Monday, October 12, 2015

Devils Tower

Okay...cue the "Close Encounters" theme song.  C'mon 'fess up - you were humming the tune.....or at least thinking about it.

Cue the "Close Encounters" theme

One of the places I wanted to visit en route to S. Dakota was Devils Tower.  Located in the very sparsely populated NE corner of Wyoming, it's quite a ways from anywhere, and about a 40 minute drive out of my way.  But many years had passed since I'd seen this unique formation, and this trip I was determined to stop by.

There it is!

Because it takes two full days to travel from Portland, Oregon to Rapid City, South Dakota, I stayed overnight in Butte, Montana.  The second morning I awoke to another fierce rainstorm and drove in a downpour for most of the first two hours.  Happily, the sky cleared up after Billings, and by the time I hit the Wyoming state line, it was nearly blue again.

View from across the entrance road

The approach to this monument via a local minor road is dramatic.  This distinct columar rock formation rises prominently above the adjacent hills.  A large parking area near the official entrance provided excellent views of Devils Tower against the green prairie.

Interesting striped hills nearby

Stopping by the entrance station, I was jazzed to discover my newly-purchased "America the Beautiful" annual pass also worked for National Monuments.  Sweet!

Entrance sign

The road to the visitor center was narrow and windy, and seemed to take a lot longer than it's stated 3 mile distance.  But I finally pulled into the parking area, and was instantly blown away by my first glimpse of the tower's striated sides.

First glimpse

Devils Tower rises 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain and its summit is 5,114 feet above sea level.  There's many theories about how this unusual shaped mountain came to be.  The most popular is that the tower's core is an eroded plug of an ancient volcano.

Visitors relaxing on the rocks

Camera in hand, I eagerly followed a small knot of visitors up a paved walkway to Devils Tower's very base.  A large area of jumbled boulders circled the ground directly below its steep cliffs.  Wind and water constantly erode this mountain, and pieces of the rocky columns are continually breaking off and falling to the rockpile below.

Huge rock slope at its base

Although skies were blue to the west, a nearby thundercloud hung in the eastern horizon.  Puffy white patches would break off the main cloud, momentarily blotting out the sun.  This shifting light made photography a challenge.

This tower fills the sky

I didn't intend to take a hike, but in an attempt to find better light to photograph the tower, I ended up following the paved path that led around the mountain.  About halfway into my trek I realized I'd gone too far to retrace my steps and decided to just finish the loop.  It was only a mile and a half, and after driving all day since 5 am, the exercise would be most welcome.

Blocky rock columns

It was interesting to see Devils Tower from all directions.  It looked entirely different from each side.  And I know because of course I took a bajillion photos of the thing from every conceivable angle!

Up close column detail

One of the cool things I noticed about the tower is a small flock of large birds that kept circling near its summit.  I couldn't tell if they were some sort of hawk or perhaps vultures.  But the birds kept catching the thermals coming off the top and soared effortlessly across the air.  Very fun to watch!

Framed by the trees

One of my favorite Native American legends about Devils Tower is where two Sioux boys wander from their village and are chased by a enormous bear.  The boys prayed to the Great Spirit to save them, and a large rock they were sitting on rose up.  Enraged, the bear tried from every angle to get the boys, his claws leaving huge scratch marks on the rock's steep sides.  After several attempts, the bear gave up, sparing the boy's lives.

Climbers on the tower

Nearing the end of the round the mountain loop, I happened to notice a small group of climbers high upon the tower's cliffs.  They looked like ants clinging to the side of such an enormous rock face.  About this time I heard a rumble of thunder, and felt a couple of raindrops.  Uh-oh, time to head for that visitor center!

Curious prairie dog

Luckily, for me and the climbers, the storm drifted on, and only a tiny amount of rain dampened the ground.  I arrived back at the visitor center just in time to watch a charter bus unload a huge group of camera-toting Chinese tourists.  Not a fan of crowds, I took this as my cue to leave.

This one looks like a fat old man

The road between the visitor center and entrance station passed by a large prairie dog town.  Having grown up around the little rodents, I initially wasn't going to stop.  But then I saw a few of them sitting fairly close to the pavement edge, and couldn't resist.

Posing pretty

Those were the tamest prairie dogs I've ever seen.  Obviously used to human visitors, those little guys let me get inches away with my camera lens.  They looked up in amusement, as if to say "Oh boy, here's another wacko tourist."  But the fat little rodents sure were cute, sitting on their haunches like pot-bellied old men.

Double rainbow!

After my prairie dog photo session, it was back on the road again!  Rapid City was a good two-hour drive from Devils Tower, and I wanted to arrive before dinner.  Passing the South Dakota state line behind a brief rain shower, I was just outside of the town of Spearfish when a brilliant double rainbow lit up the sky.  A wonderful way to end my long journey, I took this as a sign of more good things to come.

Sharing with:  Through My Lens and  Our World Tuesday.


  1. LOVED this! What an amazing area and that rock formation is so neat! Glad you went out of your way to get some pictures:)
    Blessings, Aimee

  2. My first thought was Close Encounters and was eagerly awaiting seeing the top. The strata looks like that of the Giants causeway in Northern Ireland, (not that I have been there either) but the plug of extinct volcano is probably nearer the mark. Looks amazing to see close up from you photo's and not a place to be if a piece comes tumbling down. I saw some prairie dogs on Friday when I visited a local wildlife park. So cute

  3. It is stunning. Yes it is a basalt volcano core. Biggest I've seen by a long way.

  4. WOW That is quite some tower and I love the different angles you took ths shots from. Great shot of the prairie dog and lovely capture of the double rainbow.

  5. What a great trip filled with awesome treats! I love the native story about the mountain and the fact that bajillion is a common number for many of us!

  6. I've never seen anything like it. From a distance it looked like a child's plasticene model. Thanks for sharing this very unusual monument.

  7. One wonders what the first settlers must have thought on seeing the Devils Tower on the distant horizon. What on earth...? They could scarcely have thought that it was a natural rock formation. Amazing.

  8. Another round of excellent photos Linda. Yes the theme song is a powerful piece of music... but the first thing that popped into my mind was Richard Dreyfuss playing with his mashed potatoes.

  9. Uma formação geológica fantástica.
    Belas fotografias.
    Um abraço e continuação de uma boa semana.

  10. Devil's Tower is so amazing and you captured it beautifully... and the prairie dogs.
    It's been a long while since last I was there... thanks for the memories.
    Great post, Linda.

  11. Now that was an excellent leg stretcher on a very long drive! It is hard to express how stunning that formation is in person compared to photos. I remember being enchanted by every single angle!

    Great shots of the prairie dogs! They seem like such characters...

  12. Very interesting pictures of the tower. Reminds me of some volcanic columns on Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. Neat geology.

  13. Wow, gorgeous view of the Devil's Tower! I am glad you had nice weather for your visit. The closeups are awesome and I love the cute Prairie Dogs. Great post and images. Have a happy day!

  14. Wow, Linda, those are some spectacular photos. Those prairie dogs looks ready for the winter, that's for sure! And I love that you went all the way around the tower, now I know what it looks like from behind. :-)

  15. Absolutely striking, Linda, and I love your perspective on things! The prairie dog is a sweetie, what a delight! Curious and beautiful. :)

  16. WOW, there sure is some beautiful spots in this country. Great rainbow.

  17. Ummm... I'm not sure what Close Encounters is exactly. I have a feeling it's because of my age.

    What a cool rock formation. National monuments have become some of my favorite places to visit. They usually center on a single natural feature and easy enough to visit all in one day and not feel like I'm missing out on anything.

    1. Hey Karen, I probably should've mentioned this in my post (that's what happens when you try to write late at night) but "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" was a science fiction movie released in 1977 that featured Devil's Tower very prominently. Totally worth seeing, if you can still find a video somewhere (or maybe it's on Netflix??)

  18. Great photos of an amazing place. Two of my friends have rock climbed up the front face of the tower, which is just insane, on a hike across America but I'd be more than happy walking around the base of it. One of the world's most iconic mountains.

  19. Wow, but you've gotten around this year! I was at Devils Tower in 2001, long before my photography hobby. Great photos!

  20. I have always wanted to see this. It's on my bucket list.

  21. I had no idea this monument existed! I have been learning so much from you. Thank you.

  22. Devil's Tower is amazing. I have been there but MANY yeas ago. Unfortunately I wasn't taking photos then. Boo!

  23. After reading your post and seeing your photos, I am definitely going to stop here should I ever get back to that area again. The tower is amazing. One of your photos had me thinking of frosting on a cake. If this is a volcano plug, does that mean the land around it is the volcano? What a chilling thought. I do like the Sioux story of its origin. I can see that. Thanks for sharing.
    Take 25 to Hollister

  24. You are right - I was thinking about the movie- very nice pictures of it.

  25. I have only seen it from afar! It is wonderful up close and personal...and yes I saw the movie! Love the double rainbow too:)

  26. That's an awesome rock formation and I love that you got photos from the different sides of it. I can't imagine trying to climb it like those climbers. - Cute little prarie dogs & a gorgeous double rainbow.

  27. Fabulous photos as always, Linda! I love the places you take us. And how about those pear shaped prairie dogs. ;)
    I'm considering driving out to somewhere in remote Wyoming next week with my mom, my oldest sister and her family moved there this summer. I'm making note of lots of things we may be able to include along our way!
    By the way, it's always refreshing to hear someone else say they're "not a fan of crowds" ... this is something you and I share very much in common.

  28. The tower is amazing! I also loved the double rainbows and the cute prairie dogs.

  29. What a great place - I had no real idea it was 'stuck out on its own like' that.

    Add yet one more place to visit list!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  30. My friend, Mary, and I took a road trip several years ago and visited the Tower. There were many climbers on the day we were there. It was incredible seeing them on the rock face!

  31. I remember seeing it way off before we got to it when we visited. great place and images.


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