Of course, the Tower reminded me of one of the first Steven Spielberg’s famous movies Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Faded memories of a black and white wallpaper, or a strange pile dumped on a wrong spot. Watching this movie as a kid left me with impression of a mysterious place, a picture painted with non-matching colours on a rough, and old wallpaper. No nightmares about aliens, but only fantasies about foreign places. Growing up without computers and internet, I only found much later what Devils Tower was.
Many Native American legends have circulated about Mato Tipila, meaning “Bear Lodge”. It might be the most popular one is from Kiowa Tribe:
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 up on 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 young girls’ pleas and began to elongate itself upwards, pushing them higher and higher out of the bear’s reach. The bear clawed and jumped at the sides of the rock, but 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 cluster). Marks from the bear’s claws still line the sides of Devils Tower.
America’s first national monument (designated by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906) stands out in a straight and lofty posture of its 865 feet, visible from a very far distance. Actually many cars only stop at the last intersection before the entrance, where the best view is probably from, and then they turn around pursuing their next destination. But not us. We continued our way to the monument, even though the busy road and slow traffic made us chew our nerves a little bit.
Located in the South East of Wyoming, closer to Mt Rushmore rather than Yellowstone Park, this was a last minute destination added on our road trip, due to a documentary we watched coincidentally a week before we left for our adventure. Isn’t that destiny? How convenient to find new places right on our pathway!
Several miles of footpaths to watch wildlife and rock climbing are the most looked activities one can have it here. There are certain regulations for rock climbing, and actually there were quite few climbers on the tower while we were hiking around.
Col. Richard Dodge named the place Devils Tower in 1875, when he was leading a military expedition to confirm the reports of gold in the Black Hills. Back then, scientists thought Devils Tower was the core of an ancient volcano. But no other volcano traces were found in the area, and recent research suggest this is an igneous intrusion. Anyway, a great place for geologists, they continue to search for more detailed explanations of the tower itself and of the vertical structure of the walls.
Very interesting to see how something can emerge and grow due to erosion, and now it is diminishing due to the same reason. Rocks are continually breaking off and falling from the steep walls. Sometimes an entire column falls, and the piles of rubble and broken columns, boulders and stones are the proof that the Tower was actually much taller and larger than today.
Important place of worshiping for Natives, Mato Tipila is still thought today as an Axis Mundi, the core of their spirituality. All visitors are advised to not touch the colorful bundles and pieces of cloth tied around branches around the Tower, prayer offerings representing personal connection to the site. As foreigners on their ancient lands, we could not do otherwise, than respect and admire their continuous tradition.
Having a late lunch at one of the restaurants in the park we had refreshed out mind and body with some local specialties: Texan fingers and buffalo burgers. The very long waiting time made us wondering if, maybe they went to hunt the buffalo in the meantime, but watching all the funny notes from the walls made us forget about hunger.
The surprise of the afternoon came later, after our bellies were full and happy. Heading to the exit of the park we had a little unexpected show with some little cute prairie dogs. A young couple were feeding them so they can come closer for better pictures, so we stopped right away to take advantage of the show. Not sure why they call them dogs, since they more appear like tiny dinosaurs to me, but none the less, they are so playful and energetic when fighting for food with each other, and we enjoyed so much.
Prairie dogs actually got their name from the sound they make when danger is near: barks or yips. Cute, small rodents for visitors they can be a pain for farmers, as they have same diet as cattle and horses, and can destroy a farmer crop of alfalfa, hay, wheat or corn. These ground squirrels live in underground towns, their tunnels go down about 3 to 5 meters, and can be about 30 meters from one entrance to another. They are very social and live in colonies, or towns that contain hundreds of members. The towns are divided into wards, and then neighbourhoods. Each neighborhood is made up of family members and have bedrooms, nurseries, bathrooms, and also a listening room, where they listen for danger when getting outside. The entrance is surrounded by a pile of soil which serves as a lookout and protect their burrow against flood. It seems they even make social visits to their neighbours, greeting them with a sort of kiss, and grooming one another.