States visited: 49!

visited 49 states (98%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
Miles driven so far -
LOOP 1 (Aug 2009 - Aug 2010): 29,000
LOOP 2 (May - August 2012): 10,800

Highest altitude with camper: 11,158ft (I-70, CO)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Devils Tower National Monument: Wednesday, July 7th

A much brighter day dawned, blue skies and fluffy clouds filled the skies outside.  Dave took a half day off so around 11am, we left for a 2-hour drive to Devils Tower National Monument.  Dave was eager to see this site as it was used in the movie: ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, always pretty cool to have visited somewhere that you see on TV and can say: ‘been there!’

It’s an amazing site, distinctly visible on the landscape as you’re still a good distance away.  We stopped for a couple of pictures on the way and as we drove in, passed another Prairie Dog Town – not quite as spectacular as those in Theodore Roosevelt NP.  We are being spoiled by these National Parks, unintentionally comparing things to those we’ve already seen.  In 1906 President Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument under the new Antiquities Act.  His action made Wyoming te home of both the first national park – Yellowstone in 1872 - and the first national monument.

We collected Junior Ranger books, Becca was thrilled because she and Nathan had an easy scavenger hunt to do.  Caitlin and Jake’s were a little more involved but everything they learned along the way was interesting and do-able with short essays and descriptions to read which gave them answers on the geology of the butte, items, words and terms used in climbing, Indian words for the area in different languages.  It took them a good hour of solid work but they kept at it uncomplainingly.  We may be on our official summer break but the learning accidentally continues!

There are many different legends about this prominent butte, known as Devil’s Tower.  The Kiowa people say:
“Eight children were there at play, seven sisters and their brother.  Suddenly the boy was struck dumb; he trembled and began to run upon his hands and feet.  His fingers became claws, and his body was covered with fur.  Directly there was a bear where the boy had been.  The sisters were terrified; they ran, and the bear after them.  They came to the stump of a great tree, and the tree spoke to them.  It bade them climb upon it, and as they did so it began to rise into the air.  The bear came to kill them, but they were just beyond its reach.  It reared against the tree and scored the bark all around with its claws.  The seven sisters were borne into the sky, and they became the stars of the Big Dipper.”

There was a great picture depicting this story in the Visitor Center.  Dave always takes pictures of pictures, some of them come out well, others, not so much, but still he persists!

They learned how the butte was formed: About 50 million years ago molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks above it and cooled underground.  As it cooled it contracted and fractured into columns.  Over millions of years, erosion of the sedimentary rock exposed Devils Tower.  The Tower rises 867 feet from its base and stands 1,267 feet above the river and 5,112 feet above sea level.  The area of its teardrop-shaped top is 1.5 acres.  The diameter of its base is 1,000 feet.

Approximately 5,000 climbers come here every year from all over the world to climb on the massive columns.  Over 220 routes have been used in climbing the Tower.  Rogers and Ripley made the first ascent in 1893, using a wooden ladder they had built for the first 350 feet.  On our hike around, we looked through ‘viewing pipes’ to pinpoint where some of that wooden ladder is still evident on the Tower.

As we were getting ready to take the 1.3 mile hike around the base, a Ranger program on Indian languages and stories was just starting, it was an interesting topic, so we stayed to listen.  The Ranger grew up on a Shoshone Reservation where she still goes back frequently, she spoke the Lakota language during the presentation and assists with translating many documents from and into that language.  She read a story in Lakota, it’s filled with guttural sounds, and then translated it into English.  At the end, she taught the kids how to say thank you, they enjoyed listening to her.

So, eventually we hiked the loop around, seeing a number of climbers high up in the distance, thanks to binoculars and the long lens!  The kids had also read about a parachutist who had intentionally landed on the top of the butte in 1942, to prove that he could aim and land on a small space.  Unfortunately he hadn’t planned well for his descent and had to wait at the top for six days until rescuers reached him and brought him to safety – clearly, not so much on the forward planning!

On many of the trees around the loop, we saw colored scarfs and little sacks of colored material.  These are prayer bundles left by the Indians.  The Monument is still considered a sacred place for them, so they come and place their offerings in memory of loved ones and prayer requests.  The Ranger likened it to those going into a church and lighting a candle.  If any of the bundles come off the trees, the Rangers are not allowed to touch them, they request a member of the local Indian tribe come in to replace them.

The joy of climbing all over the rocks was the most fun part of the day for the kids.  There were so many near the base and they were a perfect size for scrambling around on.

On the way out, we stopped at the Prairie Dog Town and also to look at the lone long horn in the field.  It was a good day, the kids were happy to get their 48th Junior Ranger badge, climb and play, as well as watch an entire movie on the way over and on the way back!

We stopped in the town of Deadwood for pizza.  This is a big gold-mining area, shame we didn’t have chance to take advantage of that while we were visiting.

As we got closer to Hill City, we passed the reservoir and dam, looking very pretty in the evening light.  Given the time, it was 8:45, we figured we might as well head over to Mount Rushmore for the lighting ceremony.  We had planned to do that tomorrow but as we were up this late anyway, decided to change plans.

We arrived just after 9pm and caught the end of the Ranger talking through the loud-speakers as we walked through the Avenue of Flags.  There were an incredible amount of people present, all seats in the outdoor auditorium were filled, standing space was 4 or 5 people deep on the lower and upper levels.  Thankfully we found a gap and were able to see the movie depicting the lives and influence of the four presidents.

Everyone rose for the singing of the National Anthem as the lights came on to highlight the faces in the rock.  The Ranger asked all past and present military personnel to come down on the stage, I counted at least 100 men and women.  The flag ceremony was then completed by a Scout troop who were camping nearby.  We spoke with them afterwards, apparently it’s something that any troop can sign up to do, if they know that they’re going to be in the local area.  One of the leaders said there was already an 8 year waiting list to complete the ceremony on July 4th; Jake said it was something he’d like to do one year, guess he’ll be lobbying his new troop to head out to South Dakota at some point!

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