Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

 


  

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Classic view of Devils Tower.
Classic view of Devils Tower. It will be gone in about a million  years because the rock keeps eroding, sometimes sloughing off in big slabs, creating the grooves on the tower and the talus rock around the base.

If Devils Tower National Monument looks familiar to you but you can't quite place it, perhaps you've seen Steven Spielberg's 1977 film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". It was used as a location for the movie. A massive tapered stone column towering over 1,000 feet above the surrounding countryside, Devils Tower can be seen for miles and would be a perfect geo-beacon for alien spaceships.  More likely, you've seen some of the beautiful scenic photographs taken over the years. Either way it is a sight you will not soon forget. 

President Theodore Roosevelt designated Devils Tower as our first National Monument on September 24, 1906.  It is located not far from Sundance, Wyoming in the northeast corner of Wyoming in the Black Hills overlooking the Belle Fourche River Valley. This granite formation stands 1267 feet tall with a diameter at the bottom of 1,000 feet and 275 feet at the top.  The top is roughly the size and shape of a football field, covered with scrub grass and actually has small resident rodents that call it home. The elevation at the summit is 5,212 feet.

 

It has long been considered a sacred site by many of the northern plains Indian tribes. Some of those tribes referred to it as the Bear's Lodge. One of the legends that surround Devils Tower is that the vertical grooves in the rock were placed there by a giant bear that was chasing some Indian maidens. There were six major tribes that had both cultural and geographic ties to the area: Arapaho, Crow, Lakota, Cheyenne, Kiowa and Shoshone. The National Park Service says that there are over 20 tribes that have treated Devils Tower as Holy Ground. For more information go to the National Park Service web site.

Today the monument attracts about 400,000 tourists each year. They peacefully co-exist with the Native American traditions and rites still observed at Devils Tower. Visitors will see various prayer objects hanging in trees or on the ground and are asked not to disturb them. 

Distant view of Devils Tower from the south. The "What a View" geocache is nearby at a roadside pullout.

Distant view of Devils Tower from a roadside lookout where a geocache is located.

Besides sightseeing, the major recreational activity at Devils Tower is mountain climbing. The first formal geological study of the monument in 1875 concluded that it was "inaccessible to anything without wings."  It was almost another 20 years before two local ranchers - William Rogers and Willard Ripley - became the first to climb it.

They spent weeks pounding wooden pegs into a continuous crack on the southeast face and attaching wooden steps to them. On July 4, 1893 in front of 1,000 spectators, they ascended their makeshift ladder to the top and ran an American flag up a flagpole they had pre-staged there. Mountain climbing at Devils Tower was born.  Roughly 5, 000 people climb it each year with only five deaths reported since 1893. Parts of the ladder used by Rogers and Ripley are still visible today.

 

Climbing is big business with a number of climbing schools, clinics and guides available. There are many different routes to the top of varying difficulty. In keeping with the sanctity of the site, they have sacred names like Rock Suckers and Spank the Monkey.

In 1941, a man named George Hopkins parachuted on to the summit.  He then had to wait six days to be rescued and was half-dead from exposure and dehydration when they got to him.

For those who are less adventuresome, there are two trails around the base of the tower. The Red Beds Trail is a three mile hike and there is a shorter 1.25 mile Base Trail. These hikes are worth taking as they bring you close to the tower and give you a different perspective of its majesty. They can be a bit strenuous with altitude and some short but steep grades. Be sure to allow sufficient time and take water with you. There's none on the trails.

There are camp sites available and a visitor's center but other than that, accommodations and creature comforts are pretty sparse. As with most National Parks and Monuments there are no traditional container geocaches on monument grounds. There is however a virtual geocache called "Devils Tower National Monument II". There are numerous geocaches in the surrounding area and nearby Black Hills. The "What A View" geocache takes you to a spectacular view of the monument and surrounding valley.  

There are also three letterboxes in the area, part of a series placed there by a former resident. Letterboxes provide a list of clues and directions to follow to a cache instead of GPS coordinates and are a nice alternative to regular geocaching.

So if you are ever in the Black Hills, turn north at Sundance, Wyoming and follow the signs to Devils Tower. You can't miss it.

The GPS coordinates to the Visitor's Center are  44.590371, -104.720043.   Click on the coordinates for an interactive Google map.

Enjoy....The Cachemanian Devils