President Theodore Roosevelt made the 1,153-acre tower area the country’s first national monument, September 24, 1906.
—Wyoming, A Guide To Its History, Highways, and People (WPA, 1941)
From the time I was a small child, I had dreamed of seeing Devils Tower, America’s first national monument. As a life-long geology buff, I had extensively studied and pondered the 1,267 foot-tall volcanic monolith. I also knew that the Lakota and other Plains Indian tribes of the region had long-held the towering rock sacred in their ancient folklore. It had taken on an almost mythical status in my mind’s eye and that image was further enhanced by its prominent role in the 1977 Stephen Spielberg movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where it served as a landing pad for alien space crafts.
Rolling across the prairie lands of the Black Hills of eastern Wyoming in an RV, I could feel my heart beginning to race with excitement as we exited off of I-90 West onto US-14W. I could tell by the map that we were getting close. Shortly after turning on WY-24E, I had looked down to get my camera ready, and when I looked up, there it was! I was immediately struck by the fact that it looked like it had been dropped in from another planet. Bearing absolutely nothing in common with the dark red and yellow sandstone sedimentary rock that it rests on, Devils Tower, formed of a rare igneous stone called Phonolite, was everything I had always hoped it would be: striking, mysterious, and awe-inspiring. Even the moon showed up to make an appearance in the blue sky framing the giant rock. At that moment, I understood why this pIace had fascinated humans for generations.
It was the beginning of October, and as luck would have it, near the end of the tourist season. We rolled up to the KOA Campground which is nestled along the banks of the winding Belle Fourche River and there was not one RV in sight! We pulled in and parked and were soon greeted by campground host, Ogdon Driskell, who told us that he ran the Campstool Ranch on which the campground sits. The ranch has been in his family for six generations (His wife, Zannie, is the postmaster at Devils Tower).
The next morning when I opened the door of the RV, there was Devils Tower right in front of my eyes! WOW! What a view! Was I lucky, or what? Anxious to explore, my friends and I set out to the park. Along the way, we passed several prairie dog towns and I swear the little creatures seemed as happy to be there as we were. As we made our way onto the hiking trails around the base of the tower we could see several climbers scaling the monolith. I was certain that they had much more courage than I did! Continuing on, we came upon an area where Native American prayer offerings of cloth and prayer bundles hung in the pine trees. As we paused in silent reverence, I pondered to myself if we were really just trespassers on hallowed ground. But as a student of history, I felt like it was my job to document this place and pass my knowledge along to others, so they would have a better understanding of the peoples and cultures that existed here on these plains centuries before the White man arrived in America. And, I wanted to share the wonders of this amazing place with others, even if it was just through my recollections and digital photographs, neither of which really does it justice.