WYOMING Devils Tower: height of wonder
The 865-foot stone monolith inspires climbers and tourists.
By NANCY JOHNGRASS
Devils Tower National Monument is surrounded by legend and lore created and passed down by a variety of local Indian tribes.
One of the most popular legends tells of seven small girls who were playing by the river when a bear began to chase them. Just as he was about to catch them, they jumped on a rock about three feet high and began to pray to the rock, "Oh great rock, take pity on us; Rock, save us." The rock heard their pleas and began to push itself upward, higher and higher and 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 girls were continued to be pushed upward into the sky where they are to this day in a group of seven small stars called the Pleiades. The marks of the bear's claws are still there etched upon the sides of the rock.
Although legend isn't always true or even believable, it's easy to be inspired by Devils Tower. Stephen Spielberg was inspired, and used Devils Tower as a landing pad for aliens in his 1978 hit movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
The tower's origin
Geologists are inspired to study and debate the origin of Devils Tower. Geologic estimates place the age of the tower's origin at greater than 50 million years ago, with erosion by the Belle Fourche River and the weather uncovering the mammoth obelisk only one or two million years ago. It currently stands 1,280 feet above the Belle Fourche.
President Theodore Roosevelt was obviously inspired in 1906 when he designated Devils Tower as the nation's first national monument, and it's likely that any visitor today will not only be inspired but awed at the beauty of such a natural wonder. Soaring 865 feet tall, Devils Tower is an awesome sight that can be spotted for miles before you reach its base.
The base of the tower is surrounded by large boulders and rocks that are actually columns of rock that have fallen from its sides.
Visitors are welcome to climb on the rocks and the more daring can actually climb the tower itself. Approximately 5,000 climbers a year attempt to scale it. Records of these climbs have been kept since 1937, and there are about 200 designated routes for climbers to follow.
Climbing the tower is nothing new, however, since the first climbers reached the top of Devils Tower on July 4, 1893. Remnants of the homemade wooden ladder that William Rogers and Willard Ripley used for a portion of their climb can still be seen on the side of the tower today. Mrs. Rogers used her husband's ladder in 1895 to become the first woman to scale the tower.
For those visitors who like to keep their feet on the ground, there are two trails that offer a 360-degree view of the tower. The shorter trail at the base of the tower is about 1.3 miles long and is paved for a relatively easy hike.
Each side of the tower offers a different perspective. From the front, the tower is broad with straight sides and a flat top. From the side view, the tower is narrow with curved sides and a more rounded top. Some parts of the tower are barren with huge rock falls cradling its base while other areas are almost completely obscured by towering pines.
The lower trail, a more difficult 2.8 miles, descends steeply to the red rock below for yet another startling view of this imposing monolith. The trail is considered moderately difficult at best with steep descents and laboring climbs. Considering the extremes of heat and cold in Wyoming, the trail can be quite a challenge at any time of the year, but it is definitely worth the effort. The view from below the tower is perhaps the most striking.
With its beauty and peaceful surroundings one might wonder why the monument is named "Devils" Tower. The name reflects the fear that many Indians felt for the area long ago.
Colonel Richard I. Dodge, leader of a scientific team looking for gold, took the name Devils Tower in 1875 as a literal translation of the Indian name "Bad God's Tower," one of the names Indians used for the area.