Sunday, September 25, 2011

Heading West: Devil's Tower and a Night to Forget

Devil’s Tower, a rock that was named the first national monument by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 is only an hour or so from Spearfish and our first stop for the day on the way to Sheridan and Cody. We stopped for a roadblock just outside down -- horses in the roa d. They didn’t look wild so we presumed they got out through a broken fence. I enjoyed the photo op.
The stop at Devil’s Tower was well worth the two hours. As we drove up to the visitors’ center we passed a field of prairie dogs who were so brave they were all out and about right next to the road. I love those little creatures although I’m sure they are a pest from the farmers’ point of view – like groundhogs back east. But they are so entertaining!

We opted for the one mile walk around the tower. The rock formation is amazing with what looks like vertical columns all around. The Indians have a legend that the striations on the rock are the claw marks of a giant bear named Mato. The tower is a sacred place to the Sioux. As we walked around the paved tower circle trail we stopped dozens of times to watch the climbers. We counted at least twenty on our rounds and met the wife of one of them. Her husband was climbing it for the first time. He had a friend who had climbed it before and a 63-year-old with them was climbing it for the fifth time. They were climbing up the sunny side and had started at about 7:00 am. She guessed the treck up and down would be about eight hours and was a little concerned about the heat of the rock and the sun blazing down on them. The tower really is an amazing sight and many fallen rocks at the base show the pillar-like shape of the stones. Amazing!

As we drove west from Devil’s Tower we saw signs saying to follow the southern route as the “safest” way to Yellowstone over the Big Horn mountains. When we stopped for gas I asked the clerk about the two routes. “If you aren’t used to mountain driving, I’d recommend the southern route,” she said. “The northern is steep with a lot of switchbacks. It can be pretty unnerving if you aren’t used to it.” Well, flexibility is the name of the travel game and we made an instant change of plans as we started west toward Cody. We scratched Sheridan where we planned to stay the night and decided to head down to Thermopolis which has a hot spring. The mountains were a dicey drive so I’m glad we didn’t take the scarier route. By the time we got to Thermopolis it was getting dark and we had no Ipad service for checking out campgrounds. I thought there was camping at the state park but, that turned out to be a mistake and we headed back toward a campground we’d passed called The Fountain of Youth. It turned out to be an unpleasant, unkempt place. It had a spring fed pool but the bathrooms weren’t very clean and the entire campground appeared not to be maintained so I didn’t trust the cleanliness of the pool. The water changes regularly in a spring fed pool, but you still need to clean it regularly and when I put my foot in the bottom felt slippery. We decided not to unhook, just stay the night, and head out for Cody in the morning. To prevent our stay from being a total loss we went out to breakfast at a little café called the Black Bear that had great homemade corned beef hash. We bought a piece of homemade apple-plum pie for later and than stopped in at a little antique shop and browsed a bit. I found a paper sculpture in a shadow box that reminded me of the ones we saw in Rapid City so I bought it as a souvenir of our trip.

Larry and I are in no hurry to revisit Thermopolis. We’ll stick with our own hot springs in Virginia, the Jefferson Pools in Bath County. If you’ve never been there add it to your bucket list. It’s a great spot.

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