Monday, July 9, 2018

Touring the Black Hills: Devils Tower

by Jan Drexler

One of the thousands of things we love about living in the Black Hills is that we're only a hop, skip, and a jump away from Wyoming! And of all the wonderful sights in Wyoming, Devils Tower has to be the most curious.

Geologists have four theories of how the Tower was formed. All of them involved an "igneous intrusion," meaning that magma came through the earth's crust at some time, cooling in this shape, and then the surrounding area eroded away. All I know is that the place is fascinating.

Whenever we visit Devils Tower, we like to come into the National Monument area from the north, following South Dakota and Wyoming state roads rather than the interstate. I think the views are better than the main route - but only slightly. You can't beat the West for awesome landscape!

Our most recent trip to the Tower was last Wednesday, on the Fourth of July. Someone had climbed to the top of the tower - no easy feat - to display this flag for visitors. :-)

So, let's talk statistics:

It is 864 feet from the visitor center to the top of the Tower.

The top of the Tower is about 1.25 acres, or the size of a football field.

The rock that forms the Tower is phonolite prophyry, which is similar to granite but doesn't have quartz in it.

Rock climbing is allowed on the Tower, and many people do it. In 2016 there were over 6000 climbers! The first people to climb it (that we know of) were two ranchers who made the climb in 1893. The ladder they used is still visible.

But the best story about the Tower comes from Kiowa legend. According to the story, Devils Tower was formed when seven little girls were attacked by bears. When the bears chased them, the girls climbed onto a rock and prayed to it to save them. The rock began to grow upward, higher and higher, until it pushed the girls into the sky, where they became seven little stars (The Pleiades.) The bears tried to reach them, jumping on the rock and scratching the sides with their claws.

(If you're interested in learning more American Indian Legends about Devils Tower, you can purchase the booklet "First Encounters" here.

Our trip on Wednesday was to celebrate our daughter Carrie's birthday! (Don't these two look cute together?) She wanted to hike around the base of the Tower on the Red Beds Trail. This trail is 2.8 miles long, and circles the base several hundred yards out from the Tower Trail - the one-mile trail most visitors take.

This trail goes through forests and meadows and is a pleasant hike.

And it does go through the red rock beds near the Belle Fourche River.

When we reached the end of the hike, we made our way to the picnic area where we celebrated with a picnic lunch and birthday cake!

Of course, you might be familiar with this reference to the Tower, too:

Have you ever been to Devils Tower? Would you like to go?

Jan Drexler lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband and growing family. When she isn't writing, she loves hiking in the Hills or satisfying her cross stitch addiction.

You can find Jan on Facebook, Jan Drexler, author, or her website, Jan


  1. Jan, we never made it to Devil's Tower when we lived in Rapid City. Now I regret that. Hubby and I have talked about a Wyoming trip via Rapid City, but who knows when that will happen. And yes, I remember the tower in Close Encounters. Actually, that's about the only thing I remember about the movie. Hmm...

    Love all the photos. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. If I remember right, when you lived here you were pretty busy with little ones, and that makes it hard to see all the sights! I hope you and your hubby do make the trip up here someday!

      I remember watching Close Encounters years ago, and I agree - Devils Tower is about the only thing I remember, too. That and the five note theme. :-)

    2. I didn't realize that you used to live in Rapid, Mindy. How interesting!

  2. So -- Devil's Tower sounds like it belongs in a Mary Connealy novel -- with some fool rock climbing hero. lol Love these pictures. Never been to your part of the world and likely never will so I am enjoying your virtual tours.

    1. Kav! You're so right! We need to mention it to Mary!

      I can just see her hero climbing the tower like those ranchers did in 1893! When they made the climb, people came from all over the area to watch them. That event started the tradition of a yearly gathering in June every year that lasted into the 1960's. Thousands of people would attend, and from the pictures I've seen, it was a big event.

      The Devils Tower Natural History Association revived the gathering in 2006 for the monument's centennial, and it's an annual event again.

      And don't feel too bad about not being able to travel out here. There is a lot to be said for "armchair traveling" through stories!

  3. It's been a couple of years since we've stopped at the monument. When we head to Wyoming we're usually on our way to see family in Sheridan, so we're on a mission :) We really should take a day trip out there like you did. Beautiful photos!

    1. Hi Glynis!

      We love going to the Big Horns, and we never stop when we're on our way out there. So Devils Tower requires a special trip, but that's okay. That way we can relax and enjoy the area without worrying about getting somewhere else.

  4. I've never been to Devils Tower, but the pictures tell me I need this on my bucket list. Thank you for sharing your fun adventure.

    1. The Black Hills is an area that should be on everyone's bucket list! There is so much to see!

      I hope you make it sometime, Marilyn!