Saturday, September 19, 2009

Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument, rising nearly 900 feet from its base, and dominating the skyline for several miles was our destination for today.  We had another early morning start for the 110-mile drive northwest back to Wyoming.  Of course, we didn’t take the most direct route because we wanted to see a little more of the countryside.  Instead, we created a bit of a loop drive which turned out to be more like 300 miles for the day.

Devils Tower is a spire of hardened magma--an igneous intrusion.  Rather than being pushed upward by volcanic forces, the tower was formed by erosion over the course of millions of years as wind and water have scraped away all the surrounding landscape.  Today, the top of the tower (1.5 acres) is 1,267 feet above the river.  The diameter at the base is 1,000 feet.
Prayer bundles
Devils Tower, or Bear Lodge as it is called by Native Americans, is a sacred site to the various Great Plains and Black Hills tribes.  For centuries, Native Americans have come to the mountain at the summer solstice as a spiritual quest.   Out of respect for this custom, Devils Tower is closed to climbers during the month of June.  All around the base of the tower we saw prayer bundles left during the last gathering.  To commemorate the traditions held by the Native Americans for this tower, The “Circle of Sacred Smoke”, a granite sculpture by Japanese sculptor Junkyu Muto, was installed in 2008.  It represents the first puff of smoke from the pipe used to pray at Bear Lodge.
Circle of Sacred Smoke

Devils Tower became the nations first National Monument in 1906.  Besides a sightseeing destination, it has become a popular destination for climbers.  First climbed in 1893, it has about 5000 climbers each year.  We saw several climbers clutched to these seemingly sheer walls today.  We were happy to stay on the paved path which circles the tower, well out of the climber’s way.

Also included within the park boundaries are several short trails, including the 1.3 mile paved interpretative trail around the base, a Visitor Center, campground and picnic area.

It was a full day with the visit and our long ride, but we enjoyed seeing Devils Tower.
Tomorrow it is cave day with both Wind Cave and Jewel Cave.

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