Pedaling In The Parks: A Morning Ride To Devils Tower National Monument
The 3-mile-long pedal from the entrance station at Devils Tower National Monument to the base of the rocky tooth is all uphill, a constant reminder that nothing worthwhile is every easily attained.
But let's back up. Let's go back to the start of this ride, in the tiny town of Hulett, Wyoming, some 9 miles to the north. Though it may be a gateway to the national monument, it's not a sprawling town edging up to the shadow of Devils Tower with phalanxes of bright neon lights or tacky shops selling mashed potato models of the tower or life-size placards of Richard Dreyfus to take your photo next to.
Rather, it's a small Wyoming town that was carved out of the Bear Lodge Mountains back in 1881 and which still holds tightly to its small-town atmosphere. There are a couple of motels, some decidedly Western-themed bars and eateries, and a grocery on the corner of the main drag. And ... that's ... just ... about .... it.
But that's what's great about Hulett! No pretentiousness, no haughty airs, no tomahawks made in China being hawked, no traffic lights. Instead, the local Amish families send their kids down to that grocery to sell fresh-baked cookies, pies, breads, and honey, neighbors are neighborly, and Friday night high school football games rule.
But the tower is nearby, and it's enticing if you're looking for a somewhat short, but invigorating, pedal.
On The Road To The Tower
From Hulett, Wyoming 24 rolls smoothly towards Devils Tower, undulating with the pastures and meadows that frame the road. This is the Belle Fourche (pronounced bell-FOOSH) River Valley, and the small stream meanders parallel and not too far from the road.
Though the road rises as you head towards the monument, it does so slowly and with little notice. And while the road is just two lanes, with no shoulder for bikes, traffic in the morning is light, though in summer you always need to be vigilant for big rigs and RVs with outstretched mirrors.
As you head towards the monument, the landscape of the Black Hills with their pockets of Ponderosa pine interspersed among the grasslands, draw your eyes. This is truly a beautiful setting, a peaceful one perfect for an easy ride.
Not far from Hulett we rounded a gentle bend and Devils Tower came into few, its snaggle-tooth of rock rising high above its skirt of forest and the surrounding valley. Its prominent stance on the horizon is one that can only truly be appreciated in person. As in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the tower is like a magnet, and you almost feel the urge to pedal harder to reach it.
In The Monument
The turnoff from Wyoming 24 onto Wyoming 110 takes you on a gentle downhill that curves left to the park's entrance station. It's from there that the climb to the tower's base starts. You cross the Belle Fourche on a bridge, roll past a black-tailed prairie dog town where the locals bark at you, then the park campground, and enter the forest that wraps the monument's base. You can meander a bit here to add prairie dogs and still more shots of the looming tower to your camera, or simply to read the placards that discuss the geology at work.
The steep ride to the top takes you through the forest, offers a few pullouts to peer at the tower, and delivers you to the visitor center. There's no need to rush up this climb. You can take a break to admire the tower or to take on some water. There is wildlife here -- I spotted a whitetail deer in the forest -- and birds calling.
Once you reach the top, if it's summer you'll want to escape the idling tour buses with their mongering hordes. Slipping into the visitor center won't necessarily accomplish that, but you can stamp your Passport to Your National Parks, check out the books and souvenirs, and top off your water bottles.
There is a water fountain across the parking lot near the trailhead to both the 1.3-mile looping Tower Trail and the longer Red Beds Trail that circles the trail over the course of roughly 2.8 miles.
The return ride, as you can imagine, starts with a wondeful 3-mile downhill that requires your attention to vehicles, the occasional deer, and any gravel kicked onto the pavement that could prove problematic.
Once you reach the entrance station, you can pull into the Longhorn Cafe that's part of the Devils Tower KOA for either a quick cold drink or an entire lunch. The return ride to Hulett is slightly uphill, but not a chore by any stretch.
In sum, a somewhat short, but great, ride through a portion of the Black Hills with a towering payoff!
Traveler footnote: If you have any great park rides to share with fellow Traveler readers, please contact us.