Monday, June 19, 2017

The Devil's Tower

On Saturday evening and Sunday this past weekend, Ellen and I drove across the state of Wyoming from the very uppermost NE corner over to Alpine, which is on the farthermost Western border, almost in Idaho,  below Jackson. Our route started on Wyoming Rte 24, coming out of Belle Fourche, S.D., through Alladin, Alva, Hulett, and then by Devil's Tower National Monument. We were headed for Gillette, WY, where we had a motel reservation. This was an evening drive, and the light was beautiful. Much of the drive was in the Black Hills National Forest, and it was just a very lovely drive. As I get the opportunity, I will post on this blog scenes from this entire drive between the Soth Dakota border and Alpine, but right now I'll just post a couple of photos of The Devil's Tower, which is an iconic Wyoming site. It was, in fact, the first National Monument in the United States, proclaimed as such by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. But that, of course, is just a fairly recent chapter in its significance. For millennia, it has been sacred to the indigenous peoples of the region. This creates some tensions even today. Hundreds of visitors want to climb its steep sides (not as difficult as it looks via some routes, and extremely difficult via others), but the Lakota tribe regards this as a desecration of a sacred site. A compromise: climbers are to stay off the tower in June, the time of Native American rituals at its base. Most honor this pledge, but a few have sued the government for violation of the separation of church and state!

The geological explanation for the formation of the tower is not certain. It is some sort of igneous intrusion into the landscape, but there are various theories as to how this happened. Some think it is the remnant of an old volcano. It is composed of phonolite porphyry which intruded about 40.5 million years ago. A characteristic feature are the vertical ridges which look like scratches left by a huge clawed creature. And indeed, Native American lore tells the story of two girls who climbed the tower to escape a bear which left its scratches in an effort to reach them.

The name "Devil's Tower" results (of course) from a mistake. In 1875, a European explorer misinterpreted a native name to mean "Bad God's Tower." Bad names stick, unfortunately.

I took several photos, but it was late evening and the details of the tower were in the shade. Nevertheless, I got a lovely shot with three deer grazing in the foreground. I'm including a commercial photo to show the "bear claw marks."

My photo, taken at about 8:00 in the evening
The more iconic view showing vertical ridges
The truly iconic version is the National Park Poster:

The iconic WPA/NP poster

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