An innocent Facebook question from my friend Lynne whose question; “Did you take the nature walk around the tower?” Prompted this weeks response. I have two options; Tell her the truth, or give a line of B.S. I will choose both!
The tower my friend is referring to is called Devil’s Tower. It’s very famous. There was even a movie that included space aliens, Richard Dreyfus, and a space ship with a really kicking sound system. My family was on a vacation out West, and though we had seen Devil’s Tower from I-90 several times in the past, it only appeared as a half-inch protrusion above the surrounding landscape from that distance. So, since none of my family had ever been really close to it, we thought we would take a side trip to get a closer encounter.
When we pulled up to the visitor center, we got the feel that this “protrusion” must have been a signpost of sorts for the pioneers heading West, because it was VERY large, and as previously noted, could be seen for miles around. We had found a really sweet parking spot, and thought a “short” hike would be educational, and exciting. We just didn’t anticipate how much.
The information kiosk near the trailhead warned that the hike would take about 45 minutes, and that the toughest part of the trail was the “first” hundred yards, which was near vertical. At the beginning of the trail was littered with wild, bizarre markings as well as indentations in the ground. It was a curious sight, but not enough to conduct serious observations at this point.
After a few vigorous minutes, we “summited” the initial 100 yards to an area some began referring to as “Base Camp“. I squinted my eyes in concern, because I wasn’t sure if those milling around us were using this area as a rest stop BEFORE going on, or a rest stop, BEFORE finishing. It was evident that sufficient courage was needed for both, but I shrugged it off as I began snapping the first of several hundred pictures with my camera.
As I finished the initial photo-op, we began to pull out of the mob of people at base camp, and move on to the trail which looped around the tower. We were greeted to the sights of boulders as big as our mini-van that folks were swarming around like Disney World mascots; as well as, beautiful cedar, and Juniper trees. It was strange, but the smell reminded me of those scented aerosol sprays they sell in the supermarket. I wondered if the rangers had to get up extra early to spray the area down, or if they had fancy hidden “scent”dispensers that the fancier establishments employed. You know the places that have them strategically placed, and they put a “puff” of scented air keeping the surrounding area smelling fresh. I looked around quickly to see if I could locate them, but didn’t see any around the trees. Anyway, as we started the trail, we had to be careful, because there were other people who were enjoying their trip as well; and sometimes we had to pause while a family would take an opportunity to take a picture. It was at these points that politeness, and social niceties were always displayed, like “Excuse me, or pardon me, or oops, sorry about that!” As you bumped someone off of the tractor-sized boulder while mugging for the camera.
Eventually, the crowd would stretch out and you would have a section of trail to yourself. It was kind of like driving on the freeway. You know those really long trips that last more than 5 hours, and you start to recognize vehicles that you have passed once or twice before? The reason for this occurrence is usually based on bathroom breaks, and speed. If someone passes a car which has the words; “Just married- Honk if you like this.” written on the back window of their vehicle. It is my belief that you are under certain obligations to do so! And depending on each vehicles bathroom schedule, you may encounter each other more than a dozen times, on a road trip. And you have to honk each time.
“Look. it’s the newlyweds!” The driver says. “Beep-beep!”
“Another person liked our status!” The groom says excitedly.
“Oh, yea!” The bride would say before correcting herself. “Never mind. It’s that same van with the bicycle lasso’d to the roof with a combination of ratchet-strap, and water-ski rope…crazy stalkers.” She would say to her husband as they all smiled and waved at each other politely.
Walking on the trail, however, was different. It wasn’t the potty stop, that was the cause of the repetitious encounters, but photo opportunities, and taking in the view. It has been my experience, that when someone is proud of their loved ones accomplishments; intimate conversations that are usually kept private suddenly become loud enough for all to hear so that the parent can beam a ray of sunshine on their child.
While taking a family photo, I overheard a father ask his son; “Hey, what kind of rock is this?” His son looked at it for a moment before answering; “Igneous!”
“Very good!” The father exclaimed proudly. He then turned to me and said, more than a little smugly; “He’s a boy scout.” As he said this I looked up the trail to my own son who was using his hand-held video game system to take pictures of pine cones, boulders, chipmunks, and upon occasion, the tower itself.
“Mine makes video games.” I grinned, making my eyes really big; trying hard to do my impression of Clark Griswald.
The other father faked interest as he nodded his understanding, while reaching for a pine cone. Though for protection, or identification interests I didn’t know.
As we continued up the trail we crossed paths several times; exchanging pleasantries, and hearing the proud father lift objects for his child to identify. The line finally being crossed when the father held up various weeds with the child reciting different teas that could be made from each. Nearing the end of the trail, and our endurance; I was invigorated when a Bull Snake rustled up the trail near my feet.
“Snake!” I shrieked indifferently, as I stepped aside promptly, and watched as the B.S. made his way up the path. Now, as I look back at the pictures, I can’t believe how the camera distorted the size of the snake, because in the photo it appears to be about 4 feet in length, but when the snake showed up to greet us, he seem nearly the same size as the one who co-starred in the King Kong movie.
Upon hearing my newsflash, the mother of the scout family reported her findings with a terrified howl; “It’s coming right for me!”
To which the father replied calmly;
“He’s fine, the snake will do what snakes do.”
I thought the comment was a bit strange, and not comforting in the least, because mayhem, murder, and plunder is what I thought snakes did.
It became apparent that his wife was in agreement with me, as her urgings became more insistent, and increased in both volume, and pitch.
The son, who was bringing up the rear; no doubt thinking of nothing more than identifying things was late getting the newsflash from his mother. Though when he did, had apparently disagreed with his mothers assessment, and assumed the snake was instead, coming for him. Whereupon, he made a haste retreat for the comforting heights of the tower. That is until such a time that the snake reversed his course- muttering something about dropping his wallet. It was at this point that the scout found his courage and began his own pursuit yelling; “I am going to kill it!” While wielding his backpack in the classic bludgeoning fashion made famous in all the hiker, snake killing movies.
My own son was behind the snake the whole time, as calm and indifferent as a war reporter. And as the snake altered directions again, and again chasing the boy scout, and haranguing his poor mother, my son snapped pictures, and video of it all. He then quickly compiled the data in the appropriate manner in which his computer teacher instructed, and created a video game in which the “Scout” would have to climb levels of Devils Tower while the Bull Snake would shoot pine cones, boulders, chipmunks and his shrieking mother at him from the top of the tower; all to the sounds of a famous movie whose name escapes me at the time.
As we finished the “loop” around the tower, and once again encountered the crowds at the summit, we discovered why the curious markings and dents were located at the bottom of the trailhead. When flying down the near vertical grade trail you had two options: Either hit the brakes near the end of the trail to soften the landing, or don’t. Apparently from the markings, and dents; some chose both.