Devils Tower National Monument Devils Tower, Wyo. Visited: June 23, 2004 NPS Site Visited: 58 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
Why Such a Bad Score? Click Here for Gab's Thoughts on the Bear's Lodge that Became Devils Tower
WHAT IS IT? An 867-foot high rock, or as the NPS calls it, an igneous intrusion.
BEAUTY (8/10) Devils Tower rises out its breathtaking Black Hills setting with a substantial and imposing demeanor. From a distance, its distinct symmetry and aura of importance is unmistakable and magnetic. While in its shadow, the rocks striations, subtle yellows and myriad crevasses become evident and beg to tell stories.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (6/10) Devils Tower NM was the United States’ first National Monument, dedicated in 1906. The Park Service makes cursory mention of the sacred nature of the Tower to Plains Indian tribes in its horribly lacking Visitor Center museum. The Kiowa legend describing the creation of the Tower is tucked in a corner and no explanation is given of the religious ceremonies that occur throughout the month of June. We felt the history and we sensed the grandeur through the Tower itself but not through any Park Service explanation; hence the low-ish grade.
You may also know Devils Tower from its important role in the 1979 Steven Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
CROWDS (2/10) Screaming kids everywhere, hostile bickering married couple next to us in the campsite, kid pointing fake guns at us while stopping traffic in the middle of the parking lot, an incredibly small and darkly lit Visitor Center with scurrying kids, overweight parents and, as a result, nearly inaccessible exhibits, know-it-all fat lady loudly disparaging Native American customs and so much more. It could not have been much worse.
We had traveled to the Monument in June, the month of Native American ceremony and veneration in regards to the Tower, which they call Bear Lodge. A few vanloads of Kiowa Indians had made the pilgrimage back to their ancestral homeland of the Black Hills from their reservation in Oklahoma. We were walking behind a Kiowa gentleman when he turned to his female traveling partner and remarked while fighting tears, “I wasn’t expecting such a religious experience.” Somehow, he was able to tune out the extraneous noise and commotion and connect with the Tower. We were not so strong.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) The Monument is an easy 50-mile detour from Interstate 90. The roads to the Monument can be closed in the winter. The Tower is so large and so prominent and can be experienced from many different angles. There is a paved trail that skirts the base of the Tower. Do not be fooled, the paved path is in bad condition and was slicker and more slippery than our portage of the Little Missouri River a few days prior. A good many corpulent tourists also had trouble with the path’s initial steep uphill climb.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5) The bookstore was small with a miniscule selection of Native American-related books half of which were on display at foot level wedged between the store’s back corner and the makeshift cashier dais. The cashier, herself, was loudly talking on the phone with a fellow teenage friend during our entire 10-minute sore look around. She took umbrage at our request to exchange a $50 dollar bill. We needed smaller bills to pay for the campsite.
COSTS (2/5) The Monument is $8 per car, free with the National Parks Pass. $8 may not seem like a lot, but you get nothing for your dollar except a closer view. The museum is useless, the paved trail treacherous, the parking lot small and the crowd unbearable. Campground sites are $12.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5) No Rangers at the Visitor Center and no Rangers around the Tower. The Visitor Center was manned by teenaged summer volunteers who had little knowledge of the Tower, its legends, and its wildlife. We heard one say that the Tower’s eaglets have probably hatched because the sparrows in Wisconsin hatched in April. Huh? We asked a different volunteer about the specific contents of the 9:00 p.m. Ranger lecture at the campsite. His response: “It’s posted right there, isn’t it?”
TOURS/CLASSES (1/10) Devils Tower NM is one of the few NPS sites we have visited without a video! There are only a few explanatory panels and some are just duplicates. The Park Service egregiously emphasizes the rock-climbing history of the Tower over the far more substantial Native American traditions and history. The Park Service has done an atrocious job of teaching at Devils Tower NM.
FUN (1/10) We had fun leaving.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10) If you are driving I-90 to Yellowstone National Park (or anywhere else) you should take the short detour and see Devils Tower. You don’t need much time. Just take some pictures and move on.
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