For me, this post is one of the most meaningful I’ve ever presented. It first ran in 2017.
“Dammit, I know this. I know what this is! This means something. This is important.”
When Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) uttered those words forty years ago in the classic Spielberg film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, he was attempting to shape the Devils Tower out of mashed potatoes. Later, he constructed an even more ambitious Tower in his living room out of mud and garbage. He then saw a live shot of it on TV, and he was hooked. Guess what, SO WAS I.
THE LONG IN-BETWEEN TIME
Back then, I swore that someday I would stand in the shadow of the Devils Tower, and more important, that I would touch it. I can’t say why I was drawn to it so strongly; perhaps because I loved the movie so much. Years later, when I learned that the Tower was a sacred site to many Native American tribes, my desire to see it only increased.
But life got in the way, and this, coupled with the fact that the Devils Tower is located in a remote corner of northeastern Wyoming—not exactly on the beaten path to anywhere—kept me from going there. (Yeah, I know…excuses.) I had to be content with adding it to my bucket list, one of the three places I absolutely had to see before the Mother Ship came for me—the other two being The Alamo and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Over the past twenty or so years I did get to The Alamo—twice. And I did get to Cooperstown—twice. But the Devils Tower remained elusive. Not being a particularly good traveler to begin with, I began to think that it would never happen.
A SWIFT KICK IN THE ASS
Then, a while back, Jacqueline—my bride, my hero, my everything else in this world—provided the foot in the rear that I needed with a simple statement: “You want to see the Devils Tower, let’s just go. Find the nearest city with a real airport, fly in, rent a car, visit the place, fly home. Simple.”
And so we did, earlier this month! The closest city with a real airport turned out to be Rapid City, SD, about two hours from the Devils Tower. After an easy drive we first spotted the Tower from about fifteen minutes away. From that moment I couldn’t stop smiling for the next few days.
The Devils Tower has the distinction of being this country’s first National Monument, so decreed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. Obviously it sits on federal land, so it surprised us that our destination, a bed & breakfast called the Devils Tower Lodge, is located within the park on privately owned acreage—practically within the shadow of the Tower itself. (More on the lodge and its unique owner shortly.) I’m usually a lousy sleeper on the road, but that first night I slept peacefully—right through a thunderstorm.
AN AMAZING DAY
The next day—our one full day in the park—I could barely contain my excitement as we drove to the Visitor Center, where the Tower Trail begins. The trail is a loop around the entire perimeter of the Devils Tower, and at one point—so I’d been told—it comes close enough to where you could touch its base. That was the one thing I hoped for. Meantime, the 1.3-mile trail gave us one awesome angle of the Tower after another, though tons of boulders and fallen logs separated the trail from the base.
Past the halfway marker the trail had twisted closer to the base, but there was still way too much debris for this old-timer to negotiate—although I tried a couple of times. I soon began to worry that the trail would move farther away, so I bit the bullet on the third attempt, clambered over rocks and tree trunks (my body loved that…not!), and suddenly there was nothing but me and the Tower. I’d made it! My whole body shook as I placed a hand on the rock that had first called to me four decades earlier.
I rejoined Jacqueline on the path, and wouldn’t you know, in another ten minutes the Tower Trail came within a few yards of the base! Once again I touched the magical Tower, almost anti-climactic after working so hard to reach it the first time. We completed our walk around the Devils Tower and, ecstatic, returned to the lodge with stories to tell over dinner.
THE DEVILS TOWER LODGE
Frank Sanders is synonymous with the Devils Tower Lodge. Only a couple years younger than me, Frank is a well-known climber who has scaled the Devils Tower countless times. He is also an accomplished pianist. Many years ago, while “just passing through,” the Devils Tower took hold of Frank, and he knew that he could never leave. There is an excellent short film, “The Making of Frank and the Tower,” that is well worth watching.
The cozy bed & breakfast had four guest rooms at the time we were there, although Frank was just finishing the construction of a fifth room. His staff, led by Julianna Byrd, was awesome, truly there to take care of anything we might have needed; they made you feel like family. As I said before, the Devils Tower is so close that you cannot help but see it from everywhere at the lodge, whether from the guest rooms, the family dining area, the comfortable common room, or the porch. Staying at the Devils Tower Lodge made a great experience even better.
As an addendum, we didn’t just fly in, see the Devils Tower, and fly out. After leaving Wyoming for South Dakota we visited the old, bawdy western town of Deadwood (remember the TV series?), and we rode the 1880 Train through the Black Hills. In 33° weather. With snow flurries. In May.
All in all, a memorable trip—especially getting to touch the magical Tower.