"A dark mist lay over the land…Devil's Tower upthrust against the gray sky as if in the birth of time the core of the earth had broken through its crust and the motion of the world was begun," wrote N. Scott Monday. "There are things in nature that engender an awful quiet in the heart of man; Devil's Tower is one of them."
This says it all! Riding in Devil's Tower country is a unique experience, both in scenery and feeling. According to Native American legend, this magnificent geological wonder is etched with claw marks from the Great Bear. In its aura, you hear echoes from the past, pulling the past very much into the present.
Located in northeastern Wyoming, the Devil's Tower region is exciting to ride not only because of its rich history and abundant wildlife, but also for its magnificent and varied scenery.
Devil's Tower or "Bear Lodge" as it was known by Native Americans, was formed by an intrusion of molten rock into or between other rock formations. Over time, relentless erosion wore away the surrounding sandstone and shale, thus exposing the much harder columns of greenish-gray igneous rock. The tower rises 1,280 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River.
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt recognized the uniqueness of Devil's Tower, declaring it our nation's first National Monument.
Wildlife thrives here. More than 150 species of birds populate the area, as well as white-tailed deer and black-tailed prairie dogs. During one picnic ride, we spent a fair amount of time watching the playful little prairie dogs going about their business in their "dog town" below the Tower.
Devil's Tower country is a magical, mystical place to create an adventure. Take your own horse or ride someone else's, but head out and explore this country.
Here, we describe two top area ranches and one campground: Diamond L Guest Ranch; New Haven Ranch; and Devil's Tower KOA.
Diamond L Guest Ranch
Nineteen miles from Devil's Tower, tucked in the northeastern corner of Wyoming and nestled in a valley 5,000 feet above sea level lies the Diamond L Guest Ranch. The last ranch on a dirt road, it's bordered on two sides by the Wyoming Black Hills National Forest.
Owners Gary and Carolyn Lutch bought the Diamond L Ranch in July 1992, as a way to share their good fortune and help others discover the magic of ranch life and trail riding.
When we first arrived, we were greeted by the couple standing arm-in-arm, smiling. Happily, they showed us around their 4,000-square-foot cedar lodge, inviting us to make ourselves at home.
We noticed that many of their rooms sported nameplates. Carolyn explained that returning guests become close friends and are very special to them. In an effort to honor them and express their appreciation, rooms and favorite horse trails sport names of treasured guests.
Our "boys" got royal treatment. While enjoying their large, spacious corral, fresh water, and clean, fragrant hay, Buddy and Scout decided that the Diamond L was indeed a real gem!
Over the years, Gary has painstakingly mapped a myriad of trails along with descriptions of each one. Rides are tailored for scenic desires as well as riding ability.
We had the good fortune to be invited to ride on a United States Forest Service expedition to record the unmarked trails Gary used that weren't on the Forest Service maps. Trails would be marked by Forest Service employee Dona Warick.
Armed with a global positioning system and generous lunches made by Carolyn, we set out for an all-day adventure. What beautiful, diverse riding country! Mountains, canyons, marshlands, dry flats, rolling hills, and rocky ravines - you can put together a smorgasbord ride of your own choosing.
Gary planned for our ride to include a picnic stop atop a bluff where we could see Devil's Tower in the distance. While Carolyn's delicious sandwiches were quickly disappearing, Kent solemnly pointed to deer droppings among the pine needles.
"Did you know that you can tell the difference between white-tailed deer and mule deer by their droppings?" he asked. "They taste differently." Then, despite looks of disgust from Gary and Dona, he popped a "dropping" into his mouth, chewed for a bit and declared "mule deer"! We have a lot of fun with chocolate-covered raisins!
We passed by a trail that Gary and Carolyn had named after Jim, a longtime guest and good friend who'd passed away. His battered old hat is nailed to the tree below a sign with his name on it.
Jim's wife of 55 years, Fern, still comes to this ranch. Nowadays, she brings her grandchildren. They share special memories and create new ones.
The Diamond L is changing its dude ranch status. Gary and Carolyn now let guests decide the length of their stays and encourage them to bring their own horses. You can rent rooms in the lodge, a cabin, or recreational-vehicle space. And of course, there are corrals for your horse.
Carolyn will gladly furnish three meals a day, and she's a great cook! Her meals convey a sense of caring and coziness. One guest wistfully wrote, "I wish I could continue to eat and still fit in my jeans."
The Diamond L is a good source of information, help, and support for riders who want to explore the Devil's Tower area. Carolyn and Gary are flexible, and delight in helping others enjoy this special country on horseback.
We left Carolyn and Gary in the same place that we met them. Both of them stood together on the lawn, smiling, and waving good-by to us. They're special people, and they help others make precious memories.
Contact: Diamond L Ranch, 850 Lame Jones Rd., Hulett, WY 82720; (800) 851-5909; www.diamondlranch.com.
New Haven Ranch
Places are like people. Each is unique and has its own personality. New Haven Ranch isn't a dude ranch where one goes to relax and be pampered. This is a family-run working cattle ranch on the edge of the Black Hills in northeastern Wyoming.
The ranch gives you an opportunity to get involved in ranch work, learn about holistic ranching, enjoy riding adventures, and be around lots of animals.
Four generations of the Bohl family live and work on this family-owned ranch. Since 2003, guests have been invited to share their ranch life. Doerte, a German guest, enjoyed ranch life so much that she quit her job in Hamburg to work on the ranch. Then she discovered she not only loved ranch life, but also her boss! She and Nick were married in 2006.
New Haven Ranch is located on the grounds of an old ghost town, New Haven, in the northeastern corner of Wyoming. To get to the ranch, we drove 18 miles on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, as they say.
In this tough, rugged country, survival of the fittest is the natural way of life. Homesteaders were here 150 years ago. Many were driven out by an unforgiving climate, hostile Indians, and greedy cattle barons.
Today, 800 cattle graze the ranch carefully managed by Nick and Doerte. If you look around, you'll see remnants from the past. Old buildings and rusting machinery bear mute testimony to past inhabitants.
The ranch, also referred to as New Haven Lodge, has five bedrooms, three bathrooms, and an additional half-bath. There's a balcony where you can sit and watch the changing light over the Missouri Buttes. After a long day's ride, you can enjoy the hot tub under the stars. Not a bad way to chase away saddle sores.
Meals at the lodge are taken family style around a large table next to an immaculate kitchen. If you enjoy fresh, organic produce, humanely raised meat, and creative meals, these folks have got your number. Mealtime was happy and relaxed.
Although you can just hang out and relax, New Haven Ranch is a tremendous opportunity for energetic folks wishing to explore and partake in ranch activities and work.
Because of holistic ranch-management practices, cattle are rotated to different pastures approximately every eight days. This necessitates a great deal of cattle gathering and moving in addition to regular cattle care.
Riding opportunities abound in this beautiful corner of "God's Country." There are timbered canyons, high plateaus, and aromatic sagebrush prairie. With your own horse or a ranch horse, you can saddle up for an awe-inspiring sight of Devil's Tower.
There's a picturesque lake where you may go fishing, swimming, boating, horse-swimming, picnicking, or do it all.
If you're an animal lover, you'll love this ranch! We saw goats climbing trees; we didn't know they could do that. There are also sheep, dogs, cats, buffalo, geese, and ducks. Buddy had some problems with the ducks. They were hoping he would share his grain with them; Buddy doesn't share!
Nearby animals that fend for themselves include coyotes, snakes, mountain lions, eagles, skunks, raccoons, prairie dogs, antelope, deer, and porcupines.
Nick and Doerte are justifiably proud of their horses, which are strong and healthy, both mentally and physically. All the horses like people and are safe to ride.
Nick exudes vitality and contagious passion for holistic ranch management. He's studied in-depth sustainable agriculture and land reclamation. He uses his goats to battle noxious weeds. "You'd be amazed at what kind of weeds these goats can take down," he said.
Doerte, his beautiful, energetic partner, is a gracious, hard-working woman who shares Nick's vision of holistic management. She's responsible for much of the organic produce and ranch-raised ducks, geese, and chickens that are served for dinner.
Contact: New Haven Ranch, 100 Mule Creek Rd., Hulett, WY 82720; (307) 467-5663; www.wyoedgeadventures.com.
Devil's Tower KOA
Devil's Tower KOA is owned and operated by Matt and Kathi Driscoll. It has spacious campgrounds that are shaded by stately deciduous trees. There are 15 acres available for tent camping, 56 RV sites, and 11 cabins.
Tired of cooking? Head to the full-service café; it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Two gift stores are located next to the restaurant.
Need a place for your horse to stretch and relax? Ogden Driskill and his wife, Zannie, have corrals near the KOA where you may board your horse while staying in the area.
If you'd like to ride on the ranch lands that surround the Tower, make an appointment with Ogden or Zannie. It's a phone call well worth making; the scenery is worth it!
Contact: Devil's Tower KOA, P.O. Box 61, Devil's Tower, WY 82714; (800) 562-5785; www.devilstowerkoa.com.