Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument is a culturally significant as well as geologically significant place. It is revered by Indigenous people, scientists, climbers, and tourists alike. I enjoyed immensely learning about the significance while visiting Devils Tower on my 2 week solo road-trip this year (2018).

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visitor center

Six nations and over 24 tribes of Indigenous people hold Devils Tour as spiritually sacred. They have stories passed down through generations about how the tower came to be. One such oral history is from the Kiowa: There were seven little girls playing a ways away from the village when a group of bears came upon them and started chasing them. The girls ran and as the bears were closing in on them, they sought refuge on a rock that was sitting about 3 feet off the ground. One of the girls started praying to the rock, asking it to save them. The rock started to grow, pushing the girls farther and farther up. The bears jumped trying to reach the girls, but only managed to scratch the rock as they fell to the ground. The girls were pushed up into the sky where they became stars – The Pleiades. The Kiowa call the rock  “Tso-i-e” – Rock Tree. Each tribe has their own oral history of how the tower came to be, most of which involve bears and 7 girls, boys, or warriors, and the constellation Pleiades.

Geologists likewise, have not settled on an explanation of how the rock was formed. There are four main theories about its formation. One theory is that it is the remnant of a volcanic plug.

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Some quick facts about the park:

  • It is 867 feet from the visitor center to the top of Devils Tower
  • The top is about the size of a football field
  • Devils Tower was dedicated as the first National Monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt
  • There are over 300 climbing routes to the top of Devils Tower

Visiting Devils Tower National Monument can be done in as much or as little time as you like. I spent a whole day attending Ranger Programs, hiking, and reflecting. I also camped at the campground within the park, Belle Fourche River Campground, that evening. If you are looking to only spend a half day at the national monument, I’d recommend doing the Ranger Led Tower Walk and hiking the Red Beds Trail.

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the Belle Fourche River Campground is in the cluster of trees down in the valley

The Belle Fourche River Campground is nice. There’s not many trees or plants within the campground so you do have great views of your neighbors, but you also have great views of the surrounding area. I’m betting you’d also have great views of the night sky if  you manage to stay awake long enough – I fell asleep, but hey, I slept great! With there being little vegetation, the wind does get somewhat fierce. While I was eating dinner at my campsite, I watched as quite a few groups struggled to set up their tents. There was definitely no way I would’ve been able to get my tent up by myself.

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deer family
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Devils Tower at Sunrise

I got up early the next morning and watched the sunrise before heading to Wind Cave National Park. It was beautiful. I also saw a family of deer cross the Prairie Dog colony.

Some important things to remember when visiting Devils Tower National Monument: you are visiting a sacred site. Please act accordingly. Native Americans visit the tower at night and leave prayer bundles hanging in the trees. Do not touch the bundles (strips of cloth) or take pictures of them. Before walking around the tower, ask a Ranger to explain the significance of the different colors of the bundles. Knowing the meaning behind the prayer bundles will add to your understanding of the significance of what you are seeing. June is an important ceremonial month for the tribes that hold Devils Tower as sacred. During this time, there is a voluntary ban on climbing the tower. Unfortunately, many climbers do not respect this simple request. During August, Sturgis Motorcycle Rally does rides to the tower. Parking is very limited year-round, but especially so during this time.

 

To see pictures from my hikes click on the name of the trails below: