I had to go and see this place. At 15 years of age I knew enough that the film was a work of fiction but appreciated its simple message that not all aliens come to Earth with dinner and conquest on their minds. What was real was the setting and I pledged then and there that I would one day make it to this unique natural wonder. Who'da thunk it would take one of the most tragic moments in American history for me to finally make the journey.
Following the furlough in Chicago caused by the attack on September 11th, I relocated to Baltimore before setting off on a lengthy road-trip to take stock of my present and future, hoping to purge my mind of all things related to my previous industry which remains in a tail spin to this day. One key stop on the list was Devil's Tower and it was no simple drive in getting there.
When you consider how locations are scouted for feature films, driving to Devil's Tower does not encourage one to believe that anyone actually went there first or simply stumbled across the place. They had to have seen a picture of the monument before deciding to deal with having to get there. State Highway #14 peels off of Interstate-90 in an arc pattern beginning at Moorcroft on the western end and Sundance, Wyoming, to the east, depending on your direction of travel. Somewhere towards the middle of this bulge in the highway is Wyoming Road #24, a crossroads to nowhere anchored by no settlement of any kind. It leads farther north in to the wilderness with only a signpost telling you where you are and what lies ahead.
What, indeed, lay ahead, was simply breath-taking. Several native American nations have cultural ties to what is called The Bear's Lodge in one indigenous language. A few legends ascribe the striation in the rock to the markings left by particularly large bear claws. Either way, it stands alone, rising some 800 feet out of a thick surrounding of forest, commanding everything in sight for miles around. There is no bad angle from which to view the monolith, though access to the top is prohibited. With #24 being the only road in or out I easily recreated some scenes from the film in my mind's eye. It wasn't difficult at all imagining the Mother Ship rising from behind this great natural wonder, either.
The journey was one of cleansing and healing after the trauma of September 11th and the uncertain future that lay ahead of us at the time. At Devil's Tower I found clarity, peace of mind and inspiration to go along with the feelings of joy at finally seeing something that had spoken to me in its way some 25 years before. "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters" would share a common genre, decade and, to some, insult, in being re-envisioned musically by disco producer extraordinaire Meco. Disco or not, each certainly left an indelible musical signature that one and all instantly recognize.
Too bad I can't find that five-tone signature from "Close Encounters" as a ring tone!