Day Fifty-Three & Fifty-Four: Devil’s Tower, An Old Hometown, Buffalo Bill

We are getting close to home, close to the end of this once-in-a-lifetime trip, and so we are sometimes tempted to skip something and use those hours to get a little closer. So far, we have resisted. For instance, I was planning on taking a pass on Devil’s Tower. Then, at dinner on Thursday night, I found myself playing with my mashed potatoes, building a structure that looked familiar.

I kid, of course. That was Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But, still another reason to go – it starred in the climactic scene of a great Steven Speilberg movie!

When I had visited Devil’s Tower previously, I had driven from I-90 over to the tower. This time, though, we came at it from a different direction, sneaking up on it from the back roads. When we were still about ten miles away, I saw it peeking like a nervous bride over the hilltops in front of us, then disappearing again.

Eventually, it came out in all its glory and I stopped from a few miles away to get a different perspective than you get from driving right up to it.

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If there’s anything else like Devil’s Tower anywhere in America, I’m not aware of it. The Native Americans had stories about a landscape so unique, of course. My favorite was about two young boys who went walking, got turned around, and started walking away from their tribe instead of toward it. After four days of walking, they were lost and tired, but things got worse when a gigantic bear began chasing them. They prayed to the Creator, who took pity on them and lifted the ground under their feet so high that they were able to escape. The bear was so huge, though, that he could almost reach them still. He jumped and clawed and climbed after them, leaving his claw marks everywhere on the tower:

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I love stories like that. I also love that although geologists have some pretty strong theories about what caused Devil’s Tower to happen, they’re not completely sure. I think we are sure about too many things these days, and a little uncertainty is good for our human consciousness.

On the road up, we saw a beautiful longhorn grazing, so I took a couple of shots of him, even getting both he and the tower in the same shot.

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People have been climbing Devil’s Tower for more than a century now. Initially, it was rare, but now hundreds of people climb it each year. While we were sitting on a bench, admiring the tower, Dawn said, “What is that on the side of the tower?”

Neither of our eyes was good enough to make it out, but a series of zooms with our camera revealed the truth:

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We watched him or her for quite some time and they didn’t move much, but I don’t blame them. They had already made it a lot farther than I would have!

For the last few days, neither one of us has been feeling 100%. It could be a lot of things – we’ve been on the road non-stop for more than seven weeks, and that’s a long time to keep going without a break. Even though we’ve been making every effort to eat healthy, it’s very hard when you’re either eating every meal at a small town cafe or out of a bag, with no way to prepare an actual meal. Finally, unfortunately, the migraine I picked up last Saturday has proven exceptionally resilient – it is still with me seven days later.

So, all those factors combined to us stopping early last night and just crashing. I went to sleep about 7:30 and slept straight through until 6 AM this morning. That’s why there was no blog last night – I was lazy/snoozing. Take your pick. 🙂

Today, we drove over the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming. Absolutely beautiful. Much of Wyoming falls into the “meh” category for me, but the Big Horns are the exception. Here’s a couple of shots we took as we enjoyed our drive.

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One of the reasons we were driving these particular back roads is that we wanted to drive through Greybull, Wyoming. Why? Because I lived and worked there in 1984-85, and I had a hunch it hadn’t changed much. I wanted to check on that hunch.

For those two years, I put radio stations KMMZ-AM and KZMQ-FM on the air, serving the whole Big Horn Basin area. It was a tough slog, as running a small market (Greybull has less than 2,000 people in it) radio station profitably, then or now, is a challenge. We did well, though, and grew and stayed in the black for the two years I was there. As we were coming in to Greybull, I recognized my old building and stopped in to see who was there.

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I know, doesn’t look like much. We were a small market station. 🙂 Interesting aside: do you see that house in the background? In between the station and that house is our broadcast antenna, called a “stick” in the business. The man who lived there stopped in once to tell me that his coffeepot picked up and played our station, and he wondered if I would quit playing that Kool and the Gang song that was driving him crazy. How could I say no?

Unfortunately, although the building is still there, along with the stick and the studio, everything is handled via remote broadcast from Cody, Wyoming, these days, so the building stands empty. I’m not bashful, though, so I peeked in the back windows and saw the same set up I had used when I was the morning man on KMMZ in 1995:

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Okay, I didn’t have those three computer monitors in the studio, but everything else looks exactly like I left it when I signed off for the last time in the spring of 1985. I admit, it made me nostalgic, and wishing I had a radio station to program again. I loved that job. if only it had paid a little better.

We proceeded on to Greybull, and my hunch was correct. It hadn’t changed much at all. There was a new Mexican restaurant on the corner and a Chinese restaurant down the block, but everything else looked remarkable similar to 30 years ago.

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Aside from the vehicles parked on the street, that’s exactly what it looked like in 1985. Small town America.

We left Greybull and drove to Cody, Wyoming to get ready for our assault on Yellowstone tomorrow and to see the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Kind of a big title, but it lives up to it. The Buffalo Bill Center is actually five museums gathered under one roof. We spent about three hours there and got through maybe half of it.

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Buffalo Bill Cody was an extraordinary salesman, but he had the bonafides to back it up, as well. His life was long, and fascinating, and his section of the museum does a great job of detailing it. Of all the museums we’ve seen on this trip, I would put this at the top of the list.

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If you ever pop out of Yellowstone on the eastern end and find yourself in Cody, it’s absolutely worth a visit. It’s $19 per person, but easily worth that. The pass is good for two days, and if you have the time, I think you could well spend that long looking at everything.

One of the museums highlights Western art. I loved this painting in particular:

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Unfortunately, I can’t credit the artist or title, because I missed taking a shot of that. Mea culpa.

Tomorrow, the granddaddy of all National Parks: Yellowstone. After that, we will have hit just about everything that I had on our list and we will sprint for home. It’s calling us.

Cheers, and safe travels!

Shawn

5 comments

  1. Yup, that museum is one I took my granddaughter to because we happened to spend the night in Cody once. I think we would both agree it’s among the best if not the best museum we’ve been to.

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  2. Devils Tower is so amazing! Thanks for sharing. So looking forward to your thoughts on Yellowstone! Take care and safe travels

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  3. I so enjoyed reading your blog tonight. I had forgotten all about seeing Devil’s Tower as a child, but one look at your photos, and all my spooky memories came roaring back. I remember being scared of the “Devil” name, scared that they didn’t know how this oddity was formed/made, and terrified of the gigantic bear that made the claw marks. It’s fun to chuckle about it now. As always, thanks for sharing.

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