THE NATION’S FIRST NATIONAL MONUMENT

Devils Tower
Our first glimpse of Devils Tower

Monday, May 21, 2018

When we got home from Deadwood on Saturday, we had the mother of all hailstorms. It lasted almost forty-five minutes, and the temperature dropped dramatically. Tuesday was windy and cold, so we decided to skip our planned trip to Lead and Spearfish and stay inside where it was warm. Here’s hoping for better weather on our way home, so we can visit the places we missed along the way.

We left Sturgis yesterday and drove to Devils Tower, Wyoming. As we approached the entrance to Devils Tower National Monument from WY-24E, the tower suddenly popped up from out of nowhere against a backdrop of pine forest merging with rolling plains. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and it was one of the most amazing sights we’ve seen on this trip so far.

Scientists initially thought Devils Tower was the core of an ancient volcano. However, recent data has determined it is an igneous intrusion, which is a a formation in which molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks above it and cooled underground. As the magma cooled, it contracted and fractured into columns.

Devils Tower stands 867 feet from base to summit, rising 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. The base of the tower is roughly a mile in circumference. A 1.25-mile trail encircles the base. The face of the butte is fluted like a massive column, standing in stark relief against the sky.

People come from all around the world to climb this unique wonder. We saw several dozen climbers on the tower while we were there, tiny specks of color—red and blue and yellow and chartreuse—nearly invisible to the naked eye—free climbing up the sheer face of the butte.

The tower is sacred to many of the Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people. Bear Lodge is one of many Indian names for Devils Tower, which is a direct translation of the Lakota name Mato Tipila. It is the site of ceremonial rituals, including sun dances, sweat lodges, and prayer and artifact offerings.There is a voluntary climbing mortorium in June, out of respect for their traditions and beliefs.

The name “Devils Tower” originated in 1875, when Colonel Richard Irving Dodge led geologist Walter P. Jenney’s scientific expedition through the Black Hills region to confirm claims of gold, first started by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer. The name was incorrectly translated as “Bad God’s Tower,” which was amended to “Devil’s Tower.” A clerical error resulted in the omission of the apostrophe, thus the name became Devils Tower.

In popular culture the tower is associated with Steven Spielberg’s 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Who doesn’t remember the iconic scene from the film when Richard Dryefuss’s character made a model of Devils Tower out of mashed potatoes?

On September 24, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt, by authority of the Antiquities Act, proclaimed Devils Tower to be the first National Monument. Roosevelt, who loved the American West, made Dodge’s translation the official name of the eerily splendid rock formation.

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Climber
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The base of the monument
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Valley below Devils Tower with the Belle Fourche River in the background
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We are in no danger of winning a selfie contest

2 thoughts on “THE NATION’S FIRST NATIONAL MONUMENT

  1. Wow!! These photos are awesome. I so enjoy your blogs. They are so interesting and I can imagine being in your shoes and looking through your eyes. Thanks so much for sharing.
    Sherry

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  2. Thanks, Sherry. Writing the blog is forcing me to do a lot of research, so I’m learning a lot of really neat stuff. Thanks again for taking the time to read my posts. Hope the weather is better there than it is here. It’s like we’re in a monsoon season here.

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