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

For the past three and a half weeks, Patti and I have been traveling. We put the trip meter on 0 when we pulled out of the driveway and after conclusion of the trip, we noticed the same trip meter read 4646.2 miles. For this trip, I believe there was a memory for every mile. Let me tell you how this started.

Early in our marriage, Patti and I had the “vacation” talk. Together, we discussed and resolved answers to the following questions: How do you like to spend your time on vacation? Where do you like to go? Are you a “go-see-things-and-keep-going” person or a person who likes to go land somewhere and relax?

After our discussion we realized that the two families we came from had different answers to these questions. Patti and her family were pretty much go to the beach, crash, relax, refresh and return. And, since her dad was a teacher, sometime her vacations were two months or longer at the beach. My family was pretty much the opposite: Dad would have, at the most, two weeks off. We’d go see things and keep going. We’d get back home the Sunday before Dad would have to be back at work on Monday.

But, over the years of our marriage, Patti and I refined our answers to these same questions a bit more. Patti is a water/beach person; I’m a mountain person.

So, for this travel trip, Patti graciously agreed to do a mountain trip with me. Besides, we wanted to be in Missoula, Montana on the appropriate date to see our niece, Ciara, graduate from high school. We wanted to drive and not fly.

Along the way, we had Sirius/XM radio to keep us company and informed. We enjoyed the highway travel, and, I must admit, when I was driving, I spent very little time looking at the road because I was “goshing” and “geeing” about the high peaks, snow fields, vast plains, the endless beautiful vistas, the babbling brooks and creeks next to the roads. These creeks flow quickly toward the Mississippi on the east side of the continental divide and toward the Pacific on the west side of the divide.

We were tourists all the way. While we enjoyed seeing the massive wind farms in West Texas, the ominous presence of the long-dormant volcano, Capulin Mountain in northern New Mexico, was a reminder of what the land was like long before it was civilized.

We visited Pike’s Peak near Manitou Springs, Colorado; Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado; the wide-open plains of Wyoming; Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota; Devil’s Tower in Wyoming; Little Big Horn River and Custer’s last stand in Montana; very, very windy plains in Idaho; Brigham Young’s beautiful and enticing Salt Lake City; the site of Butch Cassidy’s first bank robbery, Telluride, Colorado; the inspiring glacier and wind-sculpted Shiprock in New Mexico; the adobe pueblos of Santa Fe; the very, very small towns of eastern New Mexico and West Texas.

Devil’s Tower

That was quite a bit of driving, but we enjoyed every minute of it. While we drove, I kept thinking of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways. Passing through the canyon lands of Utah, I kept looking for John Wayne on horseback looking for Natalie Wood, dressed as an Indian squaw. We tried not to speed and just soak up the ambiance of the landscapes. As such, we had plenty of time to talk and laugh and be distracted by an endless supply of beautiful sights.

But since every day is a new opportunity for a learning experience, we did learn a few things along the way. Here are just a few:

  • The vastness of the mountain views, the endless rolling plains left Patti and me with a feeling that every step we took and every mile we drove, we were surrounded by God’s imagination
  • The damage a simple tree beetle can do to a forest is just astronomical and very disappointing
  • The higher up you go in the mountains the less obesity you see or notice
  • In talking with various people along the way, the longer people lived in the shadow of gorgeous mountains, the less they noticed them
  • Along the two-lane roads in Wyoming, just because a road sign says its 42 miles to the next town doesn’t mean there will be a gas station or cafe there
  • Even though Devil’s Tower is famous for the alien encounter scene in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kindit is also a religious site for numerous North American Indian tribes, and houses one of the largest groundhog communities in North America
  • It was very refreshing to see Mt. Rushmore very crowded with visitors, even though it is in a remote part of South Dakota
  • in 2012, because of the influence of Wal-Marts, Best Buys and other retailers, Montrose, Colorado looks just like Dothan, Alabama, and that’s a real shame
  • If you walk down the sidewalks of Telluride, Colorado and you see a couple walking a Lab, a Golden Retriever and a lamb wearing a diaper, you are not seeing things
  • I have first-hand evidence that it is very much not true that when you hit a golf ball at 10,000 foot elevation it will go farther than if you hit the ball at sea level
  • Touring the entire breadth of the Little Big Horn Battlefield, one can’t help but feel that Gen. Custer was so stupid, so vain and so arrogant, and 210 American soldiers were sacrificed because of his flaws
  • There is absolutely no feeling I have ever experienced like standing before a church congregation and thanking them for their prayers to God for my health and well-being.

And because of these learnings, 4646.2 has become an important number to Patti and me.

I’ll share details with you over the next few weeks. God bless you all.