top of page
  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Devils Tower looks out of this world

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

As a fan of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I wanted to make the pilgrimage to see the tower that was featured in the film and see the prominent landmark up close and personal. (No, I did not see any ET’s whilst there.) This remarkable natural phenomenon juts out of the earth and is visible long before you reach it. Devils Tower is in Wyoming, a two-hour drive from Rapid City, South Dakota.

The tower is also known as Bear Lodge Butte and has various interesting bear legends attached to it. The most popular is that long ago a group of young girls were out playing in the fields. Several bears started to chase them and the girls climbed up on a rock for safety. However, the bears could have reached them, so the girls prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. The Great Spirit heard their prayers and decided to save them by making the rock rise higher than the bears could reach. The bears tried to climb the rock but failed. Their claws made the ridges that people can now see in the sides of the tower. What happened to the girls? How did they get down? Well, they did not get back to the ground, they rose into the sky and turned in to the star cluster Pleiades (also known as the seven sisters).

a single monolithic tower looks like a fistful of pencils rising above the pine forest. its geometric shapes are broken in some parts. The top of the tower is flat.

Scientists agree that this mountain was formed by molten rock forced upwards from deep within the earth The question that cannot answer is: Did the lava form from the neck of a volcano or is it a sheet of molten rock that formed between rock layers? This could have happened between 50 to 60 million years ago.

the prairie landscape is dotted with pine trees and the devils tower rises from the landscape. the rolling hills behind it are covered in forest, and the sky is lightly dotted with white fluffy clouds

The height from summit to base is 264m (867ft). The tower is made up of irregular shaped geometric columns. The cracks have helped people climb the tower, since 1893. The quickest climb up and down was undertaken in 18 minutes, the longest over 8 hours. I never made the climb myself, but I can imagine that being on top of the mountain and overlooking the vast surrounding landscape, quiet and peaceful, must be a majestic experience. Skydiving was once a hobby of mine, and I can remember the sound of almost silence as I floated downwards. It must feel just like this to be on top of the tower looking down at the earth below.

There is a visitor centre located near the carpark, with exhibits and maps of the park, as well as a souvenir store. Over 400,000 people visit the park each year. Two walking trails around the base of the tower can be undertaken and it is best to check with the rangers at the visitor centre for condition reports and information about the trails before setting off.

There is no overnight camping allowed on top of the tower and climbers are discouraged from climbing it in the month of June. This is a sacred time for the Native American tribes of the area, Lakota, Cheyenne and Kiowa. They worship, fast and celebrate at this time, holding sweat lodges and vision quests.

At the bottom of the mountain are red beds. The Belle Fourche River has carved through iron-oxide rich layers of siltstone, shale, and sandstone. The area is surrounded by forests of pine and oak trees, a prairie, floodplain, and river.

the tall flat topped Devils Tower in Wyoming rises like a fistful of pencils from the ground, surrounded by a forest of Ponderosa Pines

The animals that can be spotted in the area include bald eagles, prairie dogs, white-tailed deer and buffalo. I was fortunate to see a some of these beautiful creatures roaming the prairie in front of the tower. If you visit, please observe that these are wild creatures and keep your distance. I did observe one strange tourist climb a fence to get closer to the buffalo, possibly he was going in to touch them. Do not do this!

under a bright blue sky with white fluffy clouds are prairie grass plains where two buffalo are roaming and eating. The Devils Tower rises in the background, a large single rock monolith

The best time of the year to visit the tower is summer, but beware of thunderstorms and lightening. Although, this could mean you get some impressive photographs. Winter often sees the mountain covered in snow.

This was the first national monument in the USA. President Theodore Roosevelt designated it back in 1906. It became a national park in 1916.

It was called Devils Tower, which was a mistranslation of the Native American name Mateo Teee (Bear Lodge). This was incorrectly translated to “Bad God’s Tower” which is where Devils Tower came into use. A name change has been proposed but has not been granted by the USA government.

I am glad that I made the trip to visit this beautiful part of Wyoming and learnt more about both the tower and the Native American legends here. (Even though I didn't have a Close Encounter of the Third Kind, it was still a great visit!)

Click here for a youtube video of the tower and surrounding landscapes, along with an audio presentation of this article.

map of where Devils Tower is situated in the USA

Happy Travels!

82 views1 comment

1 Comment

Nov 15, 2023

The Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland are the same sort of rock formation.

bottom of page