The giant slab of rock, a huge, grayish stone with rippling irregularities all up and down its face, soars high in the air, looking like a massive tree stump with a missing trunk and branches.
This is the Devils Tower National Monument, an enormous natural wonder which looms over the tree-lined hillsides of Wyoming, casting a shadow across the fields and valleys of the Black Hills. Here are the places you have to visit while at Devils Tower, the stately marvel which attracts upwards of 100,000 visitors per month during July and August.
Devils Tower Visitor Center
Start your adventure at the Devils Tower Visitor Center, a lodge-like structure constructed from pine logs and other resources in 1935 with the aid of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The building has an official listing on the National Register of Historic Places due to its age and significance. Within the visitor center is the Devils Tower Natural History Association Bookstore and both places are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the week. To further explore the area around the enormous stone tower, visit the monument’s trails, including the 1.25-mile Tower Trail around the monument’s base and the 3-mile Red Beds Trail.
Head to the Vore Buffalo Jump to learn more about the history of the Northern Plains tribes in the area. The buffalo jump is a sinkhole which native Plains Indians used to trap buffalo between the 16th and 19th centuries — tribes would force herds of buffalo into the sinkhole and slaughter them to stock up food and hides for the dangerously cold winter months ahead. Then, visit Japanese sculptor Junkyu Muto’s “Wind Circle” world peace sculpture, a twisted continuous strand of silver whose cool gray appearance draws one’s mind to a soft breeze wafting through the valley.
Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area
Visit the immense Bighorn Canyon Recreation Area and soak in the beautiful views of towering mountains, soaring cliffs and azure blue lakes. Bighorn Canyon is split into two distinct districts which are not directly linked, and it takes around three hours to drive from one to the other.
There are a variety of activities in the recreation area. Fish for walleye and yellow perch at Bighorn Lake and then check out the North District in Fort Smith, Montana, where you can ride your bicycle along the Ok-A-Beh road for some strenuous exercise. The canyon boasts 17 miles of trails, the majority of which are in the South District. Begin in the North District with the Beaver Pond Nature Trail, a moderate 2.6-mile roundtrip hike before taking a trip to the South District for a trickier jaunt along the Sykes Mountain Trail, a hard 4.6-mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of over 1,300 feet.
Little Bighorn Battlefield
The Little Bighorn Battlefield, a national monument, is a somber place. Rows of tombstones stretch across a quiet, peaceful graveyard which memorializes the battle between General George Custer’s troops and the native Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. In 1876, the U.S. 7th Cavalry invaded the Lakota and Cheyenne encampment by the banks of the Little Bighorn River. The Lakota and Cheyenne fighters overpowered Custer’s forces, but the U.S. Army invaded Lakota land soon after and took control of the Black Hills. The monument keeps this tragedy in the nation’s collective memory, a sober reminder of the violent land seizures and countless lives lost in the United States’ westward expansion during the nineteenth century.
Finish your trip at Fort Laramie, a stately garrison which towered over the Northern Plains as a military powerhouse until it was vacated in 1890. Fort Laramie served as an outpost as well as a center for transportation and communication, serving stagecoaches, the Pony Express and the telegraph system alike. Covered wagons outside simple houses on the prairie evoke images of a peaceful life on the frontier while colossal stone structures and ruins call to mind the brute force which simultaneously characterized the Northern Plains in the late 1800s.
Make the most of your Devils Tower trip when you visit these can’t-miss attractions.