Monday, September 29, 2014

Mato Tipila, aka Devils Tower

Since we began visiting the Black Hills in 2010, we have been intrigued by the massive rock formation known as Devils Tower.  On Wednesday, John and I boarded the dogs in Custer, and set out for an overnight trip to Spearfish and the Devils Tower area.  

Our first stop was in Newcastle, WY, for lunch at Donna’s Main Street Diner.  We highly recommend you “dine” there if you’re in the area.  My chicken breast and bacon salad was a winner, but John opted for the “Wednesday Wiener” special.  Served open-face with lots of chili, cheese and onions, it was the real deal!

Located in Northeastern Wyoming an hour or so west of the town of Spearfish, SD, Devils Tower was proclaimed the nation’s first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902.  It is quite a site when you first top a rise and see it in the distance.  

And the closer you come, the bigger it gets,

Until it looms above you!

Geologists say that some 50 million years ago, the tower was formed by an igneous intrusion of magma into or between other rock formations.  There is some disagreement about exactly what kind of intrusion formed the tower, but it is generally agreed that over time erosion exposed it.  From the base of the tower, you have great views of the river and surrounding plains.  I can only imagine what it looks like from the top!

The name “Devils Tower” was bestowed in 1875 by Col. Richard Dodge, who led a military expedition sent to confirm reports of gold in the Black Hills and to survey the area.  However, the native peoples have many different names for it, including Mato Tipila (Bear Lodge) by the Lakota, and Daxpitcheeaasaao (Bear’s Home) by the Crow.  The tower has long been regarded by the native peoples as sacred, and ceremonies are held here each year by several of the tribes.  "Prayer cloths" and "prayer bundles" can be seen attached to trees near the tower.

The tower rises 867 feet adobe its base, and stands 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, which has gradually eroded the surrounding landscape.  Its top, which is teardrop-shaped, covers 1.5 acres, and the diameter of its base is 1,000 feet. 

The tower’s surface has many columns of rock.  As the magma cooled, it contracted, forming hexagonal (and sometimes 4, 5 and 7-sided) columns separated by vertical cracks.  It is a favorite destination for technical climbers, and if you enlarge the images and look closely you can see some working their way up or down in the photos below.

As the sun dropped lower in the sky, we left Devils Tower and headed for Spearfish.  As we worked our way from Wyoming to South Dakota, we crossed the route traveled by General Custer’s 1874 Expedition.  There are supposedly places along the route where you can see the original tracks left by Custer’s 200 wagons as they made their way through the Black Hills.  Can you see them?  We’ll have to wait for another day to take a closer look!

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