If you've seen Steven Spielberg's masterpiece, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, perhaps you too, like the characters in the film, will be haunted by the figure of a strange and mysterious monolith. Are you wondering if he really exists? Are you anxiously looking for his whereabouts? Do you think that this phantom and singular height is only an invention of passionate ufologists and fanatics of Area 51?
Fear not, that strange and fascinating rocky conformation exists and how it is and in America it is also quite well known: it is Devils Tower, the Devil's Tower, the first declared site National Monument in US history at the behest of Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.
Let's try to discover this attraction more closely and understand how to organize ourselves to visit the site.
- Where it is, how to get there and useful information
- The particularity of Devils Tower
- Things to do near the Devil's Tower
- Available routes
- Visit the park at night
- Why take a tour of Devils Tower?
- Where to sleep in the area
Where it is, how to get there and useful information
The Devils Tower is located inside the park of the same name in Wyoming, that is, in that geographical area of the United States also known as Real America. There is only one road that allows you to arrive and it is there Wyoming Hwy 24.
Devils Tower National Monument is open all the year 24 hours a day. The Visitor Center it is open in spring, summer and autumn from 10 to 14. Here you will find, in addition to the usual space for books and souvenirs, an exhibition that explains the history of the place. The rangers on duty will also be able to answer your questions and curiosities, as well as show you the day's activities.
In order to enter you must pay an entrance ticket of $ 25 for each car, otherwise you can use the America the Beautiful parks card.
Arriving with your rental car you must bear in mind that, unfortunately, the parking space is limited to about 200 spaces and, as you can imagine, during the high season months it is very likely not to find a place in the area near the Visitor Center, in the time slot that goes from 10:00 to 15:00. In case you find yourself in this unpleasant situation you can consider other parking options for example:
- Picnic area: you will find additional parking lots along the sides of the road leading to the Belle Fourche River Campground. From there you can embark on a walking path that joining two trails of the park (Valley View Trail and Red Beds Trail), after about 2 kilometers, will take you to the Visitor Center.
- Area Joyner Ridge: this parking area is located north of the Devils Tower and can only be reached via a dirt road. Once there you will have to walk along the Joyner Ridge Trail until you reach the connection path with the Red Beds Trail. If you want to reach the Visitor Center, allow for almost 5 kilometers for both the outward and return journeys. Keep in mind, however, that you can enjoy beautiful views of Devils Tower even without having to go to the visitor center.
The particularity of Devils Tower
The mountain, which rises above the Belle Fourche River, on the edge of the Black Hills region, is actually the heart of an ancient volcano, in which the surrounding rock has been gradually eroded thus revealing a central mass of cooled magma that appears today as a rock monolith full of cracks, as if it had been scratched along its entire surface.
The peculiarity of this attraction, however, consists not only in the monument itself, but also in the contrast with the surrounding landscape, a prairie that extends as far as the eye can see up to the horizon, in which the devil's tower stands alone.
The vision is so suggestive that it impresses not only American filmmakers, but also the ancient native peoples, who consider it a sacred place, formed thanks to the gift of a great spirit who erected it to save some young Indians fleeing from a giant bear (which repeatedly scratched the mountain thus giving it the appearance that we can all see today).
To get an idea of this spectacular view of the tower, take a look at the video below, which is also useful for getting an idea of the way to reach it.
Things to do near the Devil's Tower
Admiring the tower is in itself the reason why it is worth it visitare Devils Tower, however, since you are at it, why not take the opportunity to enjoy a nice excursion in the surrounding area? For more details read the next paragraph on the available trails.
Near the picnic area there is a sculpture by the Japanese artist Junkyu Muto named Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture. The meaning of this work is to remind visitors how important this place was for Native Americans. Positioning yourself in front of it, it is possible to “frame” the Devils Tower inside, allowing you to take beautiful souvenir photos.
Finally, if you feel brave enough, in the summer season (but not in June as a sign of respect for the Native Americans for whom this month had a very important symbolic value), you can ask for permission to climb the tower, climb to the top and admire a wonderful panorama, but you have to show some preparation.
The extension of the park is not very large, which is why there are only four paths that can be followed. Let's take a closer look at what they can offer and what it is.
- Tower Trail: as you can also guess from the name this is the most popular and beaten path in the whole park. The itinerary is very simple since starting from the Visitor Center the trail continues making a complete loop around the Devils Tower to return to the starting point. To complete the entire route, you will walk for just over two kilometers, encountering a difference in height of about 40 meters. It is a path for everyone and certainly the best choice to do to see the mountain up close. If along the way you encounter pieces of cloth attached to trees, know that it is an Indian spiritual symbolism aimed at representing the spiritual connection of the tribes in the area with the same tower, so do not touch them.
- Red Beds Trail: starting from the Visitor Center this path also goes around the Devils Tower but taking a wider route is a bit more challenging. In this case, in fact, there will be four and a half kilometers to cover.
- Joyner Ridge Trail: I have already briefly talked about this path in the part that concerned the parking lots. If you remember it does not connect directly to Devils Tower but it is a walk of just under two and a half kilometers partly inside a forest. It is an excellent choice if you want to observe the mountain in the distance, especially during sunset on beautiful days, when the Devils Tower will turn orange, giving the whole area a very special atmosphere.
- South Side e Valley View Trails: I had also mentioned this path in the section of alternative parking. It is a loop of just over two kilometers that begins and ends in the Belle Fourche River Campground area. The peculiarity of this trail is that, if you are lucky, you will be able to see many prairie dogs running around in their natural habitat.
Visit the park at night
If you are staying nearby (by the way I suggest you read the dedicated section if you want more information) I suggest you consider visiting the park even during the night. Given the almost absence of light pollution you will be able to admire the starry sky in the best possible way.
Among the many stars that can be observed a central role is the constellation Ursa Major which, given the clarity with which it can be seen, has influenced the beliefs and traditions of the Native Americans in the area over the centuries. So if you are particularly interested in stargazing I suggest you take a look at the Night Sky Programs either on the park's official page or by asking the rangers for information directly on site.
Why take a tour of Devils Tower?
In summary, Devils Tower can represent a very interesting stop for those who are in the so-called region Real America and wants to enrich their "tour del Wyoming“: The very peculiarity of this bizarre rocky conformation and the natural context in which it is immersed make it truly suggestive, and for those who loved Spielberg's famous film the experience is enriched with an extra evocative note.
Where to sleep in the area
The closest structure is definitely the Devils Tower Lodge located just north of the Joyner Ridge area. It is a well-kept bed and breakfast that from some rooms allows you to have a view of the mountain, the owners will also be enthusiastic to give you some advice if you want to undertake a climb. Another structure nearby (about 20 minutes by car) is the Sawin’ Logs Bed & Breakfast inserted in a beautiful natural context, very quiet and relaxing.
Other hotels can be found in the small town of Hulet (about 15 minutes by car) or in the largest, but more distant (just over an hour), Gillette.
One last thing: if you have decided to spend the night in the area, know that you can enjoy the evening screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind at 21:00 pm at the KOA campsite, just outside the park entrance.