As we hopped back onto I-90 West on day three of our vacation the mood of the group was relaxed and playful for many reasons. First it was the first time we felt we were some place other than “here”. Then, we had spent an amazing night at Badlands National Park and we had spent the morning exploring Wall Drug Store. And finally, we had a short drive to our next destination (Devils Tower) and we made a decision to take an impromptu side trip to Sturgis, South Dakota. One of the great things about vacationing is the ability to slow down and enjoy moments differently than you do when you are rushing to get to a job you work at all day long more days than not. Deviating from the plan to take in a side trip is one of those small vacation wins.
I should probably pause here and make a full disclosure admission to you all. Our vacation group is full of former bikers/current bikers. In his younger days, Allen had a bike. Wayne had a bike right up till The Short Chick joined our lives and the Masters family still bikes. The Master’s have been to bike week in South Dakota numerous times and going to bike week use to occupy a space on my bucket list, (I took it off my list after attending Bikes, Blues and BBQ in Arkansas and seeing how crowded the third largest rally in the US was, I knew I had changed my mind about the largest rally.) Still, I thought a visit to Sturgis not during bike week sounded fun. So did everyone else.
A quick 90 minutes after we left Wall, South Dakota, we pulled into Sturgis, South Dakota. The town was quiet. There was no traffic. We pulled into the old Full Throttle Saloon and looked around the charred remains on a former Sturgis powerhouse. We purchased t-shirts, took photos, drank a beer and spent time chatting with old bikers who still linger at The Full Throttle. The bikers recommended we lunch in town at Rosco’s and highly recommended we take a scenic route over to Devil’s Tower. Again, we are on vacation and we can afford to be leisurely so we took them up on both recommendations. I ordered the steak salad and Allen ordered the steak tips. We would recommend both if you are visiting Rosco’s Steak House in Sturgis.
We took Highway 34 to Belle Fourche and then we entered Wyoming by following Highway 24 to Devils Tower. The scenic route was wide, had good shoulders for pulling over (which we did not need to do), and a beautiful view the entire 90 minute trip from Sturgis. Coming from the Midwest, we are usually pretty hesitant to take the back roads. But we found this alternate route, as well as all other routes we would find ourselves on during this road tip, to be very friendly to travelers; even those who tow big campers.
Last year Kerri Cox with Travels with Birdy went west and recommended the Devil’s Tower KOA. We booked our sites at Devils Tower based upon her recommendation. As we got settled into our premium sites we noticed the rock climbers on the tower. We were so excited and ready to explore Devils Tower National Monument that within an hour of our arrival we were off and headed to the park.
The entrance to Devils Tower is literally a few hundred paces from the entrance to Devils Tower KOA. Upon arriving, the littles immediately set about becoming Junior Rangers while we got our national park passports purchased and stamped. A rain shower moved in so we huddled under a canopy as the soon-to-be Junior Rangers finished their workbooks. We passed the time watching rock climbers and other tourist. As I watched a tourist carry out large pieces of deadwood, the men watched in awe as a rock climber fell. He was safely caught by all the safety mechanisms but it provided a moment of adrenaline for those who witnessed it (and I am sure for the climber).
The rain did not stick around for long so with four newly sworn in Junior Rangers, we sat out to hike the Tower Trail. Tower Trail is a little over a mile paved trail that circles the base of the tower. We passed by pine trees and boulders. There are a few scenic overlooks, one of which we could see our campers waiting for us down below.
Devils Tower is considered a holy place to Native Americans and they come here to pray. For each prayer they leave behind a physical representation of their prayer and that is called a prayer cloth. We noticed several different types of prayer cloths. Some were little bundles tied to the tree. Some were strips of materials. Others even multiple smaller strips tied to a larger piece of material. The park rangers told us the bundles hold offerings like tobacco with their prayer. The smaller strips tied to a larger piece of material are multiple individual prayers. The prayer cloths will stay on the trees until they either decompose or the family who placed them come back and replace these cloths with new prayers.
As we exited the park that evening, we passed right by Prairie Dog Town for the second time. Meeghan had let us know we missed spotting them on the way in and we were determined to see these rodents. As we approached their area, we were shocked to see so many. I am not sure how we missed them on the way in other than to say, sometimes when you are looking at the forest you miss a tree. And trust me, there are a lot of trees in the forest or in this case, there are a lot of prairie dogs in Prairie Dog Town.
As night settled in the temperature dropped. We had considered going back to the park for an evening ranger program but it was chilly enough that we wanted to be inside with the heater on. Tomorrow we move further west to Cody, Wyoming where we will linger a few days before heading into Yellowstone National Park.