Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

Devils Tower, Wyoming

on December 23, 2012

stormOur next stop along the way, is Devils Tower, WY. This is the first National monument, decreed by  (guess who!) President Roosevelt,  in 1906. You need to stop in a town before (we stopped at Gillette WY our first couple of trips, coming from the west, and Sturgis this time, coming from the east) to stock up on groceries, etc. (There’s a little store at Devils Tower, if you forget something important.)Close Encounters

Devils Tower is the focal point of the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind“.

The KOA campground there is situated on the filming site and they show the movie pretty much every night. I was very excited! I was a little creeped out, too, to have the show on the side of the barn, Tower looming on the horizon with eerie glowing moonlight outlining it… it was really cold, though, that night, and I skipped the movie…

I always imagined we’d go back there, and see it next time. Peter loved it at Devils Tower, and since we were considering the entire road trip a “sample platter”, I had it in my mind that we’d come back.  And, we did! This was our third time there!  (The second time,  the movie was cancelled because of a ferocious rain and lightning storm.) This time, the showing was inside the restaurant…which I understand, but it was disappointing… life lesson to do something the first time around, and not assume you’ll get another chance.

Devils Tower is a huge outcropping – you drive along and think “shouldn’t I see it by now, if it’s really that big?” (Its 1267 feet above its surrounding terrain). But you drive and drive and drive (a worthwhile drive, though slightly off the beaten track) and suddenly someone in the car says “GASP! THERE IT IS!” And there it is! right there! out there in the middle of nothing!Devils TowerI guess it really was originally named something like “Bear Lodge” or “Bear House”, and was (is) a sacred place of the Lakota and other tribes. In 1875, an English-speaking person misinterpreted it and called it “Bad God’s Tower”, which eventually was shorted to “Devils Tower” (no apostrophe, due to a very official …geographical naming standard?). That’s what they say. It’s too late to change it, apparently, because tourists would no longer know how to find it…

In the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Richard Dreyfuss’ character made models of this mountain out of mashed potatoes and piles of mud from his yard.

In real life, there are some questions about its origin. What they know is that it’s made from phonolite porphyry…I looked that up and every site talks about Devils Tower.  It’s similar to granite, but lacks quartz.  The website says “Phonolite refers to the ringing of the rock when a small slab is struck, and its ability to reflect sound. Porphyry refers to its texture, large crystals of feldspar embedded in a mass of smaller crystals.” …which means: next time I go back (and there will be a next time), I’m going to ring the rocks!!  How come I didn’t know that before? I’m surprised I didn’t do it by accident already!

Fallen pieceSome wondered if this was a volcano that formed a mountain and then eroded away, leaving just the core.  However, it is more commonly accepted that it all happened underground, and later exposed by way of erosion. (This is my understanding, anyway).  The magma, as it cooled (underground), formed columns (from four to seven sides.)   These columns are bundled together, like a bundle of pencils, for a total summit area of approximately  1.5 acres (200 x 400 feet), and the base is about 1 mile around. (Keep in mind that each of columns are about 7 feet (2 meters) across at the base, and about 4 feet (1.2 meters) at the top.)

People are allowed to climb it year round (except June, due to religious ceremonies held by the Native Americans ~ considering history, maybe it’s a good idea to just think that they lent the Tower to the public for  the other 11 months of the year).

The first people to climb were two cowboys named William Rogers and W.L. Ripley, in 1893. Two years later, Ripley’s wife, Alice,A piece down became the first woman to make it to the summit. (Rogers & Ripley pounded wooden stakes into the cracks, making a ladder, and Alice used that same ladder to climb.)

Since then, many have climbed, and it normally takes 4-6 hours. (I really hope that people who don’t know what they are doing attempt it – it gives me vertigo just standing directly below it and looking up!!! There must be some sort of criteria to be allowed to climb…)  The fastest climb recorded, though, was by the late Todd Skinner  who climbed Devils Tower in 18 minutes in the 1980s!!!! I can’t even imagine that!! 18 MINUTES compared to 4-6 HOURS!!!!?

You can visit the Monument 24 hours a day, all year around. There is a fee ($10 for a car, $5 for a motorcycle), and some days are free to visit. (There are different fees for commercial tour vehicles.)

Oh goodness! I just Google-Earth’d it – THAT was worthwhile! It first takes you to the General Store, but follow the road around (that’s the best way – the best surprise – to see it!!)

Wednesday – Battle of Little Big Horn (previously mentioned in my blog about Crazy Horse, December 8, 2012.)

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2 responses to “Devils Tower, Wyoming

  1. Shannan says:

    In all my travels …. I’ve never been here. I need to fix that I think. You make it inviting.

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