The Black Hills, June 2019, Day 8: Devil’s Tower

In June of 2019, I took an long-planned, epic 11-day road trip from Texas all the way up to the Dakotas! In order to keep to blog posts from being painfully long, I’ve broken the trip up into days and will release one post per day or so. This covers my day spent driving from Medora, ND to Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.

I spent the morning walking around the town of Medora; though tiny, it’s quite cute, with lots of historic buildings.

Theodore Roosevelt spent quite a bit of time in the area before he became president, and his Maltese Cross Cabin is preserved as he kept it, in town but within the boundaries of the national park.

One interesting bit of local history is the remains of the 1880s De Mores Packing Plant, a business scheme cooked up by the colorful Frenchman Marquis de Morès, who founded the town of Medora and named it after his American wife. There’s not much left of the plant now save for a chimney and a few ruins, but there are some informational plaques providing background.

One other neat thing to see is the Chateau de Mores, the home of the Marquis and his wife, perched on a hillside overlooking the town. Though similar to many other “historic homes” you’ve visited, it’s fairly large and was a veritable luxurious mansion by the standards of the 19th century Great Plains.

From the Chateau, I headed out of town to the west. Because I’m a back-roads nerd, I chose to drive on Old [US] Highway 10, rather than I-94; if I have time and the road is of decent quality, I always prefer to drive on back roads rather than interstates when possible. I feel like the scenery is as good or better, you drive through much more interesting and historic parts of town, and you don’t have nearly as much traffic to contend with.

Just shy of the Montana state, I had no choice but to merge onto I-94, so I did and then crossed into Montana!

I wasn’t on the interstate for long; after just a few miles I reached the tiny hamlet of Wibaux, got off, and headed south on State Highway 7. At exactly 47 degrees north, Wibaux was the northernmost point of my entire journey; from there, it was exactly the same distance south to Wyoming and north to Saskatchewan. I’d love to go to Canada someday, but I was headed to Wyoming, so south I went, down the eastern edge of Montana.

The sense of isolation was much the same as driving up to North Dakota, possibly even greater. In the 2 hours and 20 minutes between Wibaux and Alzada near the Wyoming state line, I only went through two “towns” of any size (which isn’t saying much): Baker and Ekalaka. At first, the landscape was similar to that seen the day before, with various buttes, but as I went farther it started to resemble more the Black Hills I had left behind, with long ridges topped by pines.

After a few hours, I crossed into Wyoming…

After crossing the state line, the terrain quickly becomes hillier as you climb into the Bear Lodge Mountains (which are themselves a component of the greater Black Hills area). I took a brief detour to see the tiny town of Hulett, which is very cute. I climbed up on a ridge and unexpectedly caught my first glimpse of Devil’s Tower.

The Tower is both imposingly large and mind-bogglingly weird. As you can see, it is not a perfect pillar; it is asymmetrical and slightly bent. The famous columns of which it is made are much bigger than you think, and vary in number of sides from four to seven. It is truly awesome.

You might be forgiven for thinking that Devil’s Tower is like Mount Rushmore, one of those things you just take a picture of and then there’s not really much more to do there. And you could see it that way, if that’s all the time you had. But if you have the time, it’s worth spending all day or even a night there (as I did); there are several different lengthy hiking trails around the Tower. Each side of the Tower presents a different look, depending both on light conditions and on the weatheredness of the columns (you can see that in the lower-left picture above the columns are noticeably more cracked and worn; that’s the eastern side). And besides, the countryside around it is drop-dead gorgeous.

That night, I stayed in Devil’s Tower Lodge, a B&B that’s the closest accommodation to the Tower itself. Included in the price is not only breakfast, but dinner as well, which is handy considering the limited food options available in the area. I enjoyed a family-style dinner with great conversation with my fellow guests, which happened to include a retired Dutch Air Force officer and his wife (my dad was in the U.S. Air Force and we were stationed in Holland once upon a time), and the retired bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra! I’m a low brass player myself and had heard about this guy for years, so that was a fascinating chance to get to talk to him.

Not only was my room super comfortable and charming in its decor, but I splurged and stayed in the Tower Room, which has a huge picture window looking directly onto the Tower itself. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it!

Tomorrow: the drive back home

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