Devils Tower National Monument
Devils Tower at Devils Tower National Monument
Devils Tower is the remains of an igneous intrusion in northeastern Wyoming. The granitic monolith rises 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River in the heart of this 1,347-acre park. Devils Tower National Monument was America's first National Monument, established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. As the tower is also a sacred site among many Native Americans, that has caused some problems over the years, especially since the tower has become a mecca for rock climbing enthusiasts.
Because of the rock climbing attraction, Devils Tower National Monument has implemented a climbing management plan to protect the cultural and heritage aspects of the monument for more than twenty associated tribes of Native Americans. That climbing management plan advocates for the very successful June Voluntary Climbing Closure by asking climbers to stay off the tower and by asking hikers to not do any scrambling inside the Tower Trail Loop. June is when most tribes conduct sacred ceremonies on the property and the June voluntary closure has reduced the number of folks desecrating the site at that time by some 80%.
The climbing management plan also acts to protect the natural climbing environment for climbers and the general public. Included in the plan are better safety standards, better climbing access routes and an improved climber education program. Bolts have not been allowed on the tower since the early 1990's and the bolts that remain are in bad shape. These days, climbers use a selection of stoppers and camming devices to protect themselves when climbing these walls.
Climbers are required to register (it's free) before and after climbing or scrambling above the boulder field. The routes are long and technical ratings vary between 5.7 and 5.13. Most climbers carry double or triple racks of gear on most routes and at least two ropes (most rappels on the tower require two ropes - and most folks who get hurt on the tower get hurt while rappelling). If you have a problem on the tower, it may be several hours before help arrives. Because of frequent rock falls, you'll want to be wearing a good helmet. Another potential danger on the tower comes from nesting falcons: they have been known to attack climbers who get too close to their nests.
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally happens every year about 80 miles away in Sturgis, South Dakota. That goes on for a week in the first half of August. The week of that rally is probably the busiest time of the season at Devils Tower National Monument.
There are about 8 miles of hiking trails at Devils Tower National Monument. The Tower Trail Loop is a paved, 1.3-mile trail that circles the tower itself. Other trails wander through the forest and meadows on the property. One trail leads past the Circle of Sacred Smoke, a sculpture created by Junkyu Muto to honor Native Americans and raise visitor awareness of the importance of Devils Tower to the various tribes. The sculpture represents the first puff of smoke from a newly lit sacred pipe.
Devils Tower National Monument is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The Devils Tower Visitor Center is only open from mid-April through the end of November, and the hours change with the seasons. April and November hours are from 9 am to 5 pm, Wednesdays through Sundays only. During May, September and October, the Visitor Center is open from 9 am to 5 pm seven days a week. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Visitor Center is open seven days a week from 8 am to 7 pm. The National Monument campground is only available in the summer, first come, first served. There are no hookups but there is drinking water available.
A 1-7 day vehicle pass costs $10; a 1-7 day motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian pass costs $5. Anyone under 16 years of age gets in free. Commercial tours are a different story but the fees are part of the cost of the tour package. An annual Devils Tower park pass costs $20, good for 12 months from the date of purchase.
The Circle of Sacred Smoke
Devils Tower National Monument area map
Other photos courtesy of the National Park Service
Map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!