On our way to Yellowstone, we took a side trip to Devil’s Tower National Monument. I’ve always loved this place because it’s such an unlikely thing to see in the plains. It just kind of juts out of the rolling landscape, with almost nothing like it anywhere in view. It is believed to be hardened magma that was forced into sedimentary rocks above it. As it cooled, it fractured into the basalt columns we see today after the land around it eroded away.We pulled into the Belle Fourche (foosh) Campground and were glad to see it almost empty. It is a lovely park campground with great views of the formation on one side, and a large meadow with cottonwoods. We picked a very sunny site (if there is any sun) on an outside loop and got set up quickly.
If you hadn’t already guessed, you are going to see lots of Devil’s Tower pictures. With only 1 afternoon/evening to work with, there will only be time to do a short hike, an evening stakeout and maybe an early morning hike or viewpoint, weather permitting. We waited till mid-afternoon to venture to the 1.3 mile hike around the base.I was quite surprised to see so many people at the visitor center. I really thought the Tuesday after Memorial Day would be pretty dead, but we probably saw 100 or more people here and many on the trail. It’s always hard for me to focus on making pictures with so many people around. They keep wanting me to take their pictures while I’m trying to do my own. It’s not like I don’t like doing it – I enjoy seeing families out in these places, but I can’t focus on my own work, and it detracts from my personal experience of being out here. In fall, it is dead after Labor Day. Mary reminds me it is now summer.
What I also enjoy here are all the prayer bundles left by local natives to be found hanging from tree limbs all along the trail. Some are quite intricate and colorful, while others look more like old garage rags. I look for compositions that somehow honor these remembrances and tributes. Walking the Tower Trail really gives you a good overview of both the formation and the surrounding landscape. The trail is the closest you can get to the formation unless you are inclined to climb – which many are. We found several groups clinging to the ledges. Some practicing rappelling, other on a hardcore climb. It can be difficult to pick them out, but you usually hear them first, then narrow it down to location. In the image below, a climber is in the lower right corner in a crease.
Once again it was mostly overcast with occasional showers. We made the best of the intermittent sunshine, stopping in places for a while in hopes of getting a bit of sun. We finished the walk and decided to drive out to an overlook on the opposite side from where we are. It is just so amazing how it could be so busy here at the visitor center, but so deserted at the overlook that is just a mile away on a good gravel road. We pulled into the lot and saw maybe 2 or 3 other cars come by for a look.I like this spot because it gives such a great open view of the monument. Light is important to make this a really exceptional picture, but it didn’t look like we would get more than a moment or two at a time. I walked along the Joyner Ridge Trail that leaves from the parking area, up to a slighter higher vantage point so I could have a better view of the nice meadow.Again the clouds thickened up and we returned to camp, ready for dinner. While Mary cooked, a thunder shower came over. At first, the lightning and thunder was distant, but it slowly came right over us. At one point, there was no delay between flash and boom. Mary about jumped out of her skin at that one. After dinner and rain, the clouds began to break up again. We headed back out to the overlook in hopes of a final show of light on the formation. It got oh so close, but we never got a good opening. While the clouds behind the tower were breaking up, on the horizon, it was still too thick. Them’s the breaks.
I had hopes of staying at least another day. It was dependent on today being a little more sunny than it turned out to be. There are a coupe of nice hikes within the park, and a few other areas to explore and photograph at different times of day, but the clouds would keep everything too dull. To me it is worth staying, but we’re nervous about getting a campsite in Yellowstone on a Friday. Leaving today means getting to Yellowstone on Thursday with a better chance of getting a site. The weather is supposed to get a bit better over the weekend. I do hope so… So we were off again, going west on I90 through Wyoming. All went well, but I did sweat out going over the 9430′ pass through the Bighorn Mountains. Going up was no problem. It is steep, but there are lots of turnouts to see views and the LD easily handled the incline. Of course it was snowing as we reached the summit and continued all the way down to about the 6300′ level. I had also forgotten just how steep and long the west side of the pass was.
So now I know what the rigs’ brakes smell like when overheated. Even in 2nd gear and braking often, I worked up to much speed and had to brake more when approaching the curves. I’ve not been on a road in the past 10 years of RVing this steep. All was well, but next time I disconnect the Rav. We made it all the way to Cody, WY before calling it a day. Tomorrow we will be in Yellowstone.