From Mount Rushmore we drove West, crossing the boarder into Wyoming. I still can’t put my finger on it, but something was different about it. It was quite almost too quiet.
It soon became obvious how sparsely populated the state really is.
Wyoming is actually the 50th least populated state in the union, and has the forty-ninth lowest in population density. For the first time on our trip out west we truly felt like we were on our own.
We had a long drive ahead of us before we’d reach our destination and the weather was looking grim. We were of course on our way to the next great American monument, Devils Tower.
On our way there, we stopped in Sundance where we picked up a couple of steaks and resupplied. We were running dangerously low on snacks and junk food. In Sundance we met with an unexpected surprise. We were in cattle country and a good 16 ounce steak could be had for less than five dollars.
We’d be eating well tonight.
The road less traveled
It was actually on our way to Sundance that Google decided to route us on what I hesitate to call a road. It started out innocent enough, just a gravel road headed back in the direction of the only civilization for miles. Only after rounding the corn of a cemetery of all places did things get bumping.
I felt my front left tire leap up smacking the bump stop on its way up as the tire smacked something hard. Ahead a sign read unmaintained road defied us.
“Google you’re drunk,” I exclaimed as I reached down to slip us into four wheel drive. We could feel the axels undulating under us as we left the rocky road and returned to pavement.
A few kids looked up at us in surprise as we came through. I guess we’d taken the road less traveled and survived to tell the tale.
The Devils Tower
From a distance Devils Tower looks almost like an ancient tree trunk stripped of its bark.
Rising nearly 1,200-feet above the surrounding prairie, Devils Tower has long conjured images of an ancient tree trunk reaching high into the heavens.
A closer inspection of the towering rock face reveals the corrugations in the rock face. These long vertical cracks have made the tower a popular destination for the climbers.
The massive uprising of rock is our nations first monument. It got its name in 1875 from a U.S. G.S. Survey team. Theodore Roosevelt later declared Devils tower a national monument.
The name seems fitting given the monuments origin. Devils Tower was born in fire. The tower is all that remains of the ancient volcano. With the uplift of the black hills magma rose through the layers sedimentary rock forming a volcano. Over the eons wind and water wore away the soft sedimentary rock leaving only the hard stone core of the volcano behind to tower over the landscape.
On the second day of our journey west we’d set up camp at the foot of the devils tower.
Inside the park gates we found only a handful of tents dotted the campground at the foot of the tower. We had to trouble finding a quiet place to pitch our tent.
The weather hadn’t improved much in the hours since leaving South Dakota. It had grown colder and cloudier as we traveled west. As we unpacked the Jeep the sun began to peek out from beneath the clouds casting its warm rays on our backs.
The temperature was a hair over 55 as I started pitching the tent. The rocky soil make it difficult to pound the cheap aluminum stakes into the ground. It seemed like no matter what angle I tried I somehow managed to sink the stake into a rock only to have to pull it out and try a different angle.
Speaking of steaks, while I erected our shelter for the evening, Niecie had started work on cooking dinner. We dined on meal of steak and potatoes with a side of corn. She was really getting good at cooking on our little coleman camp stove.
Like the night before, we’d decided to pitch camp in the park rather than staying in a the KOA just outside the gates. As it turned out, both campsites were practically deserted. A handful of tents and campers dotted the two dozen or so campsites at the foot of Devils Tower.
After dinner Niecie and I took turns splitting wood for a fire. Carefully we coaxed a flame from the splintered timbers and strips of newspaper.
There isn’t anything like a fire to lighten your mood. Tomorrow we’d set off for our next destination and go to war with the elements.