“Were you here when they made the movie,” one traveler asked. “I’m sorry to burst your bubble but they didn’t do most of the filming here,” the woman at the gift shop replied. If you’ve seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind you know exactly what the Devils Tower National Monument is, and its significance in pop culture. I had not seen the 1977 Steven Spielberg film but John made sure to rectify that situation when we returned home after our long Midwest road trip this spring.
The iconic and evocative natural structure, also known as Bear’s Tipi or Bear’s Lodge to local tribes, was a new-to-me attraction and I’m glad we stopped by when we made our way through Wyoming from South Dakota.
Devils Tower was the first declared United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt.
“It protrudes out of the rolling prairie surrounding the Black Hills and is considered sacred to the Lakota and many other tribes that have a connection to the area. Hundreds of parallel cracks make it one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America. Devils Tower entices us to explore and define our place in the natural and cultural world.”
Tips for Visiting Devils Tower
- Stop into the visitor centre: Check out the displays and get some back story & history before venturing out around the monument.
- If you are rock climbing: Always report to the ranger station to register. The national park asked climbers to voluntarily not climb throughout the month of June as it’s a culturally significant time for local American Indian tribes. The tower plays an important role around the time of the solstice.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes: I read that the path was paved so I wore flip flops but there are still small rocks and pine needles everywhere so clothes-toed shoes would be ideal.
- Take photos: We arrived in the morning so the view from the parking lot on the west side was washed out by sunlight, casting shadows on the tower. Wait until you’re around the east side to get some good shots, with the sun bathing the rock face.
Along the south side of the tower, there is a side trail that takes you up to a lookout to view the original stake ladder that was first constructed and used in 1893 by William Rogers and Willard Ripley to publicly ascend Devils Tower. There are viewing tubes to spot the ladder but many visitors (myself included) couldn’t make it out through the tube. Instead I zoomed my camera lens at the same approximate pitch as the tube and blindly took photos. I later examined my zoomed shots and I did manage to capture the ladder:
There is a lot of history at this spectacular monument, and a lot of information to take in. Make sure you allow for at least two hours to explore, although I think you’ll need about four. Our quick stop was about 90 minutes and we could have spent much more time there. Arrive early, we were there at 10:00am, since by the time we left there was a line of cars at the ranger checkpoint at the entrance.
Connect on social media, I did and the national park shared my photo of John on their Instagram account. Follow along on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If you’re visiting a national park in the USA this summer, use tag #FindYourPark and #NPS100. View the rest of my road trip photos on Flickr and Instagram.