Wednesday, August 24 2016
Today was bittersweet. We said good-bye to Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park will always hold a special place in our family’s heart and I know we will return. Even on our drive out of the park, it did not disappoint! As we were leaving, we were excited to see the orange cones of excitement and cars, motorcycles and RV’s parked along the road side…there was ANOTHER grizzly bear that had been sleeping next to a beautiful river in the process of waking up. This was so rare (according to the National Park Ranger) that even the rangers were taking pictures! This was like the super bonus cherry on top of a delicious sundae.
As we drove through the “you are leaving Yellowstone” gate, we paused and had a moment – so many precious memories…and now — we continue our way to Mato Tipila or better known as “Devil’s Tower”, Wyoming.
If you have ever seen the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” by Steven Spielberg you may remember this iconic rock formation. Devil’s Tower was designated the United States first national monument and was included in our Park Pass. There are many native American legends and stories to how the Tower was formed – the leading story being that it was created by enormous bear claws trying to climb and reach a princess that was held at the top of the butte while science favors it is a special rock formation that was created when magma cooled in a chamber and has since eroded. Either way, you can not deny the magical power the Tower does possess.
I can not say this enough. The drive is a HUGE part of this trip. You will see things you have never seen before and will be in awe of the wide open land and space in the United States. Our drive to Devil’s Tower was 7 hours and included a stop in a town called Gillette. Gillette is about 1 hour from Devil’s Tower. We stopped at the Walmart (2300 South Douglas Highway) to do our first food and supply re-stock & eat.
Originally, our plan was to rise super early to drive into the sunrise, but due to the fact we went to bed so late after watching stars and we were all pretty tired from the hiking in Yellowstone, we left later than planned. (We also knew we had a really intense day of physical activity planned for our 6th day.) We enjoyed our drive, bought our supplies and made our way to our next lodging at Devil’s Tower.
Many people have asked our family “what was your favorite?” or “what were your top 3 experiences out West?” I can say without a second of hesitation, our stay and experience at Devil’s Tower was our families Number One. I will share more about our experience rock climbing the tower tomorrow…but, for today, we had an amazing drive, were greeted by the largest, most active, home of adorable prairie dogs, ever. When you drive in to the Devil’s Tower Park you pull off to the side of the road and it looks like a vacant ‘ghost’ town or field. After sitting quietly for a few minutes, you start to see little prairie dogs heads pop up out an enormous network of holes and then the cuteness begins…the chirping, barking and running and playing from hole to hole – too cute.
I have mentioned before that if you can arrive at your National Park locations during the daylight you will find it much easier to navigate to your destination. I can not stress that enough with Devil’s Tower. We stayed at the BEST cabins, ever, but like many times, you will most likely lose your GPS (we did) and there is very limited signage and lighting…so we enjoyed the scenic route to our lodge, but were very happy to be arriving in daylight…I think at night it would have been very difficult.
We took screenshots of all our directions to make sure we had “hard copies” of where we were going. I am compiling a list of “Tackey Tips” for Road Tripping the West and will include some suggestions or ideas like this all in one location in my final posting for this trip. For example, to the right are some of the books I used with the girls prior to our trip to learn about all the awesome things we would see and experience when we arrived. I did lesson planning and educational lessons prior to leaving so that our ‘field trip’ could just be fun and full of experience and not feel like “school.” The author, Carole Marsh, has created these mystery books that my kids (and I) have enjoyed reading prior to many of the trips we have taken (she has written a large number of these mystery books). She does a fun job of weaving a fictional mystery story with factual/historical background at the same time.
We stayed at the Devil’s Tower Lodge. This is an AMAZING, intimate location to stay. The lodge is owned and run by one of the coolest cats our family has ever met, Frank Sanders. From the moment my husband called him to arrange our stay and excursion to climb the tower, Quinn knew Frank was someone special. Frank talked with Quinn many times prior to arrival (and for long periods of time). He is one of those beautiful souls that have been placed on Earth that really has an interest in people, the planet and peace.
A couple days before we left for our trip, we went to the IMAX to watch the National Parks in 3D (highly recommend – Quinn and I cried twice during the film – so beautiful) to kind of get the kids pumped up for our trip. In one scene, they shot footage at Devil’s Tower and showed the crew learning how to tight rope walk on these ropes called “slack lines” and you could see all kinds of people in the background – Quinn leaned over to me and said, “I think that’s Frank – the dude’s house we are staying at!” When the movie was over, we were walking out of the theatre and Quinn’s phone rang, IT WAS FRANK! He was returning Quinn’s call from earlier in the day and when Quinn asked him about the movie Frank shared that it was him and that many crew members stayed at his Lodge while shooting that part of the movie! Cool, huh?
This is a quote from Frank’s website http://www.devilstowerlodge.com describing Frank…
“His greatest satisfaction comes from helping others enjoy and enrich their lives.” Amen.
Frank is an educated, lover of adventure and outdoor, connection and living his dream. He is generous with his time, space and blessings. For example, although there are a very limited number of cabins to stay at on his property he does allow tent camping and listen to this…we met a young man who was attempting to ride his pedal bike across the country and Frank allowed him to stay (and he offers this to other bikers) at either free or very reduced rates. This guy, we’ll call him “biker dude” because unfortunately his name is escaping me, will sit next to me at the family style breakfast Frank prepares for his guests tomorrow and will share with me the wisdom and insight of riding a bike for weeks in tough terrain, with everything you own on your back and bike. He had a special shine, twinkle – he was inspiring. Just one of many people thankful for Frank’s grace.
The location is magical, beautiful. We pulled in and as we checked in – which is Frank’s personal home – we interrupted their family style dinner he was having with the other guests for the night. He was gracious and one of his employees (which is the wrong word, this group functions as a family, not a business) came out to give us an orientation of the cabin we would be staying in. The cabin rocked! Beautiful. He had every amenity you could ask for – and it has a beautiful large deck that over looks the Tower.
Quinn and I poured two glasses of wine, the girls enjoyed the cutest little bottles of fake champagne and we split a chocolate bar. Our view of the tower was stunning. THOSE moments…were the best.
After we ate dinner and settled in a little, we knew we all needed a good nights rest before our adventure the next day….but before we called it a night, we all headed over to the outdoor community hot tub and joined another family traveling with their college age daughter (who is a phenomenal gymnast) on route to college and an inspirational movie producer, Grant Kinsely, who creates documentaries on deep/tough social injustice issues. The film he just completed exposes and discusses the dark issues of human trafficking. He gave us a copy of his film, it is called “Untouchable – Children of God” – here is a link to his website http://coderedfilms.com/.
To listen to each person’s story…their journey…under the stars with a lightening storm way off in the distance that ‘lit up’ the tower was aaaammaaazing. After some time, we all said good night and the cool thing…most of us would be rock climbing in the morning together.
We walked back to our cabin, took showers, pulled out our clothing for the next day and went to bed beautifully exhausted.