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Devils Tower National Monument

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Devils Tower, Wyoming

Rising Up Against the Sky

"A dark mist lay over the Black Hills, and the land was like iron," N. Scott Momaday wrote. "At the top of the ridge I caught sight of Devil's Tower upthrust against the gray sky as if in the birth of time the core of the earth had broken through its crust and the motion of the world was begun. There are things in nature that engender an awful quiet in the heart of man; Devil's Tower is one of them. Two centuries ago, because they could not do otherwise, the Kiowas made a legend at the base of the rock. My grandmother said:

"'Eight children were there at play, seven sisters and their brother. Suddenly the boy was struck dumb; he trembled and began to run upon his hands and feet. His fingers became claws, and his body was covered with fur. Directly there was a bear where the boy had been. The sisters were terrified; they ran, and the bear after them. They came to the stump of a great tree, and the tree spoke to them. It bade them climb upon it, and as they did so it began to rise into the air. The bear came to kill them, but they were just beyond its reach. It reared against the tree and scored the bark all around with its claws. The seven sisters were borne into the sky, and they became the stars of the Big Dipper.'"

Mateo Tepee or "Bear Lodge" was a Native American name for the Tower. Its current name was affixed in 1875 by a scientific team escorted by Col. Richard I. Dodge. The expedition was here in violation of Indian treaty rights, but Gen. George Armstrong Custer had confirmed gold reports in today's South Dakota portion of the Black Hills, and Dodge was sent to check out the area.

In the late 19th century, science had an explanation for every natural occurrence - or would shortly. Devils Tower was determined to be the core of an ancient volcano. The Native Americans' romance of its formation was gone, but the challenge of scaling it came alive. On July 4, 1893, amid fanfare and more than 1,000 spectators, William Rogers and Willard Ripley made the first ascent, using a wooden ladder they had built that spring for the first 350 feet. The timing, Independence Day, and because they already had a flagpole waiting for raising Old Glory atop the Tower, however, suggest that the "first" ascent might have been some days before. The climbers' wives ran the refreshment stand and sold pieces of the flag as souvenirs. Such was life in the Old West at the turn of the century. The Tower became a natural meeting place on the Fourth of July for families from area ranches who might see each other but once a year. During the annual picnic in 1895, Mrs. Rogers used her husband's ladder to become the first woman to reach the summit.

Records of Tower climbs have been kept since 1937. More than 5,000 climbers come here every year from all over the world to climb on the massive columns. More than 200 routes have been used in climbing the Tower.

But there is more to this area than the Tower; life thrives around its base. Here, in the northeast corner of Wyoming, the pine forests of the Black Hills merge with the grasslands of the rolling plains. At Devils Tower you can see every step in the process of establishing a forest-from bare rock to pines. Because mountains and plains converge here, we also find an extensive variety of birds. More than 90 species have been counted, including two kinds of hawks, bald and golden eagles, prairie falcon, turkey vulture, and American kestrel. No one will miss the brightness of the male mountain bluebird, the industriousness of the nuthatches, or the feistiness of the black-billed magpie. The predominant mammals are the white-tail deer and the prairie dog. You can spend hours watching busy, playful prairie dogs in their "town" on the grasslands below the Tower.

Wildlife has been protected here since 1906 when President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument under the new Antiquities Act. This made Wyoming home of our first national park - Yellowstone in 1872 - and our first national monument. During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps built road improvements, camping and picnicking facilities, and a museum. The roughhewn log museum still serves as a visitor center, book sales outlet, and registration office for climbers.

(Quotation from N. Scott Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain, The University of New Mexico Press.)

Access and Seasons. The monument is open year round. The entrance is 33 miles (53 km) northeast of Moorcroft, Wyoming; 27 miles (43 km) northwest of Sundance, Wyoming, via U.S. 14; and 52 miles (84 km) southwest of Belle Fourche, South Dakota, via South Dakota 34/Wyoming 24. Scheduled air services are at Gillette Wyoming, and Rapid City, South Dakota, where cars may be rented. Summer days are warm, but in evening and early morning you may want a sweater.

Visitor Center. The visitor center, located 3 miles (5 km) from the entrance, is open April through October with exhibits about the Tower's history and geology. Devils Tower Natural History Association sells the National Park Service Handbook and other publications. Activities are offered from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Parking is limited in summer.

Nature Trails. From the paved Tower Trail you can learn the Tower's story through wayside exhibits and enjoy close-up views. Pets are permitted only on established trails and must be leashed at all times. Trail distances: Tower Trail 1.25 mi (2 km); Red Beds Trail 2.8 mi (4.5 km); Southside Trail 1.5 mi (2.4 km); Joyner Ridge Trail 1.5 mi (2.4 km); Valley View Trail 1.5 mi (2.4 km).

Camping and Facilities. Monument campsites accommodate RVs and tents; first-come, first-served. Each site has a cooking grill, table, and nearby potable water. Comfort stations are accessible for persons with disabilities. The campground is open April through October, depending on the weather. There are NO hookups, showers, or laundry facilities in the monument. A post office and full services are found within 1 mile (1.6 km) of the campground and in nearby towns.

Safety and Regulations.

Climbing the Tower. Climbers must register with a ranger before starting the climb and when returning. Be prepared for sudden storms; carry rain gear and a flashlight. Rockfall is common; wear a climbing helmet. Ask a ranger for safety and climbing information.

Information. Weather: call 307/635-9901. Radio: 1610 AM has travelers information. Write:

                  Devils Tower National Monument
                  P.O. Box 10
                  Devils Tower, WY 82714-0010
                  Telephone: 307/467-5283
This resource is based on the following source:
National Park Service.  1994.  Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming.  
     National Park Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
National Park Service.  1994.  Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming. 
     National Park Service.  Unpaginated.  Jamestown, ND: Northern 
     Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.
     (Version 22MAY98).

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