My battery was dead for the second time in two days. I got the car jumped again – this time by a park ranger – and headed to the nearest town to get it looked at.
The only available mechanic was a small two-man place, and they both were apparently involved rebuilding an engine or something, because they couldn’t really take a look at the van. I took a look myself and replaced a fuse (though I couldn’t see how that would cause the battery to die). Just before I left the mechanic made a great suggestion: unplug the battery the next night and see if the car died. If it did, the battery had a problem. If it didn’t, but died again while connected the following night, then something was drawing power from the battery.
All this advice came free, and the total cost of my stop was $1 for the fuse, so I guess I can’t complain!
My destination for the day was Devil’s Tower, Wyoming. Immediately upon entering Wyoming from South Dakota, the landscape is wonderful – it has the similar rolling hills and scattered pine, but there’s also red rock and sand that give the environment some color.
Red rock of Wyoming.
Devil’s Tower is another huge tourist site, most famous as the setting of the climax of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a huge plug of rock that’s visible for tens of miles around; from the normal perspective it looks like a cone, but from the side it looks like a shark fin. It has strange geometric columns all around, and was also the first National Monument in the country.
The tower from the side.
The park campground was about half full, but the visitor center and main part of the park was an absolute zoo. It was totally full – 3 different parking lots worth of cars. There’s a 1.1 mile paved trail around the tower, and an additional 12 miles of trails around the park. I ended up hiking all of them, and this was my favorite park for hiking, just because of the diversity of environments (not to mention the distinctive focal point). There’s forest, canyon, plains, some red rock. What was most amazing was that once I started hiking on the backcountry trails I only saw one group of 2 hikers! It was an amazing contrast to the busy parking lot atmosphere, but where did all the people go? I guess most of them drive up to Devil’s Tower and then simply drive away!
As I circled the tower I noticed that there were some climbers midway up (ominously, with birds circling in the thermals nearby). In fact, the tower is a popular climbing destination, and the park endorses climbing. However, because the tower is a sacred place for native americans, climbing is banned during the month of June. Sometimes during the hikes you see prayer flags placed in trees around the tower.
That night I got back to camp early (and had a great view), disconnected the battery, wrapped it in a paper towel, then threw a frisbee with the kids at the campsite next door for an hour and a half, until it was dark out.
The campground, exactly as I remember it as a kid.
The following morning, the battery was dead again, so I’d identified the culprit: the battery was somehow faulty and discharging itself overnight, over a 12 hour period.