harley's so we didn't stop
  • Prairie Dog Town:  Dang they're cute & make a funny chatter as you walk by.  This was a popular turnout with the Harley's
  • Hike:  (stay tuned for a link) There turned out to be some great hikes from the campground but we met people who hiked from the KOA! 
  • Nothing:  This was a very quiet, peaceful campground and aside from the distant hum of motorcycles during the day, it couldn't have been darker or quieter at night!

A view from the trail that starts at the campground (Prairie Dog Town)

This stop is difficult to explain.  Even The Colonel acknowledged there is a different vibe here.  The Indians believe it is a spiritual place and we'd have to agree.  Everything from the fact that I had trouble sleeping at night because I felt wide awake to the incredibly clear pictures I took with my iPhone.  It's difficult to describe.  If you didn't spend the night on the grounds, you'd be missing a part of the magic.  It's also a truly unique geographical feature that is even more spectacular in person.

If nothing else, this stop has inspired The Colonel to add another solar panel or two.  If the temps are reasonable, and we keep the stops to 5 days or less, more extreme boondocking is closer to reality for us.  (Watch for our stop at Glendo State Park!)

Stay tuned for our hikes around Devils Tower!

Akta Lakota:

@WyomingTourism #ThatsWY @WyoStateParks

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