Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Close Encounter with Devils Tower, Wyoming

Devils tower from Wyoming route 110.
Devils Tower is an imposing landmark located in eastern Wyoming. 
It's perpendicular columns rise above the surrounding terrain and look like nothing else in the landscape. 

This side of the mountain faces away from the Visitor Center.
This place is sacred to the Lakota, Cheyenne and Kiowa who refer to it as Bear Lodge. One particular legend attributes the long straight fissures of the towers columns to the work of a bears claws as he attempted to scale the mountain in search of prey. 
American's have been drawn to it since it was first documented in 1875 by Col. Richard Dodge.
Early Wyoming ranchers met yearly at the tower on July 4th for an annual picnic.

My favorite view of the tower
It is no wonder that Steven Spielberg chose Devils Tower as the meeting place for an alien species to interact with humankind in his 1977 cult classic film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Why wouldn't aliens be attracted to it too?
Can I just say that it hurts my heart a little to see the film being re-released this year as a 40th Anniversary edition. How can it possibly be 40 years?
Devils Tower was declared our first National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906. 
During Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration in the 1930's the Civilian Conservation Corps improved the road into the Visitor Center, built the trail around the base of the tower, and erected the log buildings that still house the Visitor Center and Park Ranger office. The CCC also built the camping and picnic grounds on the property.
Devils Tower is made of igneous rock. It is basically an underground volcano with a lava extrusion that was never seen until the surrounding sedimentary rock was worn away over eons. The molten rock formed hexagonal columns as it cooled and cracked. Devils Tower is still being revealed as the local sandstone is worn away. Sadly the columns are subject to erosion from water and ice. You can see pieces of those that have broken off in the piles of scree at the base of the mountain.

Lakota legend attributes the long perpendicular marks as scratches from the claws of a bear.
The tower measures 867 feet from the base to the summit.
It rises 5112 feet above sea level.
We were lucky to visit the tower on a clear and sunny day. There was some haze in the distance from recent fires in Montana but our views were not affected. 
We drove in the access road past the prairie dog towns and up to the Visitor Center. Once at the Visitor Center parking area you can choose 2 trails to hike.  We opted for the shorter 1 1/2 mile walk. It was 95 degrees out and we wanted to stay close to the base. I wondered if there would be any climbers attempting the assent on a day this warm. 
Seeing the tower from many angles is a great experience. It looks different on each side, you can see distinct features in the sun and in the shade. We found climbers when we got to the shady side. 

Climbers on the way up the mountain

This group made it to the top
Climbing Devils Tower has been a thing since 1893. 
That year William Rogers and Willard Ripley made it to the top (at the annual July 4th picnic) and hoisted the American flag. They built a 350 foot wood ladder to aid them. 
Mr. Rogers wife Linnie was the first woman to scale the tower two years later, also on July 4th.
Today there are are 200 routes on all sides of the mountain that  range in difficulty from easy to world class. That original ladder from the 1893 climb remains and can be seen with binoculars.
It is estimated that 5000 climbers a year scale the towers surface. Visitors are welcome to scramble on the rocks but anyone climbing above the boulder field must register with park rangers and complete their climb in one day. There is no overnight camping permitted at the summit.
We were pleased to see 3 separate groups attempting the ascent. 
Devils Tower is rich with wildlife. 150 species of birds have been identified here including the Golden Eagles we observed soaring in the updrafts and the brilliant Mountain Bluebirds that flit around the bushes at the Visitor Center. 

The deer were unafraid of the Park's visitors.
Deer are plentiful and unafraid.
Red squirrels and butterflies were frequent sightings.
Devils Tower is a long drive from Rapid City. Our trip took most of the day as we traveled about 250 miles round trip. It was worth our effort to see such an outstanding landmark.

Devils Tower National Monument
340 WY-110
Devils Tower, Wyoming

No comments:

Post a Comment