Friday, September 14, 2012

Devil's Tower, WY

We spend three days at the Devil's Tower in east Wyoming.  It was made famous (for me anyway) by the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind - you know, where they met the aliens at the end.  There is no mention of the movie here, not at the Visitors Center nor by the park rangers.  I guess we could ask about the movie, but it almost seems not only cliche but disrespectful.  This is a sacred place to the natives, and the rangers (this is a National Monument) are very careful to help uphold their customs.  There are cloths hanging in many trees - offerings made.  And climbers are asked not to climb during the month of June which holds some holy significance.  Anyway, the movie must have been filmed on a stage because there is no space like the alien landing area here.  The Tower rises almost vertically and the top is totally flat and grass-covered.

There are several theories as to how the Tower was formed, all related to a volcano.  What they do know is that the magma (molten rock) cooled to form the columns which are 5, 6, and 7 sided.  They remind me of the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, except these are much taller!  The Tower is covered with lichen, the acidy of which is helping to erode the rock.

Our campsite in Belle Fourche Campground
We camp in the park's campground by the Belle Fourche River (no more than a creek here) nestled in this valley with cattle ranches.  We first hike the short Tower Trail which is paved and circumvents the Tower's base.  There are fantastic views of the Tower and the many climbers who scale its columns daily.  We attend a ranger talk on climbing, which is all free climbing here now, and of the 5-11 to 5-13 level of difficulty; if I understand correctly, 5 being the most difficult type of climb and the 11 representing the angle of ascent where 13 or 14 is basically vertical.  A group of climbers (men and women) from Wisconsin is camping across from us and we chat with them about their sport.  An ascent usually takes between two and four hours, although a long section of it has been done in eighteen minutes.  It is usually climbed in three stages.  Climbers rappelle down in two or three sections depending on their route and there are many routes (I forget how many - hundreds).  A permit is required to climb above the boulder field at the base.

Marilyn at the bottom of the boulder field

Can you spot the climbers - one is near the top, 2nd bottom middle
Brad viewing the tower from the Tower Trail
On our last day, we hike the Red Beds Trail which also circles the Tower but from a further distance.  We walk this from our campsite but first have to cross Prairie Dog Town along the river.  At first, the Prairie Dogs are cute, but after 15 minutes their warning chirps just become annoying.  The Prairie Dogs we saw in the Badlands National Park are infected with the plague (yes, Bubonic), but here they are healthy.  The trail winds up hills which are bright red.  It's a clay-like rock and very crumbly, but produces a vivid contrast with the light and dark greens of the valley below.  This trail climbs quite steeply in some sections and we rise (and later descend) high above the river and the valley.  More views of the Tower are visible, but clouds have rolled in today; the sky was so clear blue first thing this morning.
Brad on the Red Beds Trail, overlooking the Belle Fourche River
We have greatly enjoyed our stay here and highly recommend a visit.  Next, Yellowstone National Park.

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