This may come as a bit of a surprise, but visiting Devils Tower has been on my bucket list for years. I grew up watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so it’s always had a special place in my mind. On this leg of our #Vanlife journey, I get to check off another item off the list and hunt for aliens in the wilderness of Wyoming!
Devils Tower, Wyoming
Wyoming, a western state, is one of the least populous states in the country, bordered by Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho. Although small, Wyoming packs quite the punch in terms of beautiful country. Nearly 50% of the land of Wyoming is owned by the federal government, and much of that has been set aside as national parks. Yellowstone National Park, Devils Tower National Monument, and Grand Tetons National Park are all located (wholly or in part) in Wyoming, drawing over 6 million tourists annually. That’s roughly 12 times the population of the state!
The monument is located in the northeast corner of Wyoming. We stayed at the Devils Tower KOA Campground, which is located right at the base of the mountain. It set us back about $30 per night to park in the grass, but we had a picnic table, fire pit, tree cover, and wifi. The site also included access to clean bathrooms, hot showers, laundry machines, a pool, playground, and an on-site restaurant. After a week or more at less equipped campsites, we felt like we were living large!
KOA Camp Host – “Each evening at 8:00 PM, we show the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind at our little outdoor theater.”
Camper Ahead of Me In Line – “Why in heaven’s name would you show that movie?!”
I am a huge fan of the 1977 alien movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the movie, Earth is visited by aliens. After coming in contact with the aliens, a few special people are entrusted with a vision. This vision leads them to Devils Tower, where the aliens land and make first official contact with the governments of Earth.
It is my love for this movie that has drawn me to Devils Tower. This simple mountain in the middle of nowhere was on my bucket list for years, and I am so excited that I not only got to visit this crazy and weird natural structure, but had the opportunity to watch an old favorite again with the iconic tower looming in the background. It was a surreal experience, and a real treat.
Devils Tower National Monument
In 1906, Devils Tower became the nation’s first national monument [Editor’s note: by an outdated cartographical convention, the apostrophe is omitted intentionally from the name. It’s driving me a little nuts.]. The butte is made of igneous rock and stands over 850 feet (230m) tall from base to top. Rather than forming straight out of the ground, Devils Tower National Monument was formed when magma fountained up through the hundreds of feet of softer, sedimentary rock that covered the region millions of years ago. Over time, that softer rock was slowly eroded away, leaving behind the solid stone that forms the tower. Up close, Devils Tower reminded me of Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, which has similar basalt columns.
For a single car, the entrance fee to Devils Tower National Monument is $20. Thankfully, we were able to use our America the Beautiful pass to enter for free. Once inside, we learned about the history and geology at the Visitor’s Center, then walked the 1.3 mile (2km) Tower Trail, a paved path that circles the butte. The short hike had amazing views of the monument and the surrounding area.
To my disappointment, there is no trail up to the top. It is possible, however, to climb to the top. That is, if you’re braver and more skilled that I am. To climb the 5.7 – 5.13 rated route, climbers must register at the climbing office and are only allowed to use temporary anchors. Best of luck you crazy kids!
Rather than climbing to the top, I googled what it looked like, said “huh”, and moved on with my life. While the surrounding view is spectacular, the mountain top itself is nothing special. No aliens. No secret military base. Just a rocky mountain top.
All in all, we had way more fun at this stop than either of us expected. We loved camping out at the KOA, watching Close Enounters under the stars, and trying out the local brew named after the amazing and eerie monument. Our stop only lasted two days, because we had a bigger, and somewhat more famous, national park to visit. Which one, you ask? Hint: it’s also in Wyoming (mostly). Until next time!
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