Sentinel of the Plains

From Devils Tower National Monument

I was on sacred territory stretching for hundreds of miles. Here, native chiefs and war heroes alike would have drifted to solitary lakes and towering mounds following Nature’s mystic cues to perform rituals to realize life’s true meaning. This was an ideal setting for such a mission – here loom majestic buttes and secret forests, surreal wastelands of cretaceous origins and vast plains where once roamed Oligocene behemoths, ancient mammoths and thundering herds of buffalo.

One summer morning, we drove from the bustle of Denver towards northeast Wyoming. I could make out the weird stump of Devils Tower from a distance. An odd formation geologically known as a laccolith, 1267 feet of angry stone had been pushed up from the bowels of the earth millions of years ago. The megalith of grayish stone called phonolite porphyry clumped into huge columns loomed vertically over the Belle Fourche River amid a forest of spruce and ponderosa pine.

Devils Tower - 1

Revered by several native tribes over generations, legend has it that a brother and seven sisters were once playing on the prairie. Suddenly the boy was transformed into a fearsome bear that chased the sisters who started scrambling atop a tree. The animal relentlessly clawed its way up in pursuit and miracles of miracles, the tree soared up to the skies, turning into a stony behemoth reaching for the heavens. Wise old men say that the seven sisters are the Pleiades that glimmer down Devils Tower – known as Mato Tipila or the Bear Lodge – from the night sky. Stories run of arcane vision quests and Sun Dances when tribes congregated at the base of the mountain, and embarked on a voyage of self-introspection and spiritual journey.

“What is there on the top?” is always a curious question. Popularized by Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the flat summit is apparently the size of a football field shared by chipmunks, mice and the occasional snake that seems to have no problems slithering to the top. I could see a few climbers dangling their way up the vertical cliffs on their way up above. An average climb takes about 5 hours, a feat surpassed by one Todd Skinner in 1980, who maneuvered his way to the summit using bare hands and feet in 18 minutes!

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