When you think of Devils Tower, you also probably think of the 1977 sci-fi film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Hollywood was pretty convincing that the famous shape jutting into the northeastern Wyoming sky was actually a landing platform for extraterrestrials. But when you visit this national monument, you’ll find that the distinctive 867-foot monolith and surrounding scenic countryside easily capture your attention without the help of theatrics—as does the large resident prairie dog colony and numerous hiking and climbing options. If you’re short on time, that’s OK. The highlights of Devils Tower National Monument are found in a condensed area, so you’ll still get a full experience even if you have only a couple of hours.
Situated where the pine forests of the Black Hills meet the rolling prairie grasslands and meandering Belle Fourche River, the monument’s proper name is actually Devils Tower, not Devil’s Tower (a clerical error on early governmental paperwork mistakenly omitted the apostrophe). The name was derived from the Native Americans who referred to it as “the bad god’s tower.” US Army Colonel Richard Dodge, while escorting a scientific team into the Black Hills region in 1875, translated the Indian name as “the devil’s tower” in his journal and on official documents. The name stuck.
Long before white men wandered into the West, Northern Plains Indian tribes called their sacred worship site Mateo Teepee (Bear’s Lodge). Some tribes prefer that the Tower and the region still be called Bear’s Lodge or Bear’s Tipi, which is consistent with the legend of its creation. According to one story, a giant bear tried to attack seven girls while they were playing in the area. The girls climbed onto a rock and begged the Great Spirit to rescue them from the bear. The rock then rose upward, carrying the girls to safety. The bear clawed at the sides of the rock, resulting in hundreds of deep vertical furrows that you see today.
Devils Tower continues to be a sacred site for many Native American tribes, including the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa, and Lakota. According to the National Park Service, more than 20 tribes have potential affiliation with the site. Culturally significant worship ceremonies are held here during the month of June, but at any time of year you’ll probably notice prayer bundles (tobacco, sage, or small personal items wrapped in cloth and beads) tied onto branches of Ponderosa pine trees. Although not mandatory, the National Park Service has asked that climbers voluntarily refrain from climbing the Tower in June out of respect for the rituals that take place during that time. Some climbing routes are also intermittently closed between March and July because of nesting prairie falcons.
Please check back next week for part 2 and learn about the cutest critters in the park and about the ones on two legs who have reached the monument’s summit.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Visitor Information: (307) 467-5283
7-day pass is $10
Directions: The entrance to Devils Tower National Monument is 33 miles northeast of Moorcroft, Wyoming, via U.S. 14. The Monument and Visitor Center is open year-round, but the campground is open only from April through November, weather permitting. Confirm exact times and dates before visiting.Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com