Trevor and I have been married for 18 years, and have two beautiful children—Lila, age 15, and Collin, age 10. One weekend in May, we found our schedules free. With the kids out of school and restless, we decided to peruse the Internet for something fun to do with them.
Trevor has Native American ancestry, which means that our kids do, too. We’re naturally drawn to places that have some connection to their heritage. As a child, Trevor spent time with his family in Crook County, Wyoming at Devils Tower, and we decided to make the most of his memories and see if we couldn’t create some new ones with our kids. We set off on a Monday morning for a weekend surrounded by the vast, untamed beauty of Wyoming.
With so much rich heritage in one place, Trevor and I couldn’t wait to get started on teaching it to our kids. The plan was for Trevor to spend the day hiking and climbing with our outdoorsy child, Lila, while I took advantage of some more kid-friendly activities with our nature lover, Collin.
We arrived at Devils Tower, and stopped for a minute to take in the area’s beauty and the vast structure in front of us. Devils Tower stretches dramatically from the ground to the sky, a spectacular rock formation sitting more than 5,000 feet above sea level, created by magma over thousands of years. Trevor and Lila signed up for an introductory class that would take them climbing up to 200 feet up the structure. As a mom, it’s hard to let go of the worry that comes with that kind of adventure.
“Please be careful,” I pleaded to Trevor.
“We’ve got everything we need to stay safe,” he winked. “And we’ve been climbing together for months on smaller structures.” He gave me a confident smile that put me at ease as they prepared to step into harnesses and knot the climbing ropes.
We watched as Trevor and Lila prepared for their hike and free-climbing experience up the tower—well, most of us. Collin was already looking for fossils and rocks. Since it was close to a five-hour experience, Collin and I would have plenty of time together. I’d attempt to not stress the entire time they were gone.
Trevor and Lila started their climb, and I turned to Collin after we had waved them off. Collin is a sweet boy by nature, and loves anything with a heartbeat, from the smallest caterpillar to his own big sister, whom he adores. To surprise my young animal lover, I contacted a local ranch to arrange a horseback ride along a trail that is home to more than 150 species of birds. We made a checklist of all the animals we wanted to see that day—his included buffalo, prairie dogs and chipmunks. Mine included frogs, porcupines and bobcats—although I knew that last one was a stretch.
Collin was in seventh heaven as we rode the trail on horseback, and he pointed out wildflowers in every color of the rainbow as we passed them, and happily noticed chipmunks and prairie dogs—two animals that were on his list.
Devils Tower was ever present. I looked up at the rock in front of us, amazed by its sheer beauty, and sent a quick prayer up that Lila and Trevor were enjoying themselves.
After our horseback ride (I had to practically pry Collin off the horse) we hiked the easy Tower trail around the base of the mountain. We looked up at the climbers in the distance and imagined that we could see Trevor and Lila every time we noticed clothing in similar colors. Collin pointed out different rocks to me, and I chased him around the curves of the trail as he started an impromptu game of tag. It was a perfect moment in a sacred place.
After several hours and our own hike around the tower on the Tower Trail, we saw Trevor and Lila bouncing down the trail toward us. Lila had a small scratch on her knee, dirt on her face and a spark in her eye I had never seen before.
“Mom, it’s absolutely AMAZING up there! Dad and I could see for miles, and everyone on the ground looked so tiny!” she exclaimed as she threw her arm around her little brother.
We ended the day at the prairie dog “town,” located at the base of the tower. This town is close to 40 acres in size, and Collin was determined to see these social animals in their element. We watched them feed on local plants, and heard them “bark” when visitors got too close to their unit. They burrowed in their holes and ran around on their short muscly legs while we laughed at their antics. Collin announced that he read in the Visitor’s Center that human food can make the animals sick, and Trevor and I smiled at his tender heart.
“Collin, you’re a good little kid. I can’t wait until you can go up with us on the mountain next time,” Lila said.
As we loaded up the car for the drive to our hotel after an exhausting, fun-filled day, the kids fell asleep. Their dirty faces and stringy hair reminded me that they would only be young once, and that moments and days like these had to be treasured.
We spent a restful night at our hotel, waking up refreshed the following morning—and ready for more adventure. We spent the day exploring the area around Hulett, just 10 miles from Devils Tower. The kids loved Vore Buffalo Jump, where Plains Indians herded stampeding bison off a cliff to efficiently capture their primary food source, and we got a taste of the beauty of the Black Hills National Forest.
We wanted our kids to understand the importance of this place to their ancestors, so we stopped at the museum within the Devils Tower visitor center by the tower after a day of fun and memorable experiences. The kids learned all about the Lakotas and other tribes that consider Devils Tower to be a sacred place, and how they performed their Sun Dance during the summer solstice in the area at one time. They read about prayer offerings, vision quests and funerals of a people that were directly connected to them, but also very different. Through books, exhibits and even a small gift shop, we were educated about the first climbers of Devils Tower in 1893, and the various Native American tribes around the area.
We lived and learned in Crook County, in more ways that I ever thought we could.
Get more details about Devils Tower and plan your Crook County getaway.