The first thing I think when I see Devil’s Tower up close is: I want to climb him! And I do – I want to scale all 867 feet of the tower . . . if for no other reason than to say I did it! Maybe it’s a typical male response. Maybe not. I don’t know. What I do know is that the nation’s first National Monument emits an energy that I can feel from miles away. I am as drawn to it as the people who sculpted it out of mashed potatoes and mud in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (still one of my all time favorite movies). If there is not alien energy coming from the Tower, there certainly is something unique flowing from this one-of-a-kind formation.
After setting up camp at the base of the Tower, I head to the ranger’s “fireside chat” to learn about the ecology of the park. Chancey, an attractive, young man with funky glasses (not unlike the ones I wore after college, which makes me like him immediately), tells us – with great skill I might add – about how each of the major species of plants, prey and predators fits into the ecology of the park. He tells us that scientists still debate how the Tower actually formed – they agree it formed a long time ago, underground, but beyond that there is lively discussion in the scientific world on the matter. Half way through his talk I notice an HRC sticker – I think: I give to them too!
More than ecology, the stories Chancy tells that grab my attention are the Native American tales of how Devil’s Tower was formed. Tribes have different narratives, though remarkably some core elements (e.g. seven sisters or sever brothers) are the same. One history of Devil’s Tower goes like this: seven sisters were playing in the forest one morning when they heard bears. Afraid for their lives they ran; the bears wanted to eat the girls – they were hungry – so they chased the sisters. The girls knew they could not out run the bears, so they found the biggest rock they could in the forest, climbed on top, and begged the rock to save them. The rock obliged and rose up out of the forest, while the bears clawed at them. As the rock grew, the bears would claw at the girls and slide back down the rock into the forest. Today, you can still see where the bears clawed at the mountain. The sisters were saved, but they were now way up high on the rock. In their tribe was a family of seven brothers and some had magical powers – one was able to fly up and save the girls. To make sure this never happened again, the seven brothers hunted and killed every bear in the forest for miles around – all except for two, that is. Those two had their long tails cut short as a punishment to all bears for trying to eat the seven sisters. And that is why bears today have short tails.
I love this story; I look at Devil’s Tower and can see the bear claw marks in the mountain.
The following morning, I take a short hike around the mountain – it feels as though I am the only person in the park (that is, until I reach the visitor’s center). I listen to the Tower, to the wind, the trees and rocks. There are many stories here. Although I don’t climb this time, I make a mental commitment to return with ropes and harness (and a bit more experience).