A&A Travel Review of Wyoming – Devils Tower, Big Horn Mountains, & Co
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
End of Week #13 – Continued (PART 2)
Lake Village Area, Yellowstone National Park > Atherton Creek Campground, Kelly WY
Miles traveled since last week’s post = 97 + 105 miles of adventures in just Frank the Tank (202 mi)
Total miles traveled to date = 1646 with trailer, 2001 including longer off roading adventures
Well, as promised, I wanted to give you a second post this week to review some of the adventures we have had in Wyoming thus far! We had a really great time in Yellowstone National Park (full review coming to the blog on Monday night), but we lacked in having a network connection. This was definitely to be expected, but it also throws a wrench in my ability to stay connected with you all on our adventures!
Here is a review with detailed information from our travels through north central and northeastern Wyoming. Enjoy!
Devils Tower National Monument
The Tower: Many people, many stories, one place.
Did you know this was America’s FIRST recognized National Monument?? I honestly didn’t know that either until we went there! Devils Tower is an incredible geological formation not too far away from the Black Hills. This area is considered highly sacred by indigenous people, and it is a super popular place for “crack climbing” rock climbers to go. What’s amazing to me is that you can start to see the monument darting into the skyline from about 15+ miles coming to it from the south. I visited here once with my dad, over 20 years ago, and it’s just about the same as I remember it. The tower looks different from every view you take, always majestic in the sky.
Understanding how Devils Tower got its name requires perspective on the culture of the area. From one point of view you have native indigenous people and their spiritual beliefs surrounding the monument, and on another hand you have white settlers coming into the picture. The earliest map of this region referred to it as “Bears Lodge”, and the Indians called it “The Bad Gods Tower”, however by 1890 when Wyoming was granted statehood, “Devils Tower” became the official name. I could go on and on about this for days, as I’m super intrigued by it all, but to spare you the word count – you can read more about it here.
Regardless of who felt what about the Towers name, everyone seemed to agree cohesively that the tower area needed to be protected. Eventually the tower received national recognition and ongoing protection, and in September of 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt declared it America’s first National Monument.
This geological oddity sticks above the pine covered rolling hills and grasslands of the area like a sore thumb. Geologists have been studying this masterpiece since the late 1800’s and still today no one can necessarily agree as to how this was formed. This place was first protected due to its incredible scientific value and is still widely studied and wondered upon today. We know for sure that the tower is formed from rare igneous rock (rock formed from cooling of magma and lava), and that it is the largest example of columnar jointing in the world.
Most of the area around Devils Tower is made up of sedimentary rocks. The rocks are formed by minerals solidifying, typically deposited from wind and rain. The oldest rocks here at Devils Tower were deposited in a shallow inland sea that used to cover much of the central and western part of the United States during the Triassic Period (225 – 195 million years ago).
A lot of geologists will say that Devils Tower once began as magma or molten rock that was buried beneath the surface, and the issue that they all can’t agree upon is how this magma cooled in order to form the actual tower. Some say igneous intrusion, some say eroded remains of a laccolith (mushroom-shaped mass of igneous rock which intrudes between the layers of sedimentary rocks but does not reach the surface), and others say it is the neck of an extinct volcano.
Where did we stay
There is a highly well rated dispersed campground right in the National Park of the Monument. We camped at the Belle Fourche River Campground for $20 a night, and stayed for two nights. This campground is first come- first serve and offers extraordinary views of the tower and the red rocks jutting out of the hillsides. Driving here reminded me much of northern Arizona (Sedona) and made me miss the desert life hard.
Belle Fourche River Campground has 46 sites, drinking water spigots, and regular restrooms – including a special sink to use to wash your dishes! We had no electrical or water in our holding tank while visiting here.
Although the price were night was slightly steep on our budget, I really enjoyed this campground for a first come type, and would absolutely stay here again. Everything was level, within walking distance to the tower, full every night, friendly people and hosts, and beautiful views!
Regular vehicle admission is $25, however we have an Annual Park Pass and did not pay anything to enter the park. We only paid camping fees!
What did we do
Hiking of course! That’s really all we ever choose to do, we are far more into exploring nature than doing much else. Walking right out of our campground we were able to get onto a hiking trail that reached the base of the tower, and circled completely around it, also stopping at the visitor center near the base. The actual hike around the base of the tower is a 1.3 mile loop, called Tower Trail. In total, calculating coming in from our campground, we went about 4 miles from start to finish. The hike to the base of the tower, was the most strenuous and vertical, while the hike around the base was paved and quite “easy”.
If you are brave or otherworldly, you can receive a permit to climb the damn tower too! Other things to do include checking out the Circle of Sacred Smoke sculpture, near our campground, built as a gesture of peace around the world. There are also ranger led programs, nightly cultural entertainment, and nearby shops to check out just outside of the park.
The Big Horn Mountains
& the Bighorn National Forest! This area extends from the great plains of Wyoming into southern Montana. BEAUTIFUL country right here! We were finally getting into the big boy mountains of the state, and I was SO thrilled to arrive here. Coming in from the east, we took the scenic highway US 16 (Cloud Peak Skyway), which connects the cities of Buffalo and Ten Sleep and takes you through the southern point of the mountains. This highway states it’s the best route to take to get to Yellowstone, to include the most scenery and flattest terrain to cover. Coming through with our RV towed behind us, this seemed like the best route to take!
The Big Horn Mountains and the Bighorn National Forest are a total outdoor paradise with so much to explore and see. I’m not going to lie though, it is also a very intimidating area, and while searching for the best hikes to do while we were here I was flabbergasted at how many strenuous, difficult, and overnight hikes were available, versus day hikes. The Cloud Peak Wilderness inside the National Forest is no joke, and doesn’t mess around. Despite how bad I wanted to go there, we really weren’t cut out for it while we were there. Another time maybe!
This area is unique and diverse and includes grasslands, evergreen forests, mountain meadows, lakes, rugged alpine peaks, dramatic canyons, desert lands, and cascading waterfalls. It really has it all! Driving through Ten Sleep Canyon, just before reaching the edge of the Bighorns, was one of my favorite drives we have taken to date.
Where did we stay