We are now 10 days into our road trip and 1/5 of our way through our journey. What a journey it has been- full of amazing sites, incredible experiences, wonderful people, and innumerable blessings!
On Thursday, after leaving the Black Hills of South Dakota we traveled two hours west, crossing into Wyoming, for our visit to Devils Tower National Monument.
This was another stop I was looking forward to with eager anticipation, as it is a place that holds so many fond childhood memories for me.
I remember camping at the Devils Tower KOA and sleeping under the silhouette of that mighty monument.
I couldn’t wait to return and share the experience with my own family.
As we approached the campground we could see Devils Tower looming in the distance, growing larger with every mile as we approached our camp.
The Devils Tower KOA is located at the base of the monument, mere feet from the entrance of the park. It is a beautiful KOA, both because of the upkeep as well as the incredible views. It is the nicest KOA we have ever stayed at.
Oh, how the memories came flooding back as we pulled into the campground!
We pulled into our site and the kids got out to stretch their legs and play at the playground while I fixed lunch.
Look at the view from our campsite!
After lunch we headed into the national park to explore more closely the beauty of Devils Tower.
As we drove into the park we passed a prairie dog town on our way up the winding road. At the top of the road sat a small visitor’s center at the base of Devil’s Tower. This was our first stop.
“Devils Tower National Monument, a unique and striking geologic wonder steeped in Indian legend, is a modern day national park and climbers’ challenge. Devils Tower sits across the state line in northeast Wyoming. The Tower is a solitary, stump-shaped granite formation that looms 1,267 feet above the tree-lined Belle Fourche River Valley, like a skyscraper in the country. Once hidden below the earth’s surface, erosion has stripped away the softer rock layers revealing the Tower.
The two-square-mile park surrounding the tower was proclaimed the nation’s first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The park is covered with pine forests, woodlands and grasslands. While visiting the park you are bound to see deer, prairie dogs and other wildlife. The mountain’s markings are the basis for Native American legend. One legend has it that a giant bear clawed the grooves into the mountainside while chasing several young Indian maidens. Known by several northern plains tribes as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site of worship for many American Indians. Devils Tower is also remembered as the movie location for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
The stone pillar is about 1,000 feet in diameter at the bottom and 275 feet at the top and that makes it the premier rock climbing challenge in the Black Hills.”
The kids were invited by the park ranger to participate in the junior ranger program, an educational, interactive program offered at many of the National Parks. The kids had not yet had the opportunity to try and earn their junior ranger badge at previous parks because of our limited time at each of those parks. This time, however, we had a full day planned at the park and plenty of time for the kids to really explore, research and learn all about Devils Tower.
The booklet included a nature bingo game, pages to draw on and record information about a flower they saw on their hike and a wild animal they saw. There were also crossword puzzles, true and false quizzes, and fill in the blank questionnaires that required the kids to read signs and find the missing information.
Molly, Rusty and Tyler decided to try and earn their badge. Ozzie was more interested in simply reading the signs and not filling out the 12-page booklet, and Grace was not feeling well, so after walking through the visitors center with us she headed back to the bus to lay down rather than hike with us.
While at the visitors center we got our National Parks passport book stamped and the kids began filling in their junior ranger booklets with the information they found in the visitor’s center.
Then we headed out on the Tower Trail, a 1.25-mile trail that winds its way around the base of this mammoth rock.
The trail was beautiful…
And the views were breathtaking.
We stopped at each trail sign to read about the park and so the kids could fill in their booklets. I knew Molly and Rusty would love this activity but I was surprised how engaged Tyler was. I have watched Tyler blossom, as a student, on this trip as he experiences these places that he has never shown any interest in while reading about them in a book. He is learning, experiencing, retaining and growing through these hands-on learning opportunities and it just confirms that Tyler’s learning style is that of a hands-on, kinesthetic learner.
As we walked around the monument we were in awe and understood why, upon seeing this magnificent place, Theodore Roosevelt designated it the first National Monument in the United States. This made Wyoming the home to the first National Park (Yellowstone) and home to the first National Monument.
Along our hike we spotted a deer laying by the path,
And hikers high on the cliffs.
Tyler loved watching the hikers up close through the binoculars.
He and Molly both agreed that someday they would like to try mountain climbing.
It was a wonderful hike and we learned a lot along the way. By the time we reached the end of the trail three of the four kids had completed their booklet and were ready to have them checked over by a park ranger.
They passed and were ready to be sworn in as junior park rangers.
What a wonderful program. They all enjoyed it so much and learned so much, they all said they would like try getting their junior ranger badges at all the National Parks we visit. What an awesome experience it is being able to visit and experience our nation’s national parks, especially in 2016, during the National Park Service’s 100 year anniversary!
By then it was nearing dinner time, so we walked back to the bus to find Grace feeling much better. We decided that before dinner we would enjoy a swim in the KOA pool. After working up a sweat, the cool pool water felt good, and we couldn’t have asked for better pool views.
After dinner everyone put on PJs and sweatshirts and we walked over to the camp’s outdoor theatre to watch, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the sci-fi classic that was filmed right there at Devil’s Tower. This KOA shows it every night in their outdoor theatre that looks out onto Devils Tower monument.
I remember sitting under the Wyoming stars, at the base of Devils Tower, as a kid watching this movie for the first time and thinking it was one of the coolest experiences ever.
It was so much fun to relive that moment again. Sitting under the stars, in the cool night air, introducing my own kids to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” I thought to myself,
“Life doesn’t get much better than this.”
Next stop: Yellowstone National Park!