The Van Life Vault: Devils Tower WY

One Van | 2 Girls | 9 National Parks | 17 Days | 20 states | 5,000 Miles | Endless Adventures

Let's add '0 common sense' to the subhead for purposes of this story from the Van Life Vault Series.

 

Preface: The year was 2017 and two midwestern raised teens set out to explore the wonders of the American west. My best friend Mya and I were on summer break from college. We packed a large 'hippie' van that her grandpa refurbished with beds, and set out for an adventure that we had been planning for years. From the cornfields of Ohio to the Pacific Coast Highway and everything in between.

 

It was day 2. We had spend the previous day winding through Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and spent the night parked by a lake in Albert Lea, Minnesota. We woke up refreshed, had our morning coffee at a local shop and were soon on our way to the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore. I don't think our speed limit dropped below 90 the entire way through the South Dakota countryside, only stopping to get gas off of a dirt road exit in the middle of nowhere.


In fact, let that be a theme for this blog post.


The Badlands were unlike anything we had ever seen and Mt. Rushmore was everything I'd dreamed it would be. We even discovered an art sculpture park off of I-90W along the way, but the real adventure didn't begin until after we checked off our bucket list.

We never actually saw Devils Tower in its full glory.


"The tower was honestly terrifying at night. It was just this massive strange shape looming out of the landscape. I think it might have been the name that made it so scary, but we definitely weren't about to get out of the car to check it out."


You know the cliché, 'two heads are better than one'? Not entirely true. Logic told us to park around a crowded area just outside of Mt. Rushmore and wake up early the next morning to go to Devils Tower, but we kept driving on into the night.


Road Trip Tip 1: When you drive out West to remote landmarks, there are no populated exits for hundreds of miles at a time.


We learned this one the hard way, but to this day in the spirit of adventure, I do not regret a single choice that was made that entire trip.


It was around 9 p.m. that we decided we still had time to see Devils Tower. We took the exit towards the towering monument and after awhile, the road turned to dirt. There was no light pollution to illuminate the sky, so we were led by the stars. Like Mya perfectly stated above, we saw a brief outline of Devils Tower, but by 10 p.m. that was all we could really see.


After driving for awhile longer, we were now so remote that google maps didn't even want to be there.


No Service.


There we were: completely off the grid, surrounded by dirt roads somewhere in the northeast corner of Wyoming around Devils Tower. Looking back, it was actually quite liberating.


We drove up to an old saloon. A ' I wouldn't be surprised if I saw a tumbleweed roll by' kind of a place.


I was skeptical of it. The area did not look safe at all, at least not safe enough in my opinion to camp out in a vacant dirt lot outside of a rickety wooden building on what probably was an Indian reservation. Mya was fine with it of course, but as we get more into the Van Life Vault Series, you will realize that we cannot trust 19 year old Mya's judgement of a "safe place" to stay. Granted, I was a bit too skeptical at times; it's all about balance.


So we set off...again, barely able to keep our eyes open. At this point we were slipping into total exhaustion and delusion. We even had to stop a few times along the narrowing dirt path to wait for cows to cross.


Cows? yes, cattle.


Now, you may be asking yourself, where were they to the point that they had to wait for cows to cross the road? A valid concern.


After analyzing this situation and taking a trip back through Wyoming years later in the daylight, the only answer could be that somehow that night; Mya and I had entered a ranch and were driving on private land.

We ended up counting the cattle and deer that we passed along the way to stay somewhat sane. No matter how peaceful of a person you are, that all goes out the window at 3 a.m. after driving for over 4 hours in pitch black darkness at 30 miles an hour with no clue where you are going.


Somehow we found civilization. At least, I guess you can call it that. A partially functioning rest area; A BATHROOM.


Finally.


We pulled in and had a good nights sleep only to wake up and discover that we were parked in a safe little mountain town surrounded by kind villagers... just kidding. That would be way too easy.


Pulling up to what looked like a decent stopping point, we noticed one other car in the lot with its lights on and a man sitting fully awake in the drivers seat. Keep in mind, this was 4 a.m., so it was rather odd for someone to be here in the first place let alone fully awake.


Safety who?


We got out of the van for the first time in what seemed like an eternity. Exiting the bathroom, we noticed that the man in the parking lot that was sitting in his car was no longer sitting in his car.


WHAT. WHERE. WHY.


I swear in that moment, I could have spent the whole night in the bathroom rather than roughing it outside with a mysterious stranger who seemed to have disappeared into the night.


We made a run for it. Sprinting to the van, we both jumped into the front seat head first and locked the door all in one motion. I imagine from an outer perspective that this scene would have been very funny to witness, but we thought we were running for our lives. We never did see the man again, and for that reason decided that it was not safe to stay there.


Gaining our second wind, we kept driving through little cowboy towns of a couple hundred people as the sun began to rise.


Honestly, kudos to us for at least having enough gas to do this. Can you imagine if we didn't fill up when we did?


We eventually made it to Mile High City Montana; the first sign of civilization in a million years. That is a little dramatized, but it is deserved. Around 5 a.m., we found a populated hotel to park the van and sleep for a couple of hours before heading out for Day 3.


To view more road trip photos follow loganslife_ on Instagram.

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