We started our epic Great Plains tour at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. After camping two nights at TRNP's Cottonwood Campground, we hitched up and headed 232 miles southwest to see the first of four National Monuments of our trip, Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. On this drive, we started noticing that we were practically alone. The landscape had gently rolling hills with barely any evidence that people lived in the area.
As we approached the entry gate we noticed that Devils Tower was bustling when we got there. We aren't sure if it's because we all want to see what would lead Richard Dryfus' character to recreate the tower on his dinner plate in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or if we all want to see the first National Monument, declared in 1906, which rises 867 feet from its base. We are sure that the NPS100 and the Find Your Park campaign is driving interest to the parks this year, and that is a great thing.
Many Native American's tribes have long and storied histories of the site known as Devils Tower. It was incorrectly translated during an 1875 exploration and the name stuck. Many legends surround the tower in regard to a great bear and children that sought refuge at the summit. There is active efforts to return it to a name that pays homage to its history, 'Bears Lodge' has been recommended. We refrain from offering an opinion on the topic, but acknowledge it is an awe-inspiring location.
As we entered the park, we were directed to a special RV parking lot. We were required to unhitch and leave the Cricket before proceeding to the visitors center and the base of Devils Tower. We were a little disappointed by this and it required some effort. We considered parking and riding our bikes to the visitors center, but it was an uphill ride with a narrow shoulder.
Once unhitched and at the base, we decided to take the base hike that goes around Devils Tower and offers a number of unique views. At the start of the hike, there are huge piles of boulders everywhere. We all climbed and explored the massive rocks before beginning our hike. That path is crowded, paved, and not really a hike. It offers great views of Devils Tower from different perspectives. We passed several individuals that were headed to climb the tower. Out of the 400,000 average visitors each year, about 4,000 visitors climb the tower. We were disappointed to learn that, after completing about 75% of the trail, it was closed. We had to turn around and backtrack. This wasn't a long hike, it was just an unusual situation.
The additional time on the trail did give the kids time to complete their Junior Ranger activity books. For their efforts, they were sworn in as Junior Rangers for the second time of the trip, this time as official Junior Rangers of Devils Tower National Monument. We are so pleased to have discovered this program as it adds to their enjoyment of National Parks and Monuments. We plan to explore this topic further in the future.
After a great afternoon at Devils Tower National Monument, he hitched back up and continued toward our next destination, 121 miles to Hill City, South Dakota. We entered the Black Hills at Deadwood. The entire town was lined end to end with chrome-clad Harley's. Although we planned our trip for the week before the Sturgis Rally, thousands of riders apparently arrive early. This proved to be a non-issue, except for the added traffic at most of our stops.
We continued the gorgeous drive from Deadwood toward Hill City through the rolling Black Hills toward our next destination: Trailside RV Resort in Hill City, South Dakota. This would be our base camp to explore The Great Eight, and all that western South Dakota has to offer, in the time we had. Stay tuned as our great Dakotas adventure continues.
Shane and Jessica
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