Several hiking trails lead up close to the unique rock formation (maps available at the Visitor Center), but the 5,000 or so hard-core climbers who scale the Tower’s challenging walls each year are out to get a much loftier perspective. In 1893, William Rogers made the first recorded ascent of Devils Tower. Back then, Rogers used a ladder, and two years later his wife followed suit and became the first woman to climb to the summit. For decades, all successive climbers used that same ladder (remnants on the east side of the tower are still visible through binoculars), but in 1937, Fritz Weissner and three others from New York City used free climbing skills to reach the top. Those mountaineers made use of naturally occurring ledges, cracks, and outcroppings to inch their way to the top, just as many modern climbers do today. A typical climb usually takes 4-6 hours.
If you’d rather not get roped into anything yourself, just take binoculars along on the paved 1.3-mile loop Tower Trail and live a little vicariously. The mostly shaded peaceful trail encircles the base of the Tower and provides good views of climbers clinging precipitously to the rock face. Interpretive exhibits and benches along the way make this a very popular trail. Wondering what it’s like at the top? I’m told the peak is covered in sagebrush and grass, and provides an incomparable bird’s-eye view.
If you like your wildlife on the small side, you won’t be disappointed. A gregarious colony of black-tailed prairie dogs live at the park and can be seen right from the main road. Just pull off to the side and watch hundreds of cute critters scamper about. Their burrows are elaborate underground networks of interconnecting tunnels with multiple entrance holes, so they literally pop up all over the place! Named for their bark-like calls that sound more like high-pitched squeaks, the entertaining little prairie dogs really aren’t dogs at all. They are rodents closely related to ground squirrels and chipmunks. Wild turkeys, deer, rabbits, many species of birds, and porcupines also inhabit Devils Tower National Monument. Sorry sci-fi fans, no aliens have been spotted since Steven Spielberg and his film crew cleared out over 30 years ago!
Devils Tower has also made history outside of the movies. In September 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established the rock formation and surrounding 1,347 acres as America’s very first national monument. The major difference between a national park and a national monument is that a national park encompasses a large land or water area that contains a variety of resources, whereas a national monument is smaller and usually preserves just one significant resource. Although it lacks national park status, Devils Tower National Monument is no less impressive and interesting, as any of its 400,000 annual visitors will tell you. But don’t take their word for it. Plan your own close encounter with the remarkable topography, history, geology, and legends of northeastern Wyoming’s most conspicuous landmark.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Visitor Information: (307) 467-5283
7-day pass is $10
Directions: The entrance to Devils Tower National Monument is 33 miles northeast of Moorcroft, Wyoming, via U.S. 14. The Monument and Visitor Center is open year-round, but the campground is open only from April through November, weather permitting. Confirm exact times and dates before visiting.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com