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Close Encounters at Devil's Tower

(Reprint from News: December 3, 2001)

October 20, 2001


I stopped at a Burger King in Dickinson late that afternoon to eat a Whopper and fries for dinner, then drove south on a two-lane highway for a few hours and pulled into the small town of Bowman, North Dakota.  This being hunting season, the motels in Bowman were pretty jammed and the only room available was cloaked in a heavy fog of cigarette smoke.  Not wanting to smell like a pack of Marlboros for the next three days, I slept in my pickup truck next door in a church parking lot. 


Always having a place to sleep like that is one reason why I like pickup trucks.  I used to sleep in parking lots quite a bit during my younger and poorer traveling days, but this was the first (and last) time that I'd have to resort to that on this trip.  No shower in the morning but hey, it's a cheap way to travel.


Early the next morning, I headed down into South Dakota and Wyoming, drove by the geographic center of the United States just off Highway 83, and reached one of my favorite places in America, Devil's Tower National Monument.  Even if you haven't been to Devils Tower, you'd probably recognize it if you've seen the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," since it was the source of Richard Dreyfuss' obsession in that film.


I'd been to Devils Tower twice before, both times during the late spring, and although I never saw any little green men or flying saucers there, I always had a great time.  Indeed, it's one of my very favorite National Parks in the U.S.  This time was different, though:  the skies were gray, the air was crisp, the campground was closed, the leaves had fallen, and the park was nearly deserted.  As I hiked around the base of Devils Tower, I changed my mind and decided to just head straight back to Bellingham instead of going to Colorado.  I missed the Northwest too much and I wanted to get home.



Above left:  On U.S. 83 in South Dakota.

Above center:  The geographic center of the United States is a few miles north of this town, Belle Fourche (pronounced "Bell Foosh"), South Dakota.

Above right:  Back in the late 1800s, Harry Longabaugh spent several months in the Sundance, Wyoming jail (for rustling cattle, I believe).  Of course, that's how he got his nickname, "The Sundance Kid." 



Above left:  Entering Devils Tower National Monument in northeastern Wyoming.  It was cold, gray, and rather dreary when I was there, not like my other visits to this park.

Above center:  According to Indian legend, the sides of Devils Tower were scraped by a giant grizzly bear who was trying to climb it.

Above right:  Each year, hundreds of mountain climbers also try to climb Devils Tower.  You probably can't see them, but the tiny specks in the lower left and upper right corners are climbers making their way to the top. 



Left:  In 1800, over 2 billion prairie dogs lived on the Great Plains.  The habitat has since shrunk to a few pockets, like here at Devils Tower.  Cute critters, huh?



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