Cue the music: the five-note motif* from John Williams' composition for the 1978 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
We left our campground in Sundance, WY, and began our 27-mile trip by heading west on Highway 14, then north on Highway 24 toward Hulett. Minutes after turning north, we saw Devils Tower** rising from the surrounding plains--even from a distance it looked imposing.
Of the several legends surrounding the Tower, this is believed to be the most popular: "One day, an Indian tribe was camped beside the river and seven small girls were playing at a distance. The region had a large bear population and a bear began to chase the girls. They ran back toward their village, but the bear was about to catch them. The girls jumped upon a rock abot three feet high and began to pray to the rock. 'Rock, take pity on us; Rock, save us.'
The rock heard the pleas of the young girls and began to elongate itself upwards, pushing them higher and higher out of reach of the bear. The bear clawed and and jumped at the sides of the rock, broke its claws, and fell to the grouknd. The bear continued to jump at the rock until the girls were pushed up into the sky, where they are to this day in a group of seen little stars (the Pleiades). The marks of the bear claws are there yet."
As one looks at the artist's conceptualization (above) of this legend, and the ridges on the Tower (right and below), it isn't hard to imagine this legend as fact.
"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 rocks exposed Devils Tower" (Park brochure).
The paved mile-and-a-quarter Tower Trail circles the Tower and provides close-up views to the life and activity of the area beneath the tower, which rises 867 feet from its base.
The rocks and boulders around the base are broken pieces of columns which had fallen from the sides.
Some of the views along this walk included this burst of color from the yellow flowers against the background of gray rocks and
the valley below the Tower.
At other locations, we saw prayer cloths hanging from branches of the trees. Devil's Tower is considered a sacred landmark by more than 20 Native American tribes. The Lakota refer to Devil's Tower as Bear Lodge and historically used this sacred place for prayer offerings, among other ceremonies.
This red squirrel paid little attention to me or the other passersby.
We also came upon this group of climbers. In the photo on the right, one climber (top right corner) awaits his three fellow climbers (center, lower portion). (Double clicking the photo will enlarge it.)
As we watched the next stages of the climb, we admired the people who had accepted the challenge of the climb.
The Tower was first climbed in 1893, and today approximately 5000 climbers come here from all over the world each year to climb one of the 220 routes to the Tower's top.
In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument.
As we were leaving the Park, we again noted the imposing nature of Devils Tower as the clouds formed and the Tower appeared as a silhouette against the horizon.
* We found it interesting that Steven Spielberg a five-note greeting that humans would use to solicit a response from the aliens. Williams had the theme to "When You Wish Upon a Star" in mind from the start (and would eventually weave that tune into the last minutes of his score), but despite Williams' request to be able to use seven or eight notes to form the greeting, Spielberg was steadfast in placing the five-note limit. After all, greetings are meant to be succinct and it's no coincidence that the word "hello" is five letters long. Williams ran through hundreds of permutations and neither man was satisfied with the results. After several sessions, Spielberg chose one out of frustration and, ironically, it was the successful and famous motif known to the world today (filmtracks.com/titles/close_encounter).
&& The name Devil's Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Col. Richard Irving Dodge when his interpreter misinterpreted the name to mean "Bad God's Tower." This was later shortened to the Devil's Tower. All information signs in that area use the name "Devils Tower", following a geographic naming standard whereby the apostrophe is eliminated (en.wikipedia.org).