Devils Tower National Monument

Blog National Parks
Held sacred by Native American tribes, this climbable rock formation is the first national monument
Today, Saydie and I took off to Wyoming and Devils tower which not to far over the border. It was a beautiful day out, and we enjoyed the drive through Deadwood, and down Spearfish Canyon. In the town of Spearfish we met up with I-90 and headed west. Devils Tower National Monument, a unique and striking geologic wonder steeped in Native American legend, is a modern-day national park and climbers’ challenge. Devils Tower sits across the state line in northeast Wyoming. The Tower is a solitary, stump-shaped granite formation that looms 1,267 feet above the tree-lined Belle Fourche River Valley, like a skyscraper in the country. Once hidden below the earth’s surface, erosion has stripped away the softer rock layers revealing the Tower. The two-square-mile park surrounding the tower was proclaimed the nation’s first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The park is covered with pine forests, woodlands, and grasslands. While visiting the park you are bound to see deer, prairie dogs, and other wildlife. The mountain’s markings are the basis for Native American legend. One legend has it that a giant bear clawed the grooves into the mountainside while chasing several young Indian maidens. Known by several northern plains tribes as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site of worship for many American Indians. Steven Spielberg fans are likely familiar with Devils Tower, even if they don’t know it by name. The dramatic butte—which towers 1267 feet above the plains of northeastern Wyoming and the Belle Fourche River—was famously featured in 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, culminating in a scene in which an alien mothership descended upon the rock formation. The stone pillar is about 1,000 feet in diameter at the bottom and 275 feet at the top and that makes it the premier rock climbing challenge in the Black Hills. Hikers enjoy the Monument’s trails. The 1.25-mile Tower Trail encircles the base. This self-guided hike offers close-up views of the forest and wildlife, not to mention spectacular views of the Tower itself. The Red Beds Trail covers a much wider three-mile loop around the tower.

DEVILS TOWER IS SACRED TO MANY NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBES.

To the Northern Plains Indian Tribes, Devils Tower isn’t just a stunning landmark—it’s a sacred place. It appears in multiple oral histories and sacred narratives, and is also known by multiple ancient names. For example, the Arapahoe call Devils Tower “Bear’s Tipi”; the Kiowa refer to it as “Aloft on a Rock” or “Tree Rock”; and the Lakota people know it as “Bear Lodge,” “Bear Lodge Butte,” “Grizzly Bear’s Lodge,” “Mythic-owl Mountain,” “Grey Horn Butte,” and “Ghost Mountain.” However, it’s commonly referred to as “Mateo Tepee,” which is likely Sioux for “Bear Wigwam,” or “Bear Lodge.” (Long ago, the surrounding region was home to many bears.) To this day, Devils Tower is frequently the site of ceremonial rituals, including sun dances, sweat lodges, and prayer and artifact offerings. (While visiting the park, make sure not to touch or move any religious artifacts.)

ITS NAME IS CONTROVERSIAL.

Devils Tower received its popular English name in 1875, when Colonel Richard Irving Dodge led geologist Walter P. Jenney’s scientific expedition through the Black Hills region. They were there to confirm claims of gold, first initiated by General George Armstrong Custer. But when they arrived at the rock formation, they were overwhelmed by its natural beauty. Dodge described the landmark as “one of the most remarkable peaks in this or any country.” Dodge recorded the butte’s name as “Devils Tower,” writing that the Natives “call this shaft The Bad God’s Tower, a name adopted with proper modification, by our surveyors.” But since so many Native names for the towering formation referenced a bear—plus, Native translations for “Bear Lodge” appeared on early maps of the region—it’s likely that Dodge’s expedition simply mistranslated the landmark’s name. (In the Lakota language, the bad god or evil spirit is called wakansica, and the word for black bear is wahanksica.) In recent years, Native tribes have petitioned to officially change the name of Devils Tower to Bear Lodge, as they find the current moniker offensive. Meanwhile, other locals argue that changing the formation’s name would cause confusion and harm regional tourism.

DEVILS TOWER WAS AMERICA’S VERY FIRST NATIONAL MONUMENT.

Devils Tower was the very first official United States National Monument. It was proclaimed by President Theodore Roosevelt—who famously loved the American West—on September 24, 1906, shortly after he signed the Antiquities Act into law. Roosevelt made Dodge’s translation the tower’s official name, but along the way, the apostrophe in “Devil’s Tower” was dropped due to a clerical error. The error was never corrected, and to this day, the tower is simply called “Devils Tower.”
IT’S NOT A VOLCANO.
Some claim that Devils Tower is an old volcano, but geologists say it’s likely an igneous intrusion, meaning it formed underground from molten rock, or magma, that pushed up into sedimentary rock and became solid. Over millions of years, the surrounding sedimentary rock eroded away to display the tall, grayish core within. Experts estimate that the formation of Devils Tower occurred about 50 million years ago, whereas the erosion took place between 5 and 10 million years ago.

IT’S NOT HOLLOW.

Devils Tower is composed of a rock called phonolite porphyry, which is like a less sparkly granite, as it contains no quartz. And while it may appear hollow at a distance, the striated monument is actually solid. (The NPS compares it to “a bunch of pencils held together by gravity.”)

IT’S A FAMOUS ROCK-CLIMBING ATTRACTION.

Devils Tower is popular among rock climbing enthusiasts, who rely on its many parallel cracks to shimmy their way to the top. (Long before modern climbing equipment existed, local ranchers simply made do with a wooden ladder.) According to the National Park Service, Devils Tower sees between 5000 and 6000 rock climbers a year. However, the site is closed to climbers each June, as Native American ceremonies are often held during and around the summer solstice. Additionally, some routes are closed each spring to protect nesting prairie or peregrine falcons.

The Area Around Devils Tower is Beautiful.

The National Park Service was using the time with fewer visitors to do some renovations to the Ranger Station and some of the walking paths you take up to the base of Devils Tower. From the looks of it these changes will be really nice once completed.Saydie and I found a really nice viewpoint and chair to take in this wonderful view of the Wyoming back country.
 
Photo taken by Rick Walker (Trekvagabond)
Photo taken by Rick Walker (Trekvagabond)
GPS LOCATION:
Latitude: 44.590910376284 Longitude: -104.720220633480

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