Devils Tower National Monument

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

One of the other sites on my list for this road trip to western South Dakota / eastern Wyoming was a visit to Devils Tower National Monument. The Monument was about a 2 hour drive from where we were staying in Rapid City, but the scenery made it well worth the effort. (smile)

Devils Tower is a butte in the Bear Lodge Mountains (which are a part of the Black Hills) in northeastern Wyoming. It rises quite suddenly almost 1,300 feet above the Belle Fourche River, standing 867 feet from base to summit. The area was designated as a monument by President Theodore Roosevelt (beginning to see why he made the mountainside at Mount Rushmore) in 1906.

This site is considered sacred to the Lakota and many other tribes that have a connection to the area. Local tribal names for the butte include Aloft on a Rock (Kiowa), Bear’s House (Cheyenne, Crow), Bear’s Lair (Cheyenne, Crow), Daxpitcheeaasáao, “Home of bears” (Crow), Bear’s Lodge (Cheyenne, Lakota), Bear’s Lodge Butte (Lakota), Bear’s Tipi (Arapaho, Cheyenne), Tree Rock (Kiowa), and Grizzly Bear Lodge (Lakota). The name Devil’s Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Col. Richard Irving Dodge when his interpreter misinterpreted the name to mean Bad God’s Tower, which then became Devil’s Tower. All information signs in that area use the name “Devils Tower”, following a geographic naming standard whereby the apostrophe is eliminated.

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

According to the Kiowa legend, before the Kiowa came south they were camped on a stream in the far north where there were a great many bears, many of them. 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 on the ground.

The rock rose higher and higher, 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). In the winter, in the middle of the night, the seven stars are right over this high rock. When the people came to look, they found the bears’ claws, turned to stone, all around the base.No Kiowa living has ever seen this rock, but the old men have told about it – it is very far north where the Kiowa used to live. It is a single rock with scratched sides, the marks of the bears’ claws are there yet, rising straight up, very high. There is no other like it in the whole country, there are no trees on it, only grass on top. The Kiowa call this rock “Tso-aa”, a tree rock, possibly because it grew tall like a tree. {Told by I-See-Many-Camp-Fire-Places, Kiowa soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1897.}

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

These “claw marks” form hundreds of parallel cracks which makes Devils Tower one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America. Hundreds of visitors each year make the climb up to the summit. (Can you find the climbers in the last two photos??)

I didn’t look at any photos prior to our journey to Devils Tower, so I had no idea what to expect. Seeing this massive butte rise out of the gently rolling hills of northeastern Wyoming was…magical. Seeing it grow as we came closer, I was struck by how odd and out of place this bit of rock was – and I can totally understand why it’s considered a sacred area.

We enjoyed beautiful sunshine during our hike around the butte. We spent some time watching the intrepid climbers and taking a hundred photos of the rock, trying to capture the mystical feel of the place. I don’t know if I succeeded in that personally, but it’s certainly a location I’ll never forget!

Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming

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