Devils Tower is an igneous intrusion located in the Black Hills in northeastern Wyoming above the Belle Fourche River. It rises 1,267 feet above its base, and the summit is nearly a mile above sea level.
The first known ascent of Devils Tower occurred on July 4, 1893 by two local ranchers who used a wooden ladder for part of the climb. The first climb by modern techniques was in 1937 and was a free climb (using only the hands, feet, and other parts of the body) except for a single piece of gear that the climber later regretted, saying it was unnecessary. On the day we visited, we saw four climbers repelling back down the tower. The climber on the right had his shirt off, most likely leading to a wicked sunburn the next day.
Today there are established climbing routes on all sides of the tower and in many of the cracks. These routes range from relatively easy to some of the most challenging climbs in the world. Thousands of climbers summit the tower each year. Many come back again and again to try increasingly difficult routes. Can you spot the climbers in this photo? One climber is about halfway up just right of center of the photo. Two other climbers are near the top right. Click on the image for a larger size.
We enjoyed our lunch and watched the climbers repel all the way down the tower. With our naked eye we could spot the red and yellow shirts of two of the climbers, but we needed the binoculars for a close-up view. The area was so quiet that we could actually hear the climbers talking to each other.
About 50 million years ago, molten magma was forced into the sedimentary rocks above it. As the magma cooled underground, it contracted and fractured into columns as you can see in this photo. Over millions of years, the sedimentary rock eroded, leaving behind the harder magma that formed Devils Tower. Surprisingly, the teardrop-shaped summit is only 1.5 acres. In 1941, George Hopkins parachuted on the summit of Devils Tower, but he failed to think ahead and was stranded on top until he was rescued by climbers six days later.
Devils Tower rises seemingly up from nowhere. There are two semi-eroded Little Missouri Buttes nearby (not shown). Perhaps in another 20 million years these other buttes will be exposed to form triplet towers with Devils Tower.
Devils Tower was the first National Monument declared in the United States by President Theodore Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act of 1906 that Roosevelt urged Congress to pass. This act allows the President to set aside valuable public lands as park or conservation areas, without Congressional approval. The Devils Tower National Monument protects 1,346 acres around the tower.
There are numerous prairie dog towns in Devils Tower Monument. This fellow was particularly cute. First he was sitting like our beagle dog Darby. Then he stretched out to do a slow commando crawl across the grass.
The pretty Belle Fourche River winds around the south and west sides of Devils Tower. The tower is considered sacred by Sioux and Cheyenne Native American tribes. There are many prayer beads on the trees surrounding the tower. There is a voluntary climbing ban in June when tribes perform ceremonies around the tower. As we were hiking around the tower, I heard the beautiful voice of a Native American singing and praying along the river (you can see him on the lower right).
There are two trails that circle the tower. First we hiked the longer 3.3-mile Red Beds Trail that provided great views of Devils Tower, plus some pleasant hikes through the prairie and these deep red rocks. Can you see Theresa standing on the right? Then we hiked the closer 1.3 mile trail that requires you to crook your neck up to see the tower.
The red beds were especially striking when contrasted with the deep blue of the Belle Fourche River and the green grass and trees along the river.
There were large farms surrounding the valley with a pretty white and red ridge in the distance.
Devils Tower had a much different shape when viewed from the shaded north side.
On the east side of the tower, we could see the remains of the wooden ladder from the first ascent in 1893. Could you imagine climbing a 100-story building with a wooden ladder? Crazy!
The shaded north side of the tower was colored with lichen.
Devils Tower was made famous by the 1977 movie by Steven Spielberg, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” We didn’t see any aliens on this day, but the tower most definitely had a spiritual effect on us.