Wyoming to home.
It would be wrong to drive through Wyoming without stopping at Devil’s Tower.
I had visions of Richard Dreyfuss molding a replica of the tower out of his mashed potatoes. I didn’t realize this at the time, but we were visiting only one month shy of the 25th anniversary of the release of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the movie, various characters, including the one played by Dreyfuss (Roy Neary), have experienced close encounters with UFOs. Airplanes that had been missing for decades suddenly reappear in the desert; a child’s toys begin operating on their own, and Roy can’t stop obsessing about a mountain-like shape.
Back to the road – we approached the Devil’s Tower National Monument in the afternoon. The tower is an isolated rock formation about 60 miles north of I 90 near the eastern edge of Wyoming. Scientists agree that it was formed by an igneous intrusion, but they don’t agree on how it got there. In any case, it was exposed as the softer rocks and minerals surrounding it eroded away. It is just under a mile in elevation, at 5,112 feet.
From here we went to Rapid City, where we stayed the night. While waiting to check in at the hotel, I noticed that many of the guests were focused on the lobby television. I turned to look, and learned that Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife and daughter along with three members of his campaign staff , had been killed in a plane crash in northern Minnesota, where he had been campaigning for reelection.
Former Senator and Vice President Walter Mondale came out of retirement and stepped forward to take Wellstone’s place on the ticket. He narrowly lost that election and stated that he would not seek election again. Interestingly, Wellstone’s name was still on the ballot and he received over 10,000 votes.
I once read that Minnesota had the most liberal Senator (Wellstone) and the most conservative Senator (Rod Grams) serving in the US Senate at the same time.
The next day, we drove through the badlands on the way home. Badlands National Park is a 244,000 acre in southwestern South Dakota with stunning geologic formations. The badlands were formed in layers composed of sediments such as sand, silt and clay that formed sedimentary rocks.
The layers were deposited over many millions of years, during which time the land was ocean bottom, tropical land, and open woodland with meandering rivers. About 500,000 years ago, erosion began wearing down the layers that were put down over those millions of years, leading to what we see today.
This story comes to an end, just as I finished reading the book that inspired the past few blogs: Cross Country, etc. by Robert Sullivan. By the way, I loved the book. Your library might have it, or you can get a used copy for a pittance.