Devils Tower was declared the first US National Monument in 1906. At that point, it had already been a sacred site to Native American tribes for centuries. They just called it by more inviting names.
Devils Tower is a 867-feet-tall rock formation that stands alone among mellower hills, forests and grasslands in northeastern Wyoming, at the outskirts of the Black Hills. The summit of the butte (steep, flattop hill) rises 1,267 feet (386 m) above the Belle Fourche River and 5,114 feet (1,559 m) above sea level.
With its striking shape and its solitude on the horizon, the unique mountain inspires awe and imagination. That’s probably why Stephen Spielberg decided to prominently feature Devils Tower in his 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Much more importantly, the lone butte has been a sacred site to tribes of the Northern Plains for centuries. Spiritual rituals still take place today. As you follow the trail around the hill, you’ll probably see colorful cloths and bundles left as offerings.
What’s in a name? Devils Tower vs. Bear Lodge
The different tribes’ names for the rock formation mostly relate to bears: Bear’s House (Cheyenne, Crow), Bear’s Lair (Cheyenne, Crow), Bear’s Lodge (Cheyenne, Lakota), Bear’s Lodge Butte (Lakota), Bear’s Tipi (Arapaho, Cheyenne), Tree Rock (Kiowa), Aloft on a Rock (Kiowa), and Grizzly Bear Lodge (Lakota). Many of the names relate to imaginative origin tales that often include the monolith rising from the surface to save someone from a bear, which in turn left its claw marks on the tower’s surface.
The name Devils Tower came about when in 1875 an interpreter incorrectly translated the local name to “Bad God’s Tower”. There have been several petitions to change the official name to Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark. However, some people are worried that changing the name would hurt the tourist trade. So it remains as is for now.
How was Devils Tower (aka Bear Lodge) formed?
The butte is made of igneous rock, meaning it was created by lava or magma cooling off. It’s believed by many that it was not actually a volcano itself, but that the magma had been pushed up between sedimentary rock by the same forces that created the Rocky Mountains. The actual rock formation didn’t become visible until water and wind eroded the surrounding landscape.
Facts for visiting Devils Tower National Monument
The monument is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year round. The visitor center is open from 9am to 4pm every day, except for Christmas Day and New Years Day.
The Belle Fourche River Campground is usually open from May to October.
There are several hiking trails, the most popular being the paved 1.3-mile Tower Trail that circles the monolith at its base.
Pets are not allowed on the Tower or the trails – only in the parking lot and picnic areas.
The entry fee is currently $20 per vehicle – but will go up to $25 January 1, 2019. We highly recommend purchasing the National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass (currently $80) so you can visit and support over 2,000 parks and monuments.
Yes, you can climb the butte – if you register ahead of time. Because of the parallel cracks in-between the large hexagonal columns it very popular for traditional crack climbing.
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All photos in this post were taken by Luci Westphal. By clicking on an individual image you can see a larger version.