It’s much more impressive, even without the Hollywood special effects aliens.
We made our RV trip Devils Tower National Monument from Gillette, WY, about 55 miles away. It’s a great drive through lush and wide open Wyoming rangeland and prairie. There are two RV parks there, one from the National Parks Service, one from KOA. Both offer spectacular views of Devils Tower.
But we drove up to the visitor’s center, parked our Roadtrek in a regular spot and spent a great afternoon. There is parking for larger RVs but it can be very tight and the area for big rigs often fills up.
Devils Tower is a monolith of rock that protrudes 1,200 feet above the the Belle Fourche River, standing all by itself, like a lone sentinel over the surrounding grassland. You start to see it from about 10 miles away and, at first, it doesn’t look that impressive. Until you get up close to it. There is something mystical about it, spiritual even. Indeed, the site is considered sacred to the Lakota and other tribes that have a connection to the area. Prayer cloths, prayer bundles and ribbons are found throughout the area, attached to ponderosa pines by native Americans.
So many people just look at this monument from a distance, driving by. If you come here, don’t do that. Hike the tower. There are several trails you can take but we opted for the 1.3 mile route that circles the tower. It goes up and down a lot and can be quite strenuous for those not used to exercise but there are lots of benches and places to sit and if you want to really experience the tower, you need to do this.
Look carefully at the tower. If you look close enough, you’ll see moving specks on the tower. Those are rock climbers. Bring along a pair of binoculars. They will fascinate you. Hundreds of parallel cracks make the tower one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America.
The tower was America’s first national monument, designated by President Theodore Roosevelt under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Allow at least three hours to experience it.
No one knows for sure why its called Devils Tower. Some Indians called it Mato Tipila, meaning Bear Lodge. Other American Indian names include Bear’s Tipi, Home of the Bear, Tree Rock and Great Gray Horn. In 1875, on an expedition led by Col. Dodge, it is believed his interpreter misinterpreted the name to mean Bad God’s Tower, later shortened to Devils Tower.
The Lakota have a legend on how it came to be.
“One day, an Indian tribe was camped beside the river and seven small girls were playing at a distance. The region had a large bear population and a bear began to chase the girls. They ran back toward their village, but the bear was about to catch them. The girls jumped upon a rock about three feet high and began to pray to the rock, “Rock, take pity on us; Rock, save us.” The rock heard the pleas of the young girls and began to elongate itself upwards, pushing them higher and higher out of reach of the bear. The bear clawed and jumped at the sides of the rock, and broke its claws and fell to the ground. The bear continued to jump at the rock until the girls were pushed up into the sky, where they are to this day in a group of seven little stars (the Pleiades). The marks of the bear claws are there yet. As one looks upon the tower and contemplates its uniqueness, it isn’t hard to imagine this legend as fact.” – from the Crook County, WY Pomotion board
On the way out, check out the prairie dogs. Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus), to be precise. They once ranged the Great Plains from southern Saskatchewan to northern Mexico. Now, only in a few concntrated areas. Originally named “petits chiens,” or “little dogs,” by early French explorers, these highly social animals are not really dogs, but rodents. They are members of the Sciuridae or squirrel family, closely related to ground squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks and marmots. There are five different species of prairie dogs, but only the black-tailed prairie dog inhabits Devils Tower National Monument.
They’re curious and will chatter warnings to you if you get to close. But they are fun to watch and are natural posers for your photos.