One summer, when I was 19, I worked for my father in Gillette, Wyoming. Our home was in Houston at the time, but Dad was working on assignment as chief engineer for  an oil plant under construction just south of Gillette. At the time, the town was experiencing a real oil boom and it still is to this day. On our recent Western Swing, Patti and I  went through Gillette. I had hoped to find the house I shared with Dad when we were working there, but Gillette has grown so much, I couldn’t find it.

Heck, I didn’t even know where to start to look. However, I did find the steakhouse where one of Dad’s friends introduced me to White and Black Russians. And, I sure don’t mean Dostoevsky or Solzhenitsyn.

Shows how imposing the tower is to surrounding countryside
Photo by Dorock

While we were in the area, I wanted to take Patti to a truly outstanding geological site — Devils Tower. Dad and I visited the site the summer I worked for him. It was a hit for me then, and it certainly hasn’t changed over the years. It is just a few miles northeast of Gillette, but it is so daunting and imposing as you approach the tower from nearby roads. At this site in northeast Wyoming you can see every phase in the process of establishing a forest — from dramatic displays of bare rocks to thriving casts of pines.

The geological story is that about 50 million years ago, molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks resting above the magma and the magma cooled. As the magma cooled, it contracted and fractured into columns. Over millions of years, erosion of the sedimentary rocks exposed the tower. The tower rises 867 feet from its base and stands 1,267 feet above the nearby river, and 5, 112 feet above sea level. The area at the top of the tower is 1.2 acres and the diameter at the base of the tower is 1,000 feet.

Columns are climbers’ challenges
Photo by Dorock

On the day Patti and I were there, three buffed looking guys arrived toward the end of the day with the intent of climbing the site. It is a regular attraction on the list of talented climbers because of the strength of the rock … and the challenge the straight columns of rock pose to the climber. Roughly 5,000 climbers scale the tower every year.

And, several Indian nations of the Great Plains share legends of how this monolithic butte came to be. The Kiowa people believe the following:

“Eight children were there playing, seven sisters and their brother. Suddenly, the boy was struck dumb; he trembled and began to run upon his hands and feet. His fingers became claws, and his body was covered with fur. Directly, there was a bear where the boy had been. The sisters were terrified; they ran, and the bear after them. They came to the stump of a great tree, and the tree spoke to them. It bade them to climb upon it, and as they did so, it began to rise into the air. The bear came to kill them, but they were just beyond reach. It reared against the tree and scored the bark all around with its claws. The seven sisters were borne into the sky, and they became the stars of the Big Dipper.”

To this day, it continues to be a religious site for several Indian nations in the area. Hikers are cautioned not to remove any religious artifacts that are left by Indians along the hiking trails around the base of the butte.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument under the new Antiquities Act.

Many years later, Steven Spielberg used this ominous and imposing site in his movie about aliens called Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It figured prominently in the climax of the movie.

One beautiful landmark
Photo by Dorock

Patti and I did not have enough time to hike the trails around the park. There is a close route that takes you around the base of the mountain, and further routes around the butte but are further away from the mountain. There are numerous places to stop and take picturesque photos of the mountain from either of the main trails.

The other thing about Devils Tower I remember from my first visit is that on one side of the base there is one of the country’s largest homes of prairie dogs. These little critters crawl in/out of holes and wander endlessly throughout the massive village that surrounds a large portion of the park.

If you want more information about Devils Tower, go to

One of the tower’s local inhabitants — prairie dog
Photo by Dorock

Patti likes the big buttes
Photo by Dorock

That’s one big butte
Photo by Patti