June 26 – 27
We hated to leave South Dakota, but we had a reservation back in Wyoming. A quick stop to see the famous Devils Tower.
The reservation for this stop was at Keyhole State Park. Our chosen site was by boat trailer parking with zero shade, and we suspect that the previous camper spilled diesel fuel additive at the site. So, we’re out in the blazing sun (95+ degrees), and it stunk. Like what I won’t say. This is our second Wyo state park and we’re just not impressed. Maybe just two poor choices, but that’s the way it goes sometimes despite all our research.
Since the campground was nothing to write home about, we focused on the reason for this stop – Devils Tower. Turns out we picked poorly with that in mind, too. Google gave us a pretty good route that wasn’t too far, 25 miles or so, but what we didn’t realize is that this route would be another installment of “where the pavement ends”. Over half that drive was on a gravel road with more cattle guards than I could count. It was scenic though.
Enough said about the accommodations and on to the main event. Devils Tower is the nation’s first national monument designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. It’s sacred ground for many Native American tribes, but made most famous by the 1977 flick ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. Can you believe that was over 40 years ago? Of course I was just a mere babe.
It’s no wonder this geologic formation is so popular. It rises up out of the surrounding countryside and looks so imposing. Grey-green columns like something extruded from a play-doh machine and chopped off with the little plastic knife.
The best look-alike was this tree stump on the trail. The native tree bark mimics the rock formation towering above. Even some of the Native American descriptions liken it to a tree so it’s not just me.
Since it was blistering hot, we decided to visit later in the afternoon and packed PB&Js for dinner at the monument. There’s a trail all the way around with benches periodically, all facing the rock.
Dinner at the base of the tower was quiet. Most people were gone for the day and we just stared up at it. Golden Eagles were swooping around at the top screeching to break the silence. We hoped to see some climbers, but in June there’s a voluntary ban on climbing out of respect for sacred summer solstice ceremonies conducted by the local Native Americans.
Dinner in the shadow.
Looking out from the tower is the lovely Belle Fourche River Valley (pronounced bell foosh). According to the NPS brochure, “French fur trappers named it the ‘pretty fork river’.”
The thistles were in abundance in the shade of the fir trees. I leaned over to take a few pictures of this one, not realizing how much bug action was going on.
Saw this little cutie as we waited for the ranger presentation to begin.
We saved a seat for you in case you want to pack your lunch.
What’s In A Name
Native American names for the rock include Bear’s Tipi, Home of the Bear, Tree Rock and Great Gray Horn. The name Devils Tower came from a scientific expedition in 1875, when Colonel Richard Dodge named it. He thought the Native Americans were calling it “Bad God’s Tower”, so he changed it a bit to Devil’s Tower. According to the ranger presentation, the apostrophe got lost somewhere in the government paperwork when it was declared a monument. Thus Devils Tower.
How Was It Formed?
Well, the experts don’t agree on how this rock formed. There are actually four theories outlined in the NPS paperwork. I’m not a geologist, so I don’t profess to know all the right lingo, but here’s the list of formation theories and my simpleton summary:
- Volcanic Plug Remnant
- Igneous Stock
- Laccolith Remnant
- Remnant of a Diatreme/Lava Coulee
That’s a lot of geologic terminology essentially meaning that magma came up from below and formed some sort of shape. No matter what theory of formation you believe, it seems all can agree that it appeared when erosion wore away the overlying sedimentary rock. Erosion is still working on the tower today wearing away the honeycomb columns that make up the entire rock.
Of course there are Native American explanations for it’s origin. The ranger told us one story, his favorite, and I rather liked it, too. The Kiowa tell it like this: “Before the Kiowa came south they were camped on a stream in the far north where there are a great many bears….One day, seven little girls were playing at a distance from the village and were chased by some bears. The girls ran toward the village and the bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock, about three feet high. One of the girls prayed to the rock, ‘Rock take pity on us, rock save us!’ The rock heard them and began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher. When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, broke their claws, and fell to the ground…the bears still jumped at the girls until they were pushed up into the sky, where they now are, seven little stars in a group (The Pleiades).” See? So much better than blah-blah igneous and blah-blah sedimentary, and explains the formation perfectly.
A close-up of the side columns (from the bear claws) with an eagle flying by.
Pat on the trail for scale.
Parting shot of Devils Tower at sunset with the moon rising behind us.
Next up: Montana! See you on the way.