Tag Archive | Gillette Wyoming

West 2016: Eagle Butte Coal Mine Tour

Day 7, August 11, 2016

Our first activity of the day was to tour the Eagle Butte coal mine. The mine is an open pit/surface mining project and the mine is a small to medium sized mine in Gillette, Wyoming.  The Eagle Butte mine employs slightly less than 200 employees.

The tour we went on was a partnership between the mine and the tourism bureau – it was $5 per person and we met at the Visitor’s Center. We got on the bus with our guide, a local teacher who was off for the summer, and had previously worked some summers at the mine, and drove out to the site. On the way out, we saw land that had previously been mined.

The company basically removes the top 24″ of dirt from a section where they are mining, and they pile it off to the side (they cover up the piles to prevent the topsoil from blowing away). Then they dig out all the dirt below to find the coal seam, extract the coal and then put the dirt back on top. The coal seam in this area is about 120 feet thick, so when the dirt is put back after a section has been mined, the land is about 120 feet lower. Regulations require that the land must be replanted with native grasses and shrubs, and to be honest, I couldn’t tell that the areas that had already been mined had ever been disturbed. The only reason we knew was because our guide told us as were were driving by.  There were pronghorn out grazing on those areas of land.

The tour showed us the pit, with trucks and equipment that looked pretty small from far away but are actually huge. The truck tires are 12 feet tall! You can only tell how large they are when looking at the trucks next to normal sized pickups; otherwise it is hard to tell when you are watching them from far away as you have nothing to compare to for scale.

A close up of a dump truck loaded with coal


One of the dump trucks, with a regular full size pickup truck for scale. They are huge!


A 12 foot tire at the Eagle Butte Mine.

Our tour stopped at an area where we could stand in a bucket for an excavator and next to one of the big equipment tires. The bucket there is actually a very small one, holding only 23 yeards of dirt.  The smallest bucket the mine now uses holds 52 yards, but typically they use 70-90 yard buckets.  I suppose they no longer have much use for the 23 yard bucket that was on display! But it seemed pretty big to me.

Mom and me, standing in a 23 yard bucket. The mine uses buckets that hold 70-90 yards now…

Then we headed over to the area where the coal is loaded onto trains. Our guide explained the loading process, and the shape of the coal on the coal car – it is very specifically shaped to limit blow-off of coal dust. She also explained that the company sprays sealant on the coal, depending on where the coal is being shipped. Our guide asserted that that sealant basically does nothing, because the coal does not blow off train cars, but they put the sealant on in order to make people feel better. You, dear readers, can debate that last point amongst yourselves; I wasn’t quite sure what to believe.  Depending on where the train is going – each train has between 110 and 140 cars.

This contraption loads the coal in the coal cars and shapes it to limit blow-off


The car’s coal is being coated with a sealant. Our guide told us it really does nothing, as the coal dust does not blow off, but eases people’s minds.


A close picture of the loaded coal train.


I loved this pretty landscape picture with the coal train.

I know a coal mine tour isn’t going to be on everybody’s bucket list (see that pun I did there…?), and I wasn’t sure how much I would get out of it to be honest.  But all in all, I did find it to be really interesting.  Living in the Pacific Northwest, where there is a lot of anti-coal sentiment, it was good to get another perspective.  I thought it was well worth the price and a couple of hours of time.

If you are interested, you can find more information about it here – they only do it during the summer.



West 2016: Devil’s Tower NM

Day 6, August 10, 2016

After Jewel Cave, we were on our way – our next destination was Devil’s Tower National Monument. Devil’s Tower is a laccolithic butte made up of igneous rock that rises 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River and 5,112 feet above sea level. If you are like me, you have no idea what that means.  Basically, it is where magma pushes up and creates a dome or mushroom shaped form on a flat base.  Scientists don’t know how it occurred but Devil’s Tower is a very distinct type of laccolith; the tower is made up of many columns that are all smooshed together into one big column.  Kind of like a whole collection of many sided pencils held together by a rubber band.

A view of the Tower in the distance.

The tower is part of the Native American creation story. According to the Kiowa and the Lakota, the tower was formed when a group of girls were chased by several giant bears. To escape, the girls climbed onto a rock and began praying to the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit lifted the rock from the ground and as the bears tried to climb the tower to get to the girls, their claws left the marks in the sides of the tower that are visible today. When the tower reached toward the sky, the girls became stars in the sky above.

A closer view of the Tower

The monument was designated by Theodore Roosevelt on September 24, 1906; it was the first monument designated under the recently passed Antiquities Act.

When we arrived, we discovered we had re-entered Sturgis biker heaven – the place was crawling with bikers. They did have parking attendants at the monument though, directing cars and bikes to two different parking areas.

We checked out the monument from the front, and I wanted to walk around it – it is a 1.3 mile walk and you can see the monument from many angles. My mom didn’t want to walk around it, so she settled in to listen to a ranger talk about the tower in Native American stories. Devil’s Tower is a sacred site for many tribes in the area, so there are beautiful prayer bundles tied in the trees around the base of the monument; it was powerful to reflect on the spirituality of the place.

Prayer bundles at the base of the Tower

Around the back of the monument, there is a historic ladder that ascends up the crevice between two of the columns. It was interesting, but unless there was a lot more to it back in the day, I wouldn’t have been willing to climb that ladder!  The backside of the monument was nice; there were hardly any people who walked around to the back, and I was also treated to views of climbers scaling the monument.

The historic ladder at Devil’s Tower. No Way…


Climbers on the back side of Devil’s Tower

I did enjoy the walk, even though it was pretty hot that day, and I got a few different ladies to take my photo with the tower. However, as I learned later, apparently I needed to clarify that I wanted the tower (or the WHOLE tower) in the photo as well. Live and Learn!

This lady took a picture of me AND the tower

When I got back from my walk, I was able to catch the last bit of the ranger talk. She shared many interesting stories, highlighting the importance and spiritual nature of the place from the Native American perspective.

Also of interest at Devil’s Tower National Monument is a – you might have already guessed – prairie dog town! You know how I feel about these adorable little critters! Of course we stopped to watch them and take photos. I really could not get enough of the prairie dogs on this trip, if that wasn’t already obvious. How can you resist those cute faces?! And the short little tails!

Prairie Dog! Look at those claws!


Look! They are kissing!


Prairie Dogs Playing

After Devil’s Tower, we made our way to our hotel for the evening a La Quinta in Gillette, Wyoming. Gillette was really a stopover town on our way to Yellowstone and Cody, but we did have a bit of time to explore the cute little downtown area.

Downtown Gillette, Wyoming. I would have liked to see this!

We had dinner at Fiesta Tequila Mexican restaurant and I had some of the best fajitas I have ever had! They were so delicious! Mom really loved her arroz con pollo too, so if you find yourself in Gillette, check out this restaurant!  We had some time to relax before bed too; we couldn’t stay up too late, we had another big day the next day!


Costs and Fees: $15 per car at Devil’s Tower National Monument; free with an annual pass.

Distance for the Day: Custer, SD – Jewel Cave National Monument, Custer, SD – Devil’s Tower National Monument, Devil’s Tower, WY – Gillette, WY (3 hrs, 172 miles)

Hotel for the night: La Quinta – Gillette, WY