Good-bye Buffalo – Hello Devil’s Tower

Pine Haven, WY

With just a couple of days left in our stay in Buffalo, we decided to do one last hike in the Bighorn Mountains.  We chose a little visited trail which was about 3.4 miles long (one way)  that ends at Long Lake.  Hans and Lisa (Metamorphosis Road) blogged about this hike during their visit to the area last year and we thought it looked interesting.

To get to the trailhead we drove about 13 from Buffalo on Rte. 16 and turned right at the sign for Hunter Creek.  After turning off the highway we immediately turned left on to a dirt road called Schoolhouse Park Road, Forest Service Road 391.  This two track unimproved road is a bit rough in spots but is easily driven with a high clearance vehicle.  At a “Y” we kept to the left on to FS 396, which ends at the trailhead about 2.4 miles from the highway.

No problem finding a parking spot here!

We could see the trail marker on the other side of Middle Clear Creek but couldn’t see how we could cross without getting wet (and cold) feet.

Fortunately, the nimble hiker spotted a narrow trail to our left that led a short distance to a crude but effective bridge over the creek.

The trail steadily gained elevation as we approached the lake.  Total elevation gain on this trail is about a thousand feet.

The trail is a bit rough in many spots

When we reached Long Lake, we found the temperature at almost 9,000′ a bit chilly and, of course, the wind was very strong.

Long Lake

Lunch with a view

We did experience a strange discovery on this trail.  About a mile from the trailhead, as we went through a flat meadow, we came across a can of bear spray (a strong pepper spray to repel a bear) in a case with a purple strap attached.  We figured someone had dropped it on the trail by accident, so we just left it there.  As we passed it on the return leg we decided to pick it up and either use it if it was still effective, or dispose of it back at the park.

Bear spray and strap

But as we looked around we spotted a hiking pole lying in the grass just a few feet away.  Hmm, how could someone drop a fully extended expensive pole and not realize it?

We then looked around the area and spotted a whistle attached to a strap.

Now we were really curious (and a bit spooked out!).  We did a quick search of the area nearby but couldn’t find anything else that was out of place or unusual.  So we marked the location, left the bear spray where we found it, and finished the hike.  Since it was the holiday weekend the Forest Service Office in Buffalo was closed until Tuesday (our hike was on Sunday).  But Tuesday morning we stopped at the office and reported our findings.  They had no reports of anything unusual in the area but would note our report in the event something was reported later.

We spent the next couple of days cleaning the motorhome inside and out before our Wednesday departure.  Leaving Buffalo mid-morning we drove about a hundred miles to the city of Gillette, where we parked in a Flying J Parking lot and walked about a quarter mile for a visit to one of those chain coffee shops.  Then it was a drive of another 30 miles to Keyhole State Park, located about six miles north of I-90, where we had a two day reservation in the water/electric section.

Site 20 in Keyhole State Park

Looking to our left at Keyhole Reservoir

While the campground is mainly used by families to enjoy the lake, we were there to visit nearby Devils Tower (the site follows a geographic naming standard whereby the apostrophe is eliminated), located about 35 miles to the north.  As we approached the state park, we could see the tip of the tower in the distance.

While eating breakfast the next morning the sun was shining but we could see a dark line of clouds to our north.  Radar showed a heavy band of storms over Devils Tower, but it looked as if it would pass in the next few hours.  So we headed out, driving through a bit of rain on the trip.  But as we approached the tower the storm passed and the sun came out.

The sun appears as we near the tower

Devils Tower is a butte composed of igneous rock rising 1,267′ above the nearby Belle Fourche River, standing 867′ from summit to base.  Devils Tower was the first declared National Monument, established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Devils Tower National Monument is a very popular spot for tourists traveling between the Black Hills of South Dakota and Yellowstone NP.  The monument web site warns of crowds and recommends arriving before 11:00 or after 2:00 to avoid long lines at the entrance gate.  We heeded the warning and when we arrived around 9:00 there was only one car in front of us.  After checking out the small visitor center we set out to hike the three trails in the monument.  The first trail, the Tower Trail, is a 1.3 mile paved route that goes around the base of the tower.

The sun behind the tower along the Tower Trail

As you go around the tower there is a large rectangle where the rock has fallen down to the base.  Native Americans believed this indentation was part of the story of how the tower was created.

According to the tribes of the Kiowa and Lakota, a group of girls went out to play and were spotted by several giant bears, who began to chase them.  In an effort to escape the bears, the girls climbed atop a rock, fell to their knees, and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them.  Hearing their prayers, the Great Spirit made the rock rise from the ground towards the heavens so that the bears could not reach the girls.  The bears, in an effort to climb the rock, left deep claw marks in the sides, which had become too steep to climb. Those are the marks which appear today on the side of Devils Tower.

The stone that fell from that indentation sit along the trail.  A young hiker sitting next to the base of one of the columns give an indication of the size of the columns.

After completing the Tower Trail we set out on the second of the three trails, the three mile  Red Beds Trail.  This unpaved trail circles the tower a bit further away than the Tower Trail and provides great views.

As we descended along the trail a beautiful buck kept an eye on us.

As we came around the tower we could see the entrance road below us.  Apparently someone didn’t heed the warning on the web site, as the line to enter the monument was almost a mile long.  With only one attendant at the gate (the red arrow), it will be a while before those at the end of the line (blue arrow) get in.

We passed through one section of the trail that gives the Red Bed Trail its name.

After passing the Red Beds we began to climb back up toward the visitor center.

Once back at the visitor center we got back in the Jeep and drove a short distance back down the road to a right turn on to a well-maintained dirt road.  About a quarter mile up that road is a parking area for the Joyner Ridge Trail, a 1.5 mile loop trail.  The first part of this trail provided what we feel is the best view of the tower.

Along the Joyner Ridge Trail we stopped often to view the tower.  At one point we spotted some movement along one of the columns.  A zoom photo revealed two rock climbers making their way up the side of the tower.

Along the trail we came upon a bench where we enjoyed a bit of lunch with an outstanding view of Devils Tower.

Lunch with a View

At the base of the tower along the entrance road is a really cool sculpture, The Circle of Sacred Smoke.

A nearby plaque explains the meaning of the sculpture.

As we neared the park exit, we stopped for a few minutes to watch the residents of a Prairie Dog Town next to the road.

That winds up our six week visit to the great state of Wyoming.  Next up is a visit to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

More on that later . . .

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44 Responses to Good-bye Buffalo – Hello Devil’s Tower

  1. Lindsay says:

    Fantastic photos, love the fabulous selfie with the tower in the background. We only had a flying visit, but loved it and will return one day. Those prairie dogs are so cute. Brings back some happy memories, thanks for sharing as always xx

  2. harleyhawk43 says:

    Excellent post! We were there twice prior to 2010 with our motorcycle club out of plymouth ma. On Jul 9, 2016 1:16 AM, “Oh, the Places They Go!” wrote:

    > placestheygo posted: “Pine Haven, WY With just a couple of days left in > our stay in Buffalo, we decided to do one last hike in the Bighorn > Mountains. We chose a little visited trail which was about 3.4 miles long > (one way) that ends at Long Lake. Hans and Lisa (Metamorph” >

  3. pmbweaver says:

    I see the elevation change. The trees are becoming sparse.
    Good going filing the report. That is very strange indeed.
    Site 20 in Keyhole State Park looks so lovely.

    Wonderful post. We didn’t make it to Devils Tower and probably never will. Thanks for all the great photos. The hike looks awesome. I love the photo of The Circle of Sacred Smoke with the Tower in the middle. Great shot!

    • placestheygo says:

      Seeing those three item in particular was very disturbing. You just never know. Devils Tower is really out of the way, that’s why it has taken us so long to get there. Glad it was finally on our travel route and we could share it with you:)

  4. Sondra says:

    SO cool to see this post as when I was close to Devils Tower only had time for some distant photos and didn’t stop and see it up close and personal…. I can see I missed a LOT of beauty!! Love the gorgeous buck also.

  5. Mary Hone says:

    We stayed 3 days at the campground at Devils Tower, we loved it there. We didn’t see crowds like that though. We went in mid September. Weird about the random hiking stuff??????

    • placestheygo says:

      Staying in the campground would have been great. Thank goodness we had the rain on our way and it kept the people away while we did the popular shorter loop:) We knew the longer loops would be empty. Yes, those three items were very disturbing. And the pole and bear spray are expensive.

  6. Jeff says:

    Great post and thanks for the tip on the Joyner Ridge Trail. The Devil’s Tower is on our list for next year, and also South Dakota. Looking forward to your posts from there also.

  7. That was one handsome looking buck! Lovely shots of the amazing tower…it brought me right back there once again!

    • placestheygo says:

      After rereading your post on the Joyner Ridge Trail, I had to see the tower from that bench. That was my favorite photo:) So glad you shared the various trails. We had such a good time.

  8. I would have been really freaked about those items you found on your hike. There must be a story there. I really enjoyed reading about your hikes at the Devil’s Tower and seeing the pictures from all the different locations. When we were there ten years ago we enjoyed doing the hike around the base and seeing climbers on the tower. I still have a postcard that has that picture of the bear climbing the tower!

    • placestheygo says:

      Seeing those particular items really did bother us. Bear spray and a Black Diamond pole aren’t cheap either. Why wouldn’t someone go back for them!? Very strange! I love the story of the bear scratching the side of the Tower!

  9. Sue says:

    I wonder if you came upon a hastily taken down campsite… where the folks were distracted (or disorganized) when they packed up and forgot to do a “last check” of the area….

    Beautiful buck! So often they’re looking a little mangy, but he is in wonderful shape.

    • placestheygo says:

      We were trying to come up with reasons why those things were left there. It wasn’t a camping area, however. The bear spray was right in the middle of the trail. And why three items you would use to fight off danger? Very weird!

      The buck was amazing! By fall he is going to have a huge rack. He wasn’t bothered by us at all. The trail was almost empty so it was very quiet.

  10. allisonmohr says:

    Excellent reportage! Your site is such an excellent resource when we are thinking about places to go. Beautiful pictures as well.

  11. Gay says:

    Great visit to Buffalo! Love the Long Lake hike!

    Devils’ Tower is beautiful!

  12. Laurel says:

    That is so strange to find the bear spray and other assorted items left behind on the Long Lake trail! Kind of spooky, as you said. We definitely have Devils Tower on our radar—looks a lot like Devils Postpile (as you know). The three hikes you did were beautiful—and the smoke sculpture is cool. Great frame for a portrait of the tower!

    • placestheygo says:

      It was very spooky, Laurel! I’m just glad we didn’t find the other two items til we returned otherwise I would have been a wreck the whole hike because we were alone for most of it. Yes, Devils Tower is very much like Devils Postpile just a different kind of rock. You and Eric would enjoy all three trails:)

  13. heyduke50 says:

    Sweet just what I needed as I am thinking we might pass through there to see Devils Tower… and we will certainly do it early to miss that long line of cars!!!

  14. libertatemamo says:

    Very spooky find with that dropped bear spray, pole and radio! Hope the person who owned them is ok. Love that you got to visit Devils Tower! We loved our stay there last year.


  15. The Red Beds trail is what our header picture is from on our blog! Loved that trail.

  16. LuAnn says:

    We loved visiting Devil’s Tower. I particularly like hiking at dusk when the lighting on the tower was beautiful.

    • placestheygo says:

      A hike at dusk would have been wonderful, but we were staying about 25 miles to the south,so it didn’t happen this time:) But we loved all of our hikes with the tower in view at various angles:)

  17. regularguyadventures says:

    We loved Devil’s Tower when we visited 5 years ago. We still have a family picture up in our house from our time there. Great pictures.

  18. Jodee Gravel says:

    The Long Lake views are wonderful, but the “discovery” is definitely creepy. I read too many mysteries not to run bizarre stories through my head! At least the rangers know in case something is reported. We will definitely heed the warning and arrive early to Bear Lodge as well – wow, what a difference. Love all the different views, especially from the last trail.

    • placestheygo says:

      Creepy is a good word, Jodee. Since I had recently read about Aaron Ralston’s five days stuck in the canyon with no one knowing, I was concerned about where the owner of these items might be, At least the rangers know if someone doesn’t get home. The view of the Tower from the Joyner Ridge Trail was the best. And one only needs to walk up the trail a little ways to the bench to sit and enjoy that view. So make sure the three of you make the short walk:)

  19. Debbie L says:

    What an excellent post! You had it all there, intrigue, beautiful buck, gorgeous pictures, great hiking, interesting legend and a great couples selfie! Funny, we just did a 1,000′ elevation hike today, not knowing we were in for it. No signs warning of the ascent….it’s a very popular hike but so many didn’t look like they could survive it.
    It’d be nice if the Rangers would get back to you….that was so weird.

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, Debbie:) Sometimes it’s best to not know how hard the climb will be 🙂 Good job! Yes, it would be nice to know if there was ever an explanation for the items we found on our hike.

  20. So you did not hear back or hear any news of who might have own those hiking stuff? Oh i would be scared and unsettled. Hope whoever owns it is okay.
    Devils Tower was just an hours drive from Spearfish and yet we skipped it.
    Love that buck picture eyeing at you, he is so cute.
    Im a little jealous with all your hiking tales.

    • placestheygo says:

      It was very eerie finding those three items in particular. So glad we didn’t find them til we were headed back because we were alone on most of the trail. The rangers didn’t take our names so we won’t know anything. Sorry you missed Devils Tower. The three different hikes were great fun:) There’s always next time:)

  21. girlonahike says:

    What a beautiful lake! When I went to Devil’s Tower we just walked around the base of it, and also saw some climbers. It’s always bigger in person compared to photos! Looks like you had a good time 🙂 -Alicia @

  22. geogypsy2u says:

    Definitely looks like bear country. What a spooky discovery but glad there was no body or reports of missing hikers. Somehow I’ve missed the NM and it’s now on the ever growing list for retirement, if that ever happens. Seems many park visitors don’t do their homework.

    • placestheygo says:

      It was very eerie to stand there looking at those three items in particular on the ground. I sure hope there wasn’t problem. We did see two piles of mountain lion scat and the ranger said they have been spotted in that area of this hike. Yes, do add Devils Tower! One must really get up close and personal:)

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