Friday, September 09, 2011

Close Encounters :: Devils Tower

Friday, August 26th - - After spending a couple of hours at the Mammoth Site the trail lead northward once again.

Mother Nature put on a fantastic display of clouds, constantly changing with the wind. Several times I just “had” to pull off onto the side of the road to take a few quick shots. Shortly after this picture was taken, there was hardly a cloud to be seen in the sky!

It was just a few hours drive to my next destination – one that I had wanted to visit for quite some time - Devils Tower National Monument in northeast Wyoming. It's hard to believe that it has been more than 30 years since “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was released - I've loved the movie and Richard Dreyfus ever since!

A tantalizing southern view of Devils Tower from the drive into the campground.

It was late afternoon when I arrived and the temperature was in the low 90s. I was thankful that the campground was full of trees that provided plenty of shade, and there was a light breeze blowing. After selecting my campsite and grabbing a bite to eat, I drove up to the visitor center, which is near the foot of the Tower.

I had planned on walking the 1.3 mile trail around the base of the Tower the next morning when it would likely be cooler. But I walked a short distance up the trail and just kept going. There were few people on the trail and the only sounds you could hear were of the wind blowing through the trees, a few birds now and then, and those of your own imagination. Far above the top of the Tower there were birds floating on the airstream.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Devils Tower as our first national monument. One of the most popular Native American legends tells of the origin of the Tower:
One day, an Indian tribe was camped beside the river and seven small girls were playing at a distance. The region had a large bear population and a bear began to chase the girls. they ran back toward their village, but the bear was about to catch them. the girls jumped upon a rock about three feet high and began to pray to the rock, “Rock, take pity on us; Rock, save us.”
The Rock heard the pleas of the young girls and began to elongate itself upwards, pushing them higher and higher out of reach of the bear. The bear clawed and jumped at the sides of the rock, and broke its claws and fell to the ground. The bear continued to jump at the rock until the girls were pushed up into the sky, where they are to this day in a group of seven little stars (the Pleiades). The marks of the bear claws are there yet.

Scientists say that the Tower is actually the core of a volcano that has been exposed after millions of years of erosion brought on by the Belle Fourche River as well as the wind and rain. The rocks and boulders around the base of the tower are actually broken pieces of columns that have fallen from the sides. Read more about Devils Tower on Wikipedia.

The light was quickly fading as I finished my hike around Devils Tower. Heavy clouds had moved in and off in the distance I could see flashes of lightning. As I walked across the parking lot to Van Dora I felt a kind of chill even though the temperature was still in the upper 80s. The wind had picked up and a strong breeze was blowing.

Returning to the campsite I watched the lightning flashing through the clouds. It wasn't your “normal” streaks of lightning, rather it caused a kind of glow in and around the clouds that made them stand out in the growing darkness. It rained for about 45 minutes and the front moved through, which cooled the air somewhat. However, it was rather eerie given the location – all we needed was the colored lights to go along with the thunder and lightning!

Saturday, August 27th - - Above, Devils Tower in the early morning light. It rises 865 feet atop the hill upon which it stands.

This sculpture titled “Circle Wind – Circle of Sacred Smoke” by Junkyu Muto stands near the entrance to the campground. Devils Tower is a sacred place to Native Americans.

Probably the most “recognizable” view, from the east side, this was taken as I left the area later in the morning.

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