Devils Tower, WY: Close Encounters of the RV Kind

Destination: Devils Tower. The setting of the 1977 Steven Spielberg cult classic movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We mentioned this to our 20’s and 30’s kids before leaving home, and were met with blank looks. They had never seen nor heard of this movie! Then we realized it was made 45 years. Dang, we are getting old. Devils Tower … we’re comin’ for you!

Spielberg was considering locations in Monument Valley, Utah for this film, but felt they were all too recognizable from other movies previously shot there. He ventured to Devils Tower and knew this was “THE place,” and we had to agree when the aliens returned for a quick fly-by while we were there! Here they come through the sky! E.T., phone home! Oh wait, that’s the wrong movie.

This sci-fi/alien film features a young Richard Dreyfuss as a man obsessed with seeing Devils Tower (not just in person … also in the mashed potatoes, a pile of shaving cream, etc.) and this too describes Philip. This has been tops of his “bucket list” for years and boy-oh-boy is he excited to be here!

The KOA campground is right at the base of the mountain, and each night they show the movie outdoors, in the looming shadow of Devils Tower. Its was quite a hoot to watch a movie about Devils Tower, while gazing upon Devils Tower!

She’s a beauty all right … from all directions! A two-mile road wraps around the base, allowing views from every angle. And she’s big, as evidenced by the handsome hiker at the base. Devils Tower = 867′ tall. Washington Monument? P’shaw, only 555′ tall.

The distinctive vertical lines have led to many American Indian tribes’ oral traditions of the creation of Devils Tower, including a tower growing tall to help people escape bears, who once lived here, and who scratched the lines into the rock as they attempted to score a bear-y good snack.

This place is considered special and sacred by over 20 indigenous tribes. The Circle of Sacred Smoke sculpture represents a puff of smoke from a ceremonial pipe used by Native American people, and is one of three sculptures by Japanese artist Junkyu Moto’s International Peace Project, with two others in Vatican City, Rome, and Bodh Gaya, India, where the Buddha reached enlightenment.

Many visitors, Native American or not, journey here for private ceremonies or to tie colorful cloths of healing prayers to the trees surrounding Devils Tower. The concept is that you tie your prayer into the knot as you attach it to a tree limb, not sharing it with anyone, other than the spirits in this place. It’s supposed to be secret, but since Philip chose an Arizona Cardinals towel for his prayer cloth, it’s pretty obvious which wish he tied into his knot. Super Bowl 2023 … ?

Devils Tower was first climbed in 1893, and it remains a world-famous climbing destination. Over 5,000 hikers summit Devils Tower each year, and quite a few of them die, according to the ranger! It’s not hard to see why …. could you do this? This is how they climb up … in between the rock spines!

The summit is about the size of a football field, and disgusting. No, really. By all accounts it is full of scrubby, pokey bushes, small prickly pear cactus, rats, snakes, and a bunch of “nesting rock doves,” which most normal people call pigeons. And where there are pigeons, well, you know. Poop. Lots of poop. But down below, the beauty that led President Roosevelt to declare Devils Tower the very first National Monument in 1906.

There are a couple hiking trails located here (with no pets allowed). The Tower Trail is just over a mile and closely circumnavigates Devils Tower. It is paved, and crowded. For a longer and more quiet hike, the Red Beds Trail takes you about 3 miles on a wider circle around, with more variety of terrain and beautiful vistas, while of course still not losing sight of the star-of-the-show rock itself.

Everything at the campground is Devils Tower themed, and who can blame them? There in nothing else to see or do for 100 miles in every direction, except Devils Tower. You can clean your clothes in the Devils Tower laundry room, or even stay in a Devils Tower tipi!

The looming Devils Tower apparently provides not only divine inspiration, but musical inspiration. A duo played from the back of their RV most nights, and the sweet sounds floating over the campground were so enjoyable, until suddenly they weren’t anymore, because if we heard Somewhere Over The Rainbow even one more time, we were going to PRAY for an alien abduction. Another night, a country duo performed on the office porch in their homemade Devils Tower tie-dye T-shirts.

Yup, Devils Tower lived up to our expectations, and it’s a worthy journey here, whether by spaceship or RV! But alas, it’s time to go, because you can only stare upward so many times, without getting a crick in your neck.

Our next close encounter will be of the underground variety, as we head to another National Monument … Jewel Cave in Custer, South Dakota … the third longest cave system in the WORLD!

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