This is world class climbing where ropes and special equipment are required. Nevertheless, from what I saw, this appeared to be a climb made easier by the amble chimney cracks providing a place to put the wedges. Check out these photos...
Along the shaded side of the tower trail, I got the urge to simply get off trail and climb big boulders. Whitney followed me. Ambling over big rocks was at first easy, but as we approached the base of the tower it became much harder climbing, especially for my little dog. Eventually, we came across a sign warning that registration was required for climbing the tower. I only climbed a little further past this point to get this vertical shot image of the tower.
The paved tower trail is the way most visitors, old and young, appreciate Devil's Tower. The 1 mile trail circumnavigates the tower, and has numerous explanatory notes and diagrams. There are benches, binoculars, and even drinking fountains in places. This trail is wheel chair accessible.
After crossing the bridge, there's a trail head, and then a fork. Go left and follow the Joynier Ridge Trail which ends at the Devil's Tower Visitor's Center near the base of the tower itself. This trail's best feature are the sandstone tertiary period strata and balancing magma stones. There's also some great views of the river basin from above. This is about a 1.5 mile hike on an uphill trail. It's pretty easy, really.
Just across the bridge, there is a large prairie dog colony worth visiting, especially if you have your dog. Whitney had no hope of success, but she sure loved running from one hole to the next poking her nose down deep into the holes. Meanwhile, barking prairie dogs warned each other of Whitney's approach.
While geologists agree that Devil's Tower is an igneous extrusion, their remains some disagreement over whether this is the remains of a volcanic plug or is a laccolith. The latter seems most likely as there are no other volcanoes in the area, while igneous magma is fairly common. Along the trail, there is an excellent visual display that shows how the magma rose and cooled into a structure composed of six sided columns, a very strong natural formation. Basically, the magma is expanded by heat, but as it cools stress points form within a perfect matrix. These stress points create fractures that form equally sized six sided structures.
50 to 60 million years ago, molten magma intruded into the ancient sedimentary strata, causing uplift that created the Rocky Mountains, and locally the Black Hills. Most igneous rock in this region appears speckled with white feldspar. More durable than the yellow sandstone that surrounds it, distinctive balancing boulders remain in places around the base of Devil's Tower. As the softer sedimentary strata weathers away, boulders break off and wander down the base in the direction of the Belle Fourche River. Called Erratics, these boulders are heavy and huge, and will take millions of years to move even a few feet, even though they may appear unstable and ready to roll today.
Above the red Spearfish layer, encircling Devils Tower, is a distinctive and durable yellow sandstone which appears worn by water, having deep pockets and exposed formations. This is part of the Sundance Formation, more specifically labeled at the Hulett Sandstone member. The seas advanced and retreated prior to the uplifting that created the Rocky Mountains and the Black Hills, which began 50 to 60 million years ago.
The earliest sedimentary strata in the region is the distinctively red iron rich soil known as the Spearfish Formation, deposited when the region was covered by a shallow inland sea, present here between 225 to 195 million years ago, during what's described as the Triassic Period. The stunning wealth of red and the sparsely planted ponderosa pine forest that is part of this strata is cause enough to visit the region. At the bottom of this are thick grasslands and the Belle Fourche River.
Above this are layers of white gypsum, deposited during the Jurassic period, 195 to 136 million years ago, as the seas tended to come and go over long periods of time. The remains of marsh deposits--grey-green shale--are known as the Stockade Beaver member, which is also Jurassic in origin.
Devils Tower is basically a very large rock (almost 1300ft high) protruding out of the middle of an otherwise fairly barren part of Wyoming. It is also the first National Monument, established by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906. The name comes from a badly-translated Native American name for the place, but it stuck and led to some pretty hokey souvenirs in the gift shop/restaurant (tourist trap) that is along the entrance to the Tower (I still recommend checking out the tourist-trap part of course).
I have been to Devils Tower at least twice, possibly three times. I very much enjoy the place--it's very beautiful and serene, in the middle of a bit of forest. There is a hiking trail that goes all the way around Devils Tower, so you can get a 360-degree view of the laccolith. I love hiking the trail, as well as climbing around on the large boulders at the base of Devils Tower and throughout the area. You can usually see people climbing up the tower as well, which is always an interesting sight. More serious rock climbers might enjoy the challenge of Devils Tower and the view from the top, not just the beautiful views along the hike around the base which I enjoy.
You may see prayer flags (pieces of colored fabric) tied in the trees as you hike around Devils Tower. Please remember that this is a sacred site for many Native Americans, and respect that by staying on the trail.
Devils Tower has been a sacred place of numerous Indian tribes since prehistoric times.
One legend, common to the Kiowa, Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne and Sioux tribes, concerns a group of seven small girls pursued by a giant bear. According to this legend, the girls were one day playing in the forest. A great bear came upon them and gave chase. The girls swiftly fled through the trees but the bear slowly gained on them. Recognizing the hopelessness of their situation, the girls jumped upon a low rock and prayed loudly to the Great Spirit to save them. Immediately the small rock began to grow upwards, lifting the seven girls higher and higher into the sky. The angry bear jumped up against the sides of the growing tower and left deep claw marks, which may be seen to this day upon the rock walls. The tower continued to soar towards the sky until the girls were pushed up into the heavens, where they became the seven stars of the Pleiades.
Paved tower trail offers close-up Tower views. Pets are not allowed on trails.
Tower Trail 1.3 mi
Red Beds Trail 3 mi
South Side Trail 0.6 mi
Joyner Ridge Trail 1.5 mi
Valley View Trail 0.6 mi
Black-tailed prairie dogs live in their terrier near the monument entrance. These communal animals are fascinating to watch, especially when they play.
Don't feed or approach the prairie dogs, they can bite.
Entering the park you will see an area with what appear to be mounds of dirt with lots of cars parked nearby taking pictures. Upon closer inspection these are the burrows of prairie dogs. These adorable little rodents once covered tens of thousands of acres throughout the west however today their territory is limited to less than 2% of what it was 200 years ago. Wyoming and South Dakota have many preserves.
Prairie dogs eat mainly grasses, forbs and insects. They are highly social characters. Their burrow structure is fascinating and there are often times several entrance points to each prairie dogs home. The little guys love to bask in the sun at the top of a burrow when they know that it is safe. If you watch and wait outside long enough you will hear a prairie dog warn of a predator with a high screeching call much like a dog.
The visitors center at Devils Tower is small and cramped. The exhibits are informative but in need of updating. The building almost looks like a log cabin.
Despite these shortcomings the staff at the visitors center are extremely helpful in answering questions about things to see, programs during the day and evening and information about climbing the tower.
The visitors center is open seven days a week from 9 am to 4 pm.
Right outside of the visitors center through one side of the parking lot is a mini amphitheater where the rangers give talks. Straight ahead is the Devils Tower in all of its glory.