|Cue the "Close Encounters" theme|
One of the places I wanted to visit en route to S. Dakota was Devils Tower. Located in the very sparsely populated NE corner of Wyoming, it's quite a ways from anywhere, and about a 40 minute drive out of my way. But many years had passed since I'd seen this unique formation, and this trip I was determined to stop by.
|There it is!|
Because it takes two full days to travel from Portland, Oregon to Rapid City, South Dakota, I stayed overnight in Butte, Montana. The second morning I awoke to another fierce rainstorm and drove in a downpour for most of the first two hours. Happily, the sky cleared up after Billings, and by the time I hit the Wyoming state line, it was nearly blue again.
|View from across the entrance road|
The approach to this monument via a local minor road is dramatic. This distinct columar rock formation rises prominently above the adjacent hills. A large parking area near the official entrance provided excellent views of Devils Tower against the green prairie.
|Interesting striped hills nearby|
Stopping by the entrance station, I was jazzed to discover my newly-purchased "America the Beautiful" annual pass also worked for National Monuments. Sweet!
The road to the visitor center was narrow and windy, and seemed to take a lot longer than it's stated 3 mile distance. But I finally pulled into the parking area, and was instantly blown away by my first glimpse of the tower's striated sides.
Devils Tower rises 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain and its summit is 5,114 feet above sea level. There's many theories about how this unusual shaped mountain came to be. The most popular is that the tower's core is an eroded plug of an ancient volcano.
|Visitors relaxing on the rocks|
Camera in hand, I eagerly followed a small knot of visitors up a paved walkway to Devils Tower's very base. A large area of jumbled boulders circled the ground directly below its steep cliffs. Wind and water constantly erode this mountain, and pieces of the rocky columns are continually breaking off and falling to the rockpile below.
|Huge rock slope at its base|
Although skies were blue to the west, a nearby thundercloud hung in the eastern horizon. Puffy white patches would break off the main cloud, momentarily blotting out the sun. This shifting light made photography a challenge.
|This tower fills the sky|
I didn't intend to take a hike, but in an attempt to find better light to photograph the tower, I ended up following the paved path that led around the mountain. About halfway into my trek I realized I'd gone too far to retrace my steps and decided to just finish the loop. It was only a mile and a half, and after driving all day since 5 am, the exercise would be most welcome.
|Blocky rock columns|
It was interesting to see Devils Tower from all directions. It looked entirely different from each side. And I know because of course I took a bajillion photos of the thing from every conceivable angle!
|Up close column detail|
One of the cool things I noticed about the tower is a small flock of large birds that kept circling near its summit. I couldn't tell if they were some sort of hawk or perhaps vultures. But the birds kept catching the thermals coming off the top and soared effortlessly across the air. Very fun to watch!
|Framed by the trees|
One of my favorite Native American legends about Devils Tower is where two Sioux boys wander from their village and are chased by a enormous bear. The boys prayed to the Great Spirit to save them, and a large rock they were sitting on rose up. Enraged, the bear tried from every angle to get the boys, his claws leaving huge scratch marks on the rock's steep sides. After several attempts, the bear gave up, sparing the boy's lives.
|Climbers on the tower|
Nearing the end of the round the mountain loop, I happened to notice a small group of climbers high upon the tower's cliffs. They looked like ants clinging to the side of such an enormous rock face. About this time I heard a rumble of thunder, and felt a couple of raindrops. Uh-oh, time to head for that visitor center!
|Curious prairie dog|
Luckily, for me and the climbers, the storm drifted on, and only a tiny amount of rain dampened the ground. I arrived back at the visitor center just in time to watch a charter bus unload a huge group of camera-toting Chinese tourists. Not a fan of crowds, I took this as my cue to leave.
|This one looks like a fat old man|
The road between the visitor center and entrance station passed by a large prairie dog town. Having grown up around the little rodents, I initially wasn't going to stop. But then I saw a few of them sitting fairly close to the pavement edge, and couldn't resist.
Those were the tamest prairie dogs I've ever seen. Obviously used to human visitors, those little guys let me get inches away with my camera lens. They looked up in amusement, as if to say "Oh boy, here's another wacko tourist." But the fat little rodents sure were cute, sitting on their haunches like pot-bellied old men.
After my prairie dog photo session, it was back on the road again! Rapid City was a good two-hour drive from Devils Tower, and I wanted to arrive before dinner. Passing the South Dakota state line behind a brief rain shower, I was just outside of the town of Spearfish when a brilliant double rainbow lit up the sky. A wonderful way to end my long journey, I took this as a sign of more good things to come.
Sharing with: Through My Lens and Our World Tuesday.