Friday, August 20, 2010

Devil's Tower National Monument

Here are some "Did you know" factoids about this amazing place:

Devils Tower was designated as the nation’s first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The tower is an remarkable geological formation that rises 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River Valley and is about 1000 feet in diameter at the bottom. The top of Devils Tower is about the size of a football field and is slightly dome shaped and rocky, with native grasses, cacti, and sagebrush. The Tower is comprised of columns of phonolite porphyry, a type of rock that is similar in composition to granite but lacks quartz. You could compare the structure of the tower to a bunch of pencils held together by gravity. This formation was once hidden below the earth’s surface, but erosion stripped away the softer rock layers to reveal the Tower.

Native American tribes tell of various legends as to the origin, meaning and purpose of the Tower. One legend has it that a giant bear clawed the grooves into the mountainside while chasing several young Indian maidens. Known by several northern plains tribes as Bears Lodge, it is a sacred site of worship for many Native Americans, who leave offerings with the trees surrounding the tower.

Devils Tower was featured in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and is a very popular among rock climbers.

Sad to say, Lynda and I essentially had only one afternoon to explore Devil's Tower.  We could not drive the Trek up to the Visitor's Center because the parking lot cannot accommodate vehicles that large. And so we decided to take one of the hiking trails from the campground up to the Visitor's Center. Our goal was to get there no later than 4 PM because the center closes at 4:30 PM and we wanted to have time to look at the exhibits.  Anyway, we set off and then made a stop at the Circle of Sacred Smoke sculpture. This sculpture represents the first puff of smoke from a newly lit pipe and is designed to help raise visitor awareness of the importance of the tower to over twenty affiliated tribes.  It actually was very peaceful and pleasant to sit by the sculpture and admire the Tower.

But then, once we left the sculpture, we managed to forget to take the trail and went the long way by road! Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous and neither of us can explain why we had such a brain cramp... perhaps we inhaled that puff of smoke?  Anyway, we practically had to run to get there before the Visitors' Center closed. In spite of ourselves, we made it in time and were able to look around.

We then rested a while before beginning our hike on the Tower Trail, which goes around the base of the Tower. Because this trail is less than 1.5 miles long and there was plenty of daylight left, we knew we could take our time and enjoy the walk. And we certainly did!  The Tower looks different from every side, and it was so interesting to see the varied and numerous offerings in the trees. Lynda and I agreed that it is perfectly clear why Native Americans hold this place sacred... it is indeed an awesome and inspiring sight!

After we made our way completely around the Tower, we decided to take the Red Beds trail back to the campground.  This is the trail we should have taken from the campground, instead of the road. Anyway, this Red Beds trail was wonderful!  The going was easy, you just had to watch your footing, and we saw lots of wildlife. At one point we were walking along, just chatting about who-knows-what when all of a sudden I realized we were no more than 10 feet away from two fawns. Well, we caught them by surprise also because they gave us the craziest, wild-eyed look and then spun around and shot away!  We were so excited about our own "Close Encounter" at Devils' Tower!

Well we kept going and came upon more fawns. In fact, we ran into several sets of half-grown deer and, what was very interesting to me, they seemed to be in sets of two: male and female. They were skittish but did not run away - they would just maintain a comfortable distance and so I was able to get some pretty good photos.

We turned off the Red Beds trail to take the South Side trail which runs alongside "Prairie Dog Town" and goes to the campground.  So, of course, we had to stop and look at the prairie dogs which are very well fed (despite the signs asking people not to feed them) and quite bold, if not exactly tame. I don't know what it is about rodents in the wild, but they sure are cute!

We got back to the campground a little before 8 PM.  Sydney and Barely were happy to see us, as always.  They had done so well being left loose in the Trek for 5 hours during our unplanned hike around Jenny Lake a couple days before, that we decided not to crate them.  And they did not let us down!

Click here for photos of our visit to Devils Tower.

We're heading to Rapid City, South Dakota tomorrow.  We'll stay in that area for about a week to do some sightseeing and (finally) get the Autopark brake fixed. Stay tuned!

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