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Thank you for joining us on the Tower Frequency. My name is Piper Lewis, here at Devils Tower courtesy of GeoCorps and the Geological Society of America. Today we’re going to be gaining a deeper understanding of the Geology at Devils Tower National Monument.
Many people who come to America’s First National Monument are here to see the Tower. The Tower is a unique geologic structure, but it’s not the only important geologic feature of the park. Whether you’re here to be part of this powerful, spiritual place, to climb, or to get out in nature and enjoy the hiking trails, knowing a little more about geologic history of the park can enrich your visit. The Tower is actually one of the youngest geologic features in the park. The drive down from the tower is a trip back in time through the sedimentary layers. Today we’re going to start at the entrance to the park, all the way back in the Triassic.
One of the most noticeable geologic features at the park entrance, are the rust-red hills that line the Belle Fourche River Valley. Those are called Red beds. These red beds are the Spearfish Formation. The Spearfish Formation is the oldest visible geologic strata in the park, dating from the Triassic, about 225 million years ago. That’s older than the oldest dinosaurs! The Spearfish Formation is composed of sandstone and siltstone, with occasional thin layers of gypsum. Sandstone is composed larger particles like sand, whereas Siltstone is made of finer, smaller particles and includes clay. When these layers were forming the earth was united in one big supercontinent called Pangea. The Triassic began with a relatively wet and warm climate, though it grew hotter and dryer. The Triassic saw the first conifers joining ferns, ginko, and seed plants. There weren’t many dinosaurs in the Triassic but there were lots of reptiles, the ancestors of crocodiles and turtles. Geologists believe Devils Tower was a hot, dry, coastal climate in the Triassic, like the modern Persian Gulf. The gypsum layers indicate that the location the Spearfish formed had ephemeral lakes, or areas that were sometimes exposed to sea water, and sometimes dry. We know that because gypsum is an evaporite. This means it forms when saline water covers over an area, and then evaporates off, leaving gypsum salts behind. The most striking thing about the Spearfish Formation is that red color. The siltstones and sandstones are red because they’re high in iron oxide. This iron rich red color is found throughout the Triassic. The Triassic even got its name from red-beds. The name comes from ‘Trias’ a reference to the 3 distinct rock layers of red beds, marine limestone and a terrestrial mudstone/sandstone that were first identified from this period in Germany.
As we move closer to the tower, above the Spearfish Formation’s red beds, we find a smaller layer that’s not always visible from the road. This white band of sedimentary rock is the Gypsum Springs formation. Because gypsum is an evaporite it weathers really easily. This has caused sink holes in other parts of Wyoming. Since gypsum is laid down after an area has been covered in saline water, the Gypsum Springs formation and it’s thickness tells us that these rocks were deposited when the park was being flooded with sea water, then drying up, then flooded again. This fits nicely with our geologic time frame. The Gypsum Springs Formation is somewhere around 165 million years old. That’s about Mid Jurassic. Through the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic, that super continent, Pangea, was beginning to break apart. As the continents shifted, ocean water started covering what was once land. Eventually this leads to the Sundance Epicontiental Sea. During the Gypsum Springs time, this area of Wyoming was marine shoreline and tidal flats, as we can see from swim tracks of crocodiles and bipedal dinosaurs in the Gypsum Springs Formation in northern Wyoming. Scientists now believe this was a warm and relatively shallow sea. As time went on and the continents moved further apart, that sea grew deeper. The floor of that deeper sea is preserved in the Stockade Beaver Member which is part of the Sundance Formation, directly above Gypsum Springs.
The Sundance Formation also shares its name with that Epicontental Sundance Sea. The Sundance Sea was an arm of the Arctic Ocean and it covered this area of Wyoming in deep water. We can tell it was a deeper depositional environment because of the grainsize of the rock. The Stockade Beaver member is mostly a gray-green shale, meaning it’s mostly composed of clay and mud particles. These clay and mud particles can only settle out of a water column where there’s low wave action, imply a deeper depositional environment. Another cue to the depth of the water and the depositional environment are fossils. We find fossils preserved in the Stockade Beaver Member. At Devils Tower we mostly find evidence of belemnites, squid-like creatures that had partially internal calcified shells. They also had approximately ten limbs, ink sacks, hard beaks, and tail fins. Particularly well preserved belemnite specimens show they were likely powerful swimmers. In other locations where the Stockade Beaver Member and sediments from the Sundance Sea re exposed we find that this Western Interior Seaway was teaming with ammonites, oysters, fish, marine crocodiles, turtles, dolphin-like ichthyiosaurs, and megalneusaurus. Megalneusaurus-Rex translates to Great Swimming Lizard King. This massive predator would have been even larger than Liopluredon, the carnivorous marine reptile that dominated the seas covering Europe as an apex predator of the Mid to Late Jurassic. It’s theorized that megalneusaurus would have been up to 40 feet long and weight 20 tons, that’s only a little smaller than a semi-truck. Stomach contents of the megalneusaurus specimen found in Wyoming show it mostly ate belemnites.
The Stockade Beaver member is at the base of the Sundance Formation, but it’s hard to know precisely where it stops. The Sundance Sea slowly retreated, and as the water level fell, the area around Devils Tower slowly shifted from deep water to being a barrier island or a beach. This slow, gradient of shift is seen in the rock record as the Stockade Beaver gives way to the Hulett Sandstone.
The Hulett Sandstone was laid down in the Late Jurassic, about 145-150 million ago. This evenly sorted, yellow-white sandstone shows this was an area of high wave action. This former beach doesn’t weather easily and can be seen in the yellowed cliffs about 70 feet tall encircling the tower. Above the Hulett Sandstone there are a few other sedimentary deposits but these rocks are mostly obscured, covered by the talus field of boulders from the tower, invisible to visitors. The next prominent feature above the Sundance Formation is almost 90 million younger! That formation is the focal point of the park, Devils Tower.
The tower was formed about 60 million years ago during the Laramide Orogeny. That’s the mountain building event that created the Rockie Mountains. The Faralon plate was subducting off the West coast at a pretty shallow arc, and so there was lots of magma coming up to the surface, forming volcanoes. Devils Tower is made of an igneous rock called Phonolite Porphyry. Igneous means it formed from a magma or lava. The first part of the name, Phonolite, refers to the composition. This rock is mostly composed of feldspars. Another neat fact about Phonolite is that if you strike it hard with a hammer it will ring. The second part of its name Porphyry refers to the texture. There are 3 kinds of igneous textures: Aphanitic means you can’t see any crystals, it’s all one indistinguishable rock mass; Phaneritic means crystals are visible to the eye. A Porphyry is a combination of those two. There are large feldspar phenocrysts which you can see with the naked eye set into a background matrix which does not have distinguishable crystals.
There are several theories about how precisely Devils Tower formed:
The original proposition by Carpenter in 1888 was that Devils Tower was a volcanic plug, or the “neck” of an extinct volcano. That remained filled with magma following an eruption. The columnar jointing was formed as the magma cooled and contracted. Even though there is no evidence of volcanic activity in the surrounding area it is possible that material could have eroded away.
A seond theory was brought up in 1907 by Darton and Ohara who concluded that Devils Tower must have been a Laccolith, a large mushroom-shaped mass of intrusive igneous rocks that never reached the surface. This theory points to phonolite porphyry fragments found on and in stream terrace deposits as evidence, but the vent which is present in Laccoliths has never been found.
In 1956 Robinson proposed devils tower to be a stock a small intrusive body of magma, which cooled underground and later was exposed by erosion. Robinson pointed to the relatively small amount of debris, the mineral composition and texture, which is more typical of shallow igneous rocks, and the fact that no evidence of extrusive igneous activity has been found surrounding Devils Tower as support for his theory.
To this day, geologists still debate which of these theories is accurate. None of the theories completely explains the evidence found here at Devils Tower and all of the theories are lacking some lst aspect of proof. For today none of the theories are wrong, but also, none of them are completely right. To truly know the answer, more of the tower would have to be eroded so we could have a better understanding of what’s below the base.
We do know that the Tower cooled slowly beneath the surface, under pressure. As it cooled the rock contracted. When it contracted it cracked along weak points those cracks connected and the cooling mass began to form the columns we see today. Not all the columns are hexagonal, some have three sides, or seven sides, but many are a perfect six.
Today the Tower stands proudly above the landscape due to erosion. The Belle Fourche River runs through the park. While the river isn’t that impressive today, the Belle Fourche hasn’t always been dammed. When the tower was first being eroded that river did a lot of the work. The melting glaciers from the last ice age fed the Belle Fourche into a river able to scour the Tower from 90 million years of sediment. The most important recent erosional force on the tower is ice wedging. Water trickles down into cracks in the rock and freezes. When water freezes it expands, and that pushes those cracks open wider allowing even more water to fill that gap. The last column fell 10,000 ago, a fact we’ve gleaned from studying lichen on the rocks, but boulders still do come down off the tower every year. Today, this unique and compelling geologic feature draws thousands of people, to hike the Tower Trial around its base, to climb its many faces, and to worship in its presence.
Thank you for joining me on this tour through time at Devils Tower National Monument. As always, my name is Piper Lewis, podcasting The Tower Frequency for you courtesy of GeoCorps and the National Parks Service. For more information on Devils Tower please see our website www.nps.gov/deto. Our theme music was composed by Bensound, and can be found at bensound.com. Thank you for listening!
Piper: Thank you for joining us on the Tower Frequency. My name is Piper Lewis, here at Devils Tower courtesy of GeoCorps and the Geological Society of America. Today we’re going to be exploring the ecology of Devils Tower. Joining me today are three members of Resource Management.
Rene: My name is Rene Ohms and I’m the Chief of Resource Management at Devils Tower National Monument so I manage the natural and cultural resource program here. In resource management we’re in charge of managing and protecting the natural and cultural resources of Devils Tower and under natural resources there is of course the wildlife, the prairie dogs, the prairie and peregrine falcons, porcupines, mountain lions, all the animals of the park. There’s also plant management including exotic plant management, and also the physical resources, the river and the geologic resources too.
Megan: I’m Megan Chapman and I’m a biotech here at Devils Tower national monument and I help reduce the amount of invasive plants that we have here at the Tower
Phil: Hi my name is Philip Knecht and I’m a climbing biological science technician here at Devils Tower national monument. Basically what that entails is I climb the tower and pull weeds in the cracks and on the summit.
Amy: I’m Amy Hammesfahr and I’m a biological science technician.
Piper: We’re also joined today by an interpretative ranger.
Beverly: My name is Beverly Swift Pony. I’m an interpretive ranger at Devils Tower National Monument.
Piper: Visitors who come to see the Tower find an abundance of life at its base and in the surrounding park. Devils Tower is home to 471 different plant species. 70 of those species are non-native invaders. Devils Tower National Monument works hard to keep the balance of nature and remove invasive, alien plants from the park. Chief of Resource Management, Rene Ohms tells us about these programs.
Rene: There are many exotic plant species at Devils Tower and some of the most problematic of those are the ones that are perennial and those are the ones that come back year after year. These plants are predominantly rhizomatous. Which means they spread through their extensive root systems. One exotic plant that we have here that is extremely problematic is leafy spurge. And leafy spurge was introduced as an ornamental plant, back in the 1800s people thought it was beautiful and they planted it and now it has spread. It’s extremely invasive it out competes native plants and that’s why it’s a problem. And so what we want to do is control the leafy spurge and give those native plants a chance. Another one of the rhizomatous perennial plants that is a problem at Devils Tower is Canada thistle. Canada thistle spreads very easily through the root system. It does produce a lot of seeds but thankfully the germination rate of those seeds is fairly low. So the methods used to control these plants vary depending on the type of plant it is. What type of growth cycle it has so with some of these plants that have extensive deep root systems like leafy spurge, hand pulling that plant isn't going to do any good. If you try to pull that plant you’re just going to break off a little piece of the root and you actually can stimulate it to grow more. So you can actually do a little bit more harm than good by pulling leafy spurge. So we use a variety of methods to control leafy spurge. It’s an integrated pest management approach. SO we use bio controls those are flea beetles that are actually released on the spurge to and kill the plant they are in the genus amphora. So they’re a couple of different types of flea beetles that can be released on spurge. Those were released here back in the early 2000's and actually a little bit prior to that there were actually a couple of other releases here at Devils Tower. And those have done quite well and have reduced the spurge significantly. We’re looking at perhaps augmenting that population of flea beetles in the next year. Another method that’s used to control leafy spurge is herbicide treatment. We use a couple of different types of chemicals in a backpack sprayer at a very low rate to control the leafy spurge. This summer at Devils Tower a new invasive plant species was found that had never been found in the park before. And in fact it was the first occurrence of this species in the entire state of Wyoming. And that plant is garlic mustard; garlic mustard is another biennial exotic plant species. So it creates a rosette the first year and seeds in the second year. Thankfully the patch that was discovered was very small in size we were able to take care of it right away. There were a few second year plants in that patch so it looks like it may have been there for about two years. And those seeds can remain viable in the soil for a few years so what we wanna do is go back, revisit that site and make sure that we've gotten it all over these next few years and then hopefully we can just take care of it and it will no longer occur in Wyoming. Park visitors can help us control the spread of invasive plants by looking for seeds that may have attached themselves to their clothes or their backpacks and instead of picking those seeds off and tossing them on the ground, put them in the nearest trash receptacle. There’s a plant called Hounds Tongue here which is another invasive plant. It’s a biennial plant. And those seeds are little nut-lets and they are sticky and they stick to animals’ fur and to peoples pants and socks and backpacks. And that’s how they spread. So as a park visitor if you can just be aware of what seeds you’re picking up and not spread them to other places, you can certainly do your part.
Piper: Another problematic species at Devils Tower is Mullein, Megan tells us about this plant.
Megan: This is Verbascum thapsus, or common Mullein. This plant can produce up to 200,000 seeds in the environment, one plant can do that. And also the seeds can remain viable in the soil for over a hundred years. SO its’ really important that we try to collect all of the seed heads and help get rid of that seed bank.
Piper: There are four different ecological zones present in the park. The river, the prairie, and the Ponderosa Pine forest, and the top of the tower. In spring wildflowers dominate the prairie environment. Megan Chapman works hard to protect wildflowers by pulling invasive species:
Megan: Most wildflowers will probably be blooming from May to August, that’s the best time of year to come. It’s a mix of western and eastern species of plants, like they have a mix. It’s a pretty good mix of different ecological regions, different ecosystems. I think, I guess maybe the most interesting thing is that there’s a good mix of eastern and western plant species. And I really actually like the dark throat shooting start, but the harebells are really pretty. Harebells are definitely one of my favorites; those are really delicate pretty flowers. Or and actually the Sego Lily is really cool as well, I really like the Sego Lily, that’s really pretty. Sego Lily and Gunnison’s Lily look exactly the same. Very similar, except Sego Lilies usually bloom in may and Gunnison Lilies usually bloom from July until august, so if you see a lily that looks like that and it’s July or august its going to be a Gunnison’s Lily. The Sego Lilies can be kind of pinkish or purplish on the inside versus the Gunnison’s Lilies don’t really get that coloration, but they’re, yeah I love seeing those, those are really cool. I see them a lot around like Joyner Ridge trail. In prairie dog town I always see globe mallow which is these little like orange flowers that are like really pretty, and usually by the tower I see a lot of Gunnison’s Lily. There’s wildflowers all over the park if you’re looking for them.
Piper: Spring also brings prairie falcons to Amy Hammesfahr tells us about the raptors in the park.
Amy: We also have a couple of species of falcons. We have prairie falcons, peregrine falcons, and American kestrels. All of these birds can breed at the tower. And we have had both prairie falcons and peregrine falcons nest on the monument itself throughout the past years.
Piper: Along with raptors Amy also works with prairie dogs, another important part of the prairie ecosystem.
Amy: Prairie dogs are with groups called coteries. Coteries consist of one to two females and a male with several yearlings. The organization is pretty complex they have several different burrows that they use for different purposes and harbor the whole family within. Visitors enjoy coming to the prairie dog town and watching the prairie dogs yip. The population of prairie dogs in this area is pretty isolated. There are no prairie dogs in this immediate area. And so the population here at Devils Tower is really important to conserve the species. There are a couple of predators of prairie dogs such as the coyote, badger and they come into the town at night and they will take the prairie dogs. Prairie dogs are a keystone species, from digging up their burrows, when they vacate burrows, other species come in and use those vacated burrows so badgers will come in and eat prairie dogs but they’ll use those burrows as dens, foxes will also come in and use those burrows as dens. As well as smaller creatures such as black widows and tiger salamanders and voles and mice. Prairie dogs have a great threat of bubonic plague from fleas that can come into the colony from predators that are coming to feed on them or from insects or other just getting into their environment and that’s a concern for Devils Tower because if plague happens to happen to this colony we’re going to loose our prairie dogs. So we monitor them every week to record the amount in the population and to try and get an idea of what’s going on with the colony to monitor for plague. If you are visiting the park and you want to see prairie dogs its best to come a few hours after sunrise you’re not going see as many prairie dogs later in the day, they go to rest in their burrows. When you go out to look that prairie dogs you will here them barking and yipping and making all sorts of sometimes entertaining sounds and these are a form of communication between members of those coteries and rival members of burrows adjacent to them. They’re communicating things such as predators if they’re present, or just a variety of other things that they may be communicating about. Prairie dogs the threat in Devils Tower is not only plague, but dying from being fed. When prairie dogs eat human food there’s a lot of fat, there’s a lot of salt and eating that type of food is causing them to be dehydrated and have high concentrations of nutrition they don’t normally eat, and so that can kill them. And really can harm the population. So they've got two things going against them, so it’s really important when you visit the park to enjoy them and certainly not feed them.
Another great creature we find at Devils Tower is the porcupine. Rene Ohms tells us more.
Rene: porcupines are rodents and we find them throughout the park but they primarily like trees, the north American porcupine is a fantastic climber. They’re herbivores. They eat leaves flowers and forbs. They eat all kinds of vegetation and in the winter time they’ll often eat bark. And so you’ll see their chew marks on trees low to the ground. They need a stance where they can sit and chew on the bark, sometimes you’ll see those chew marks up high in a tree if there’s a place where the porcupine has been able to sit on a branch and access the bark then you’ll see those chew marks there. One project we’re really excited about over the next couple of years is we’re going to be studying the porcupines of Devils Tower, getting a better handle on the population size here and which parts of the park that they prefer. And one of the methods that will be used to examine the porcupine population is to look at those chew marks and measure the sizes of them. We’re working with a researcher that’s going to be developing a protocol for the monitoring of the porcupines and one of the things he’s going to look at is size of those chew marks and whether you can correlate that size with the number of porcupines that are using that site. Another thing we’re going to be dong this year is beginning development of a citizen science outreach program on porcupine monitoring and so park visitors can come out to the park and help us to track porcupines, look for their tracks in the snow, look for those chew marks and measure those. And so the protocol for the citizen science program is in development and in twenty sixteen is when we hope to implement that and invite park visitors out to the park to participate.
Piper: Devils Tower is home to other fascinating Nocturnal Creatures. Rene Ohms tells us about the bats at Devils Tower.
Rene: Another exciting project that we've started this summer is some acoustic bat monitoring. So we are recording the echolocation calls of bats throughout the monument and learning a lot more about what species are here and about what parts of the park they prefer to use. We have three acoustic monitoring stations that are set up and they record the high frequency echolocation call of bats and we have 10 species of bats at Devils Tower that we know of so far, we may have more. And one bat that’s particularly interesting is Myotis septentrionalis, that’s the Northern Long Eared Bat. The Northern Long Eared Bat has been proposed for listing as an endangered species. And a decision on that will be made next year by the fish and wildlife service. And this is one of the places where the northern long eared bat appears to be doing quite well. We’re on the far western edge of the species range and in the eastern United States that bat has been hit particularly hard by white nose syndrome which is a disease that is decimating bat populations. And so we’re really fortunate here at Devils Tower to have a healthy population of the northern long eared bat that we want to continue to preserve and protect.
Piper: Visitors often have questions about the ecology at Devils Tower. I’ll answer some Frequently Asked Questions today. Many visitors ask “What’s the white stuff on the tower?” it’s not calcite, or frost, or mountain goats. The tower houses many flocks of pigeons and the white splotches along the top of the tower are actually years of build up of pigeon excrement. “Why does the tower look green?” The tower sometimes has a greenish hue due to the lichen that grows on the rocks. Are there really snakes around here? Beverly Swift Pony knows the answer to that question.
Beverly: We have bull snakes, we have lots of garter snakes, we have, I would imagine we have racers, things such as that. We’ll find the prairie rattlesnake here, he’s pretty prolific here. I haven’t seen any since I've been here. I've had other people say they've seen several. I haven’t been fortunate enough to see one, but yeah, they are here. Pretty much the only venomous snake in the black hills is the prairie rattlesnake. But the rattlesnake is not anything to be feared. He’s more afraid of you than you are of him and he will avoid you at all cost. He’s not out to get you, he’s not going to fall out of a tree on your head. He’s not going to chase you down the trail, which is what a lot of people think. Which I think is kind of amusing. They know they can’t eat you, they’re going to waste their venom.
Piper: So what should people do if they come across a snake or particularly a rattlesnake?
Beverly: Stop. Just stop. The snake is there is and he’s telling you, if he’s rattling he’s telling you STOP. You’re too close, you’re making me nervous, I don’t like you being this close to me. He’s not saying I’m rattling because I’m going to strike at you, he’s rattling because he’s afraid. All snakes will shake their tail. That includes bull snakes, that includes garter snakes. If they’re afraid the reaction for them is to hit their tail on the ground. And everyone things that ‘that’s a rattlesnake, listen it’s hitting its, ooh it’s a rattlesnake!’ and everyone’s afraid, and I've noticed that. It doesn't matter what kind of a snake it is, all snakes will do that, it’s a nervous reaction. They don’t want you to get any closer they’re saying “please go away, I don’t like you being this close to me, I’m uncomfortable”. And you just need to stop and back away. And the snake will go and do his business, and you can go and do yours. It’s a mutual agreement.
What are the birds circling the tower all summer? Amy can tell us about these birds as well.
Amy: The most common raptor you probably will see is the turkey vulture. They are often seen hovering around the southwest corner of the tower, it’s the warmest spot of the tower and they look out for the thermals and once they feel the thermals they start to soar high, and once they’re on those thermals they’re just cruising those airways as they fly higher and higher. Turkey vultures are a species that eats only carrion. So they wont eat anything live, but going on those lower altitudes flying is pretty important for them so they can smell carrion. And when you see them kind of teetering like they’re unstable, that’s actually a part of them being able to fly low and smell carrion in the air. Turkey Vultures in some cultures are considered spiritual animals because they can symbolize renewal so that’s kind of a fun way to look at turkey vultures when most people just look at them they think they’re just some ugly bird.
Piper: People often ask “when was the fire?”, when they see burnt trees. Often these are from proscribed burns. Rene Ohms tells us more.
Rene: Proscribed fire is a necessary resource management tool. Fire historically happened throughout the western united states, was caused by lightning strikes. And you know as people began to settle the western united states we suppressed fire, obviously we were worried about the idea of fire burning peoples homes, the threat that fire can pose to humans. But in the process because we suppressed fire fuels built up on the forest floor and what happens now is if there’s a lightning strike those fires can be extremely catastrophic. So one tool use to manage this is we can use fire again, we can set proscribed fires so that we know exactly when the fires going to happen so we can light it under a more controlled circumstance. But another thing we can do is a little bit of thinning, and that can be mechanical thinning with chainsaws, trying to pull out some of that extra fuel that’s built up. But really fire is the preferred method. And fire releases nitrogen back into the soil, so the new regeneration that comes back up is green and healthy. There are so many benefits to fire. Fire can actually be used to control exotic plant species. You have to be careful using it as a tool for that because there are some exotic species that actually do better after a fire , so the roll of resource management is to guide the fire managers. We take a look at the fire burn plans before the proscribed fire happens and make sure that the fire is going to not only meet the objectives of reducing the fuel loading and preventing future catastrophic fires, but we also want to make sure that that fire is meeting ecological objectives.
Piper: What does it look like on top of the tower? Philip has lots of experience on the summit.
Phil: So the top of the tower is about the size of a football field, about an acre in size. And it’s relatively flat, so it’s rocky and dry. There’s a little bit of a dome shape to it. And it’s kind of an oval almost from north to south. So it’s a little bit longer north to south than it is wide east to west. It’s mostly grasses and sagebrush up there. Something really cool about the top of the tower is that there’s Wyoming big sage brush that grows up on the summit, and that’s pretty cool because you don’t really find Wyoming big sage brush anywhere else in the rest of the monument. So it’s a neat little endemic spot within the tower itself.
Piper: Devils Tower is truly an enclave, sheltering these amazing plants and animals in their native habitats. If you get the chance to walk the tower trail, take some time to walk in silence and listen to the birds and insects that are part of what make this such an amazing place. Stop by prairie dog town and spend a moment observing our furry neighbors. Whatever you do at Devils Tower take time to steep in the amazing diversity of nature that is preserved in this wonderful place. Thank you for joining me on this exploration of the ecology of Devils Tower Nat Monument. As always my name is Piper Lewis, podcasting the Tower Frequency for you courtesy of GeoCorps and the NPS. For more information on Devils Tower please see our website www.nps.gov/deto. Our theme music was composed by Bensound. Thank you for listening
PIPER: Thank you for joining me on the tower frequency my name is Piper Lewis here at Devils Tower courtesy of GeoCorps and the Geological Society of America. Today were going to be sharing the passion for climbing that brings many travelers from around the world to Devils Tower. Today we are joined by four people who worked as rangers at Devils Tower including Ray Brassington,
WILL: My name is WILL Buckman, 4th season climbing ranger here at Devils Tower National monument.
SEAN: My name is Sean Nelb I worked as a climbing Ranger, as a law enforcement ranger here at Devils tower national monument.
CHRIS: My names Chris Klinger I was a seasonal ranger at Devils Tower and I got hired again for a term position in 2011 through 2013. We are also joined by two other climbers who share with us their expertise and experience climbing the tower.
JULIANA: my name is Juliana Byrd I first came to the tower on a regular tourist visit with Frank Sanders there was hostess at his launched for a number of years ended up buying property of the road and starting my own campground.
CONRAD: Conrad Anker, here with Piper, the National Park Service Devils Tower, blog.
PIPER: Since before for Devils Tower became America’s first national Monument early settlers and outdoors enthusiasts have found the tower a motivating challenge. Conrad Ankertells us more about this climbing history
CONRAD: the history of climbing Devils Tower goes back to 1893 a couple of cowboy rancher guys hammered oak stakes all the way up the side and made a ladder but the first ascent was in 1937 was by Fritz Weisner and he basically climbed it with one or two protection points and was a really bold climb and since then there’s been a lot of subsequent ascents and is probably in the mid-80s at the apex of typical climbing at Devils Tower took place in the climbing found bolts and overhangs stuff and I was really quite different in for climbing experience that is meaningful it connects on the spiritual level and has this remarkable beauty then Devils Tower could just be the place for you.
PIPER: today over 5000 people a year climbed the tower pitting their passion and excitement against the tower’s deep challenge the first owners of the tower were William Rogers and Willard Ripley in 1895 Lenny Rogers, William Rogers’ wife became the first woman to some of the tower using her husband’s steak latter Lenny Rogers and her husband and William Ripley were the only ones to use the latter to some of the tower the ladder remained in the tower for several years and there were reports even of teenage boys reaching the summit. The lower parts of the latter were eventually removed due to safety concerns. In 1937 Fritz Weisner a German mountaineer became the first to summit the tower without using the stake ladder, instead he used modern mountaineering techniques including his own handmade pitons. In 1938 the year following Weisner, Jack Durrance pioneered the Durrance route. This route was destined to become a classic and is now one of the most popular routes at Devils Tower. In 1941 George Hopkins became the first man to reach the tower without climbing. will Buckman shares more about this event.
WILL: as far as historically, one of the coolest stories here at the Tower, so everybody’s and just repell down. His name was George Hopkins he did this October of 41. He was stuck on the summit six days as he was unable to self rescue. They had to get climbers from Tetons from Rocky Mount national Park even the first asscencionist of the Durrance route of Devils Tower one of our most famous routes 1938 when he climbed it. 1941 they have to bring him back to climb up his route him whole to bring him, Paul Petzel from the Tetons and some others to go get George HOPKINS. Hopkins spent six days up there by the was done he gained almost 10 pounds from all the air drops of supplies and food. It was the biggest story around the world until December 41 which was hwen Pearl Harbor happened. But its just kind of a neat story just got fanfare all over the placeeven kinda overshadowed the World Series that Devils Tower George was stuck on this rock.
PIPER: in 1952 Jan Conn and Jane Showacer became the first all-female team to Summit the tower Jan Conn had previously gone up the tower her husband Herb and upon their descent, her husband had been asked if he had to haul her up. Jan was determined to climb the tower and show with her own skill that women were just as competent climbers as men.
PIPER: there are a lot of things to think about before climbing at Devils Tower. Our guests have important advice to share. Ray Brassington will start us off.
RAY; the advice I give to most people who are just starting oyr on the Tower is bring lots of gear , the pitches are long and sustained most of the time and to make sure that when youre repelling down that you go off the faces of the collums so that you don’t get a stuck rope.
PIPER: Will advises
WILL: definitely be prepared even though it’s really accessible from the Road you want to be aware that weather moves in fast. You gotta treat it almost like a weather terraine. the nature where it comes from, amometimes the rock can block that off. The weather is the number one factor always bring two ropes one rope get you in trouble is much here is also quite different
PIPER: Conrad’s advice is
CONRAD: If you’re interested in climbing Devils Tower make the drive out here. Visit beautiful Crook County Wyoming. Check in with Rangers, register before you go up on the climb so they know where your at and they cn count how many people are up there climbing since that’s a really key part of it. And then be prepared, its adventurous climbing its traditional climbin. You’ll be placing your own gear and skills like fist and off widths are all very much required here you’re not goging to get to the top without being able to climb some sort of wide crack so have the appropriate equipment and protection and make sure that you’re well within your ability.
PIPER: Sean advises
SEAN: do not underestimate the length of the pitches. Climbing at the tower most of the pitches are going to be pretty close to 50 m or so especially if you’re not climbing the Durrance which has the short pitches but everything else, the pitches tend to be fairly long and they they look a lot shorter when you’re looking at them from the base and looking up. I saw a lot of people running out of gear because they didn’t bring enough or placing it too close together thinking of the plenty to get up to the anchors or to a ledge or whatever and they would just run out. Or they just wouldn’t have the strength to complete the pitch because they just run out of juice basically before they were able to get to the anchor, not realizing how long it is.
PIPER: Chris Klinger advises
CHRIS: respect the tower. there’s a lot of people who value the tower for a lot of different reasons and a very long history of climbing there. very important and memorable climbs that have been done there to climb the tower with respect for what it means to a lot of people. The routes are long sustained usually pretty physically demanding. In a lot of places in the country a route is rated a 5.10 for two or three of the moves or a section or two on that route. But usually at the tower the routes are very sustained, if it’s a 5.10 it could be a 510 for the entire length of the the route. So I’d be prepared for long sustained routes.
PIPER: Juliana Byrd’s advice is
JULIANA: Plan. Read. Get the guidebooks, check the beta. And if you’re coming in the middle of the summer, be aware it’s hot and its dry. if you’re coming in the shoulder season be aware we get snow, we get cold. Always always always check the batteries in your headlamp, make sure headlamp is in your climbing pack not locked in your car, that’s my primary bit of advice.
PIPER: in this spring there are closures for Prairie and Peregrine falcon nesting. Be sure to check at climbing registration to make sure the route you wish to take is open. In June there is a voluntary closure in respect for the Native Americans who worship here at the tower during that time.
PIPER: every climb on Devils Tower is unique, but first climbs stand out strongly in many climbers minds. Conrad Anker talks about his first experience climbing Devils Tower
CONRAD: I first climbed at Devils Tower was in the 80s and we came here and climbed it. It was about making it to the summit and subsequent visits to Devils Tower I’ve sought out more difficult routes and routes that have that characteristic nature of Devils Tower which are the cracks and the stemming.
PIPER: Will Buckman found climbing Devils Tower for the first time a life-changing experience
WILL: so I grew up here in Crook County half hour away from Devils the first day I climbed this September 22, 2001. I’ll remember that day cause it kinda just changed the direction my life. I was college had a friend of mine who’s dad took people climbing, who said “hey would you like to join us to go climb behind Mt. Rushmoore?” That went good, he said “Let’s go climb Devils Tower in a few weeks.” Went up with five other people. We were the tipical go up a Durrance route with dragging bags of a bunch of people just congesting everything. But it was done in about 8 magical hours. I was also the guy with a T-shirt at the very end that said “I climb Devils Tower” even before I hit the tower trail.
PIPER: Ray Brassington shares about his experience climbing Devils Tower for the first time
RAY: the first time I climbed the tower it was, it was pretty great, getting up, just doing one of the short routes and even though it was a short route the way the routes start on the tower it’s still 700 feet up, so got some exposure
PIPER: Juliana Byrd had a powerful first experience on the tower
JULIANA: We were climbing with a group of middle school students, I’m a chaperone so I went later in the day. Climbing shoes made a tremendous difference in so I reached the bolts on the Broken Tree, little crack that’s a great starter. And I’m coming back down, Frank was belaying me and he stops me, he said “I want you to go over to the left” and I said “I’m ready to come down” and it ended up with me stomping my foot and saying “Fine.” So I did, I went over to the left and I did what he had asked me to do. What had happened for me is I have multiple sclerosis and I had lost conscious communication with the lower part of my body, and I was ready to come down, I had challenged myself as much as I felt physically able to do, and being pushed that little bit further and ever so insistently and gently had broken through a block in my brain. And when I came back down I looked at Frank and I said, “I have two things I’d like to say to you,” and you could see his face just blanch because he could tell I was angry. I said
“The first thing is that I have multiple sclerosis, and if I tell you I’m done it meant that I was done,” and I said, “The second thing is Thank You.” and it was a huge share in the course the disorder was taking.
PIPER: Chris Klinger shares about his first experience climbing the tower
CHRIS: I never dreamed of climbing the tower I always thought that that was something that was outside of of my abilities that was something that all the hard-core climbers did, but my friends saw an article in climbing magazine about Devils Tower and I was working for the Park Service and Dinosaur, Colorado at the time. They convinced me that I needed to get a job Devils Tower so they could all come out and visit and go climbing. So I did get to Devils Tower. I had a plan, you know, it would probably take me a couple weeks maybe a month or two to really get in shape and learn the routes, plus the season started in, towards the end of May and we’re not supposed to climb in June for the voluntary climbing closure which I wanted to respect. So figured May I would just check out the tower appreciated, in June I wouldn’t be climbing, and then probably by July I’ll start learning the routes and getting into shape and maybe by August or September, you know, get a couple shorter routes and by the end of the season I would make it to the top Devils Tower. When I was working in the visitor center a very colorful local climber would come in every day after climbing and convinced me that I should just go do it now. Every day in May same guy came back telling me I need to go do it now, I need to go do it now and every day offering to take me up. And I though, oh this guy, this guy’s craz,y I can’t do this. And so the last day of May he finally convinced me at 5 PM that we could be on the summit and back down and having dinner before the sun sets, which I thought was never possible. But from the time we touched the base of the tower till we reached the summit was just a little over an hour so we managed to go car to car in less than three hours and I stood on the summit Devils Tower and I was back at his place having dinner with them that night just looking up at the tower. I was just in awe, cloud nine, so amazed at making it to the summit of Devils Tower. Because in reality is it’s a, it’s a pretty small club for the number of people stood on top Devils Tower, of all the billions of people in the world maybe 50-60,000 people have stood on the summit of Devils Tower. So it’s, it’s a pretty small group to be part of. So that the first experience of just making it to the top really inspired me to do more as far as climbing went. It increased my my self-confidence and the next summer I had bigger and better goals and a lot of them turned out to be failures I would go attempt to route and I didn’t succeed at it and in and in that last week I just went after every route that that I had failed on that summer. I succeeded all of them, and I just, I felt like I had grown so much as a climber in the last two years to be able to do those routes, that I went home for the winter feeling very pleased with my time at the tower.
PIPER: Conrad Anker understands why so many people come back to Devils Tower. It is an exciting place to climb.
CONRAD: the excitement of Devils Tower, the adventure of Devils Towers that is a traditional climbing area. A lot of climbing areas are bolt protected, that’s masonry fasting devices we put into the climb and we create where the path goes by putting the bolts in there, and it’s great, it’s good athleticism. But here there’s something that you connect with on a deeper level. You’re climbing these cracks that are millions of years old and the cracks dictate the protection that you have. So it might be a little bit run out or might be gear every few inches but it makes it unique.
PIPER: Will Buckman shares why so many visitors are excited to come climb Devils Tower.
WILL: this place is just special. The unique factor of where it’s located kinda in the middle of nowhere along with what type of climbing it represents. Really long sustained traditional pitches just puts this in a classic category of some place you can really get good climbing experience at all grade levels.
PIPER: Sean Nelb shares why he particularly likes climbing the tower.
SEAN: I think I like mostly the tower for for all the finger cracks it had. I like finger cracks a lot it’s a really good climbing area for that. There’s lots of cracks especially on the west face, just one after another. You could go up there and have a really good day of climbing on some fairly sustained routes.
PIPER: Ray Brassington shares why he loves climbing Devils Tower
RAY: the challenge, overcoming the different types of technique that’s used here a lot of it’s new to me so, using that technique has been great.
PIPER: Juliana Byrd shares about what makes the Tower such a unique climbing experience.
JULIANA: one of the things that makes it incomparable is the variety of climbs that can be done, and the in the learning opportunities available in a tremendously safe environment. What I really like about climbing on the tower is that the approaches are not easy. You have to intend to get to one of climbs. You don’t just stumbleon a climb and so it’s for me, the formation of intent and the opportunity to explore the consequences of that intent, because you or something as simple as climbing Broken Tree and New Wave, it’s strenuous. Even if you want to just play around, by the time you get up there you will have to have checked in with your body. Paid attention to the weather, been aware of your water and food intake, and of course the people around you and the animals. You know, you’re paying attention to where are the falcons today. For me personally the opportunity to check in with what’s my intent. Because it’s easy in other places to just fool around and therefore get careless and hurt yourself. It’s much harder to get careless on the tower because there are so many opportunities along the way where it’s almost again as if the spirit of the tower’s checking in and saying be mindful.
PIPER: Chris Klinger shares why he feels Devils Tower is such a great place to climb
CHRIS: Devils Towers but really good place climb for the quality of the rock and the long sustained crack routes. It’s one of the few places in the world to get such perfect cracks. Devils Tower is is kind of the ultimate teacher because the tower doesn’t bring itself down to your level, you need to bring yourself up to the level of challenge that is the tower so it forces you in the most positive way to improve your skills and become a better climber and that goes for climbers of all ability levels. Even the best of the climbers can go to Devils Tower and find something that challenges them and makes them grow, not only as a climber but as a person.
PIPER: Today there are over 225 definable route. Routes are named by those who first climb them. Some of our guests share about their favorite routes and routes they would recommend other climbers. Chris Klinger starts us off.
CHRIS: I really enjoy Walt Bailey Memorial, it is definitely one of my favorite routes. If you do right you can be on the summit by leading only one technical pitch. There’s some scrambling to get to the base, then a very long sustained 5.9 may be a 10 A that goes up to the Meadows, from the Meadows you can do the fourth class route to the summit. So you really can summit on the tower with one long pitch. It’s probably about hundred and 80 feet. The crack is just I think one of the finest cracks for climbing on the tower that’s not at a super difficult rating. I do like the Durrance route also because it is very attainable for, I don’t want to say beginner climbers I don’t think it’s that great for beginners, but climbers with some experience can do the Durrance route it has short pitches and is is pretty manageable.
PIPER: Juliana Byrd shares when she loves to climb.
JULIANA: They all depend on what you want to do. If you want a day of playing on a jungle gym go to the North end, the Broken Tree, New Wave, Leaping Lizards, Mystic in the Mulchers. There’s a whole array of things to do if you want to challenge yourself a little more, or if you’re an experienced climber there’s also Patent Pending up to Teachers Lounge there. You can really familiarize yourself with the rappel, a long rappel. It is so beautiful off the Teachers Lounge. So for me that’s that’s where I go. I go play on Teachers Lounge. My favorite if I’m going to summit with somebody else, because I can’t lead it is El Cracko Diablo. I love it because it’s left side in and right side high do it again, and it goes that way all the way up. It’s two clean pitches there’s one hard move, it’s a slight hump up and over, but then there’s a scramble to the summit and you’re there. It’s just fun. But the other fun ones to play on are first picture El Matador. That’s just a stroll, okay it’s the 5.10 move at the top to get to the bolts. That’s a problem if you’re not a 5.10 climber because it comes at the very end and sneaks up on you and is a surprise but if you can get the rope up there and top rope it, it’s another fun place just to play. Up on top there’s Rangers Are People Too, that was a fun one. But if you’re out there to be doing some serious climbing the things I’ve heard are McCarthy’s North is awesome, Mr. Clean is incredible, Hollywood and Vine. I don’t think there’s a bad route!
PIPER: the fastest climb on record is held by Todd Skinner who reached the top in 18 minutes and returned to the ground in 11. He is also the only one on record to have soloed the southeast side of the tower
PIPER: We’ll end today by having some of our guests answer frequently asked questions about climbing at Devils Tower. After working as a climbing ranger at Devils Tower Sean Nelb says
SEAN: the most frequently asked question was “do I need two ropes to get down?” and the answer is ‘Yes!’ For most of the routes you’ll need two to rappel off because of how long the pitches are.
PIPER: Juliana also had answer a lot of questions working at Frank Sanders’ hostess and then working at her own campground
JULIANA: What’s the easiest route to climb? And most people think because the guidebook says Durrance is a 5.7 or something that it’s the easiest and it’s not. Another thing was “Uh, we think we’re going to head out for Durrance around 9 o’clock in the morning”, it’s a solar collector you’re going to roast at 1 o’clock when you’re stuck. Get an early start or a late afternoon start. There are other people here who want to do the same thing you wanna do and you will have to wait. There’s a reason it’s called lunchtime everybody comes at the same time. if you don’t wanna wait come at 11am or 3pm. People always ask how old you have to be to climb and there have been people as young as seven who have summited and people as old as 80. There’s no age, the only thing you need to climb that tower is a desire.
PIPER: As a Ranger Chris Klinger answered questions not just from climbers but also about climbers well.
CHRIS: visitors always had amusing questions like how do they get the ropes of up there. Which of course climbers need to lead the route and take the rope up there themselves. The Park Service doesn’t do that for them. A lot of questions from climbers were just asking some typical information on which routes to climb and what gear to take and where the repelled stations are. I think it’s important for them to read the guidebooks, talk to local climbers and get as much information on the route as they can.
PIPER: Thank you for joining me for our experience of the passion for climbing a Devils Tower National Monument. As always my name is Piper Lewis podcasting The Tower Frequency for you courtesy of GeoCorps and the National Park Service for more information on Devils Tower please see our website www.nps.gov/deto our theme music was composed by Ben Sound and can be found at bensound.com Thank you for listening.
Piper: Thank you for joining us on the Tower Frequency my name is Piper Lewis here at Devils Tower courtesy of GeoCorps and the Geological Society of America. Today we're going to gain a deeper understanding of the Native American history and experience here at Devils Tower. Our guests will share their own personal experiences and cultural relationship to the tower. Today we are joined by:
IDA: Ida Mae Evans Garrison
GEORGE: my name is George Reed Junior
DOROTHY Firecloud: my name is Dorothy Firecloud, I'm a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota which is culturally affiliated to the tower and I was also the first native superintended at Devils Tower from 2006 to the middle of 2012
BEVERLY: my name is Beverly Swift Pony and I am an interpretive ranger at Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming
PHILIP: [speaking Northern Cheyenne], my name is Philip White-Man Junior and I am Northern Cheyenne my father and grandfather were chiefs and today I take on that responsibility and role.
DOROTHY: my name is [speaking Kiowa] I was named in a tepee in 1933 in a Native American church meeting by a gentleman named John Eagle Heart, It means she comes with beautiful prayers. My English name is Dorothy Whitehorse DuLaune.
PIPER: There are over 22 tribes who have a connection to the tower. Including:
Assiboine & Sioux OF THE Fort Peck Reservation Montana, the Blackfeet, the Blood of Canada, the Confederated Kootenai & Salish Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, Montana, the Cheyenne River Lakota, the Crow, the Crow Creek Lakota, the Eastern Shoshone, Flandreau Santee Dakota, Lower Brule Lakota, Northern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, Ogala Lakota, the Piikani of Canada, the Rosebud Lakota, Sissteon-Wahpeton Dakota, Southern Arapaho, Southern Cheyenne, the Soirit Lake Lakota, Standing Rock Lakota, Three Afflilated Tribes, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, and Yankton Dakota among others.
There are many names for the tower but most have something to do with Bears. The Arapaho call it bear TV, The crow Bearlodge, The Lakota Bearlodge or grizzly bear Lodge or mythic owl mountain. The Cheyenne named it bear TV or Bearlodge house or Peak. The Kiowa call it tree rock or aloft on a rock. The first mapmakers of Wyoming who spotted the tower from far-off called it Bearlodge, But when Gen. Custer visited the towering 1859 with geological surveyors they missed translated the name as Devils Tower. Custers account and the book he wrote about this area gained much popularity on the East Coast and the older map names were ignored for the popularized Devils Tower. The apostrophe was dropped as a clerical error I never fixed.
PIPER: There are many Native American legends about the tower the Lakota legend goes:
In the Sioux tribe long ago was a brave warrior who often went alone into the wilderness where he would fast and worship the Great Spirit in solitude. Being alone helped him to strengthen his courage so that in the future he could carry out his plans.
One day this warrior took his buffalo skull and went along into the wilderness to worship. Standing at the base of Mato Tipila after he had worshipped for two days he suddenly found himself on top of this high rock. He was very much frightened as he did not know how he would get down. After appealing to the Great Spirit he went to sleep. When he awoke he was very glad to find that he was again at the base of this high rock.
He saw that he was standing at the door of a big bear's lodge as there was foot prints of a very big bear there. He could tell that the cracks in the big rock were made by the big bear's claws. So he knew that all the time he had been on top of this big rock he had been standing on a big bear's lodge.
From this time on his nation called this big high rock Mato Tipila and they went there often to worship. The buffalo skull is still on top of this big high rock and can be seen on the highest point.
This legend told to Dick Stone by Short Bull, who lived a short distance west of Oglala, South Dakota, on July 31, 1932. Mark Running Eagle, Interpreter.
PIPER: George Reed Junior shares the crow legend about the tower.
George: it was during a time when we moved about the planes following the mighty bison herds. It was a time when we were camped near the big saddle and the Black Hills. And children would play, one would pretend to be a bear and they would chase the other children and so they would take turns playing bear. And there're two sisters and the older sister would always refuse to be A bear. And finally one day they coaxed her and said it's your turn to be a bear and she said okay I'll be A bear. She told her little sister that when she becomes a bear that she should hide so the little sister hid. And her sister that turn into a bear killed all the parents and the children and then she called her sister and said it's over and you can come out now. I'm a little sister came out she was afraid. She was told to go after a lodge, A tepee. They put up the tepee and she was told together wood. So she went and gathered wood and built a fire. And then she was told to go after some water. And she went down to the stream and she was so afraid she was crying. And six of her brothers were going on a journey, A war journey. And they heard their little sister crying. And they said that's one of our little sisters crying so they went back and they cross the stream. And there she was crying. And they asked her why are you crying and she said, we played pretending to be a bear my sister would never want to play a bear, be up there, So she finally decided to play there and she told me that if she pretended to be at there should be a real bear and that I should hide. And so I did and then she killed all the parents and all the children and she said it's over now you can come out so I came out and she told me to get a lodge and so I went and got a lodge and put it up. And she told me to get some would so I went and got one den started a fire. I came to fetch water and I cried because I was afraid and then you hurt me you're. So the brothers said you go back and you gather some branches off a Plum tree I just do it along the way around the path you go and hit her on the Shin and Ron. To hit her on the Shin it's an expression you know, to challenge them, when you challenge someone to hit her on the Shin. That expression [speaking Crow]. So the little girl went back to her sister and she gathered plum branch is an strewed them along the way and hit her sister on the shin and ran. And she ran around those plum branches and the bear ran through the branches and they would stick to her toes, her foot, and she would stop and pick up of thorns. And the brothers said we'll wait for you at that boulder, So she ran to her brothers. And by the time the bear came through those plum branches she had reached up boulder and they helped her on top of the boulder. And as the bear was coming they said jumped, And they jumped and the boulder grew taller. And when the bear reached the bolder they said let's jump again. They jumped again and they were out of reach of the bear. She tried hard to climb up older but she would fall back so there were claw marks all around the boulder. And she said it's over it's done, Come on down you can come down now it's over I'm done. At that time that Boulder parted they said if you go in that boulder will come down. So she went in the Boulder and Boulder came together, She's in case she's entombed in that boulder. She was crying and hollering and screaming the siblings said what Shelley do. And the little sister said well let's go be the place where they offer the pipe, Let's be the seven stars let's be the Big Dipper. So they went up into the sky and became the seven stars, the Big Dipper the place where they offer the pipe to when they're in prayer. And they sang every now and then they come and visit their sibling who's there and that grizzly bear Lodge.
Piper: Dorothy Whitehorse DuLaune shares the Kiowa legend about Devils Tower that she was told by her grandmother.
Dorothy: these girls were playing there were seven of them. They're different versions, Every tribe has a different version but they came upon Devils Tower, I mean they didn't know they were at that area but that was one of their places to stop and they were eight sisters. Now some people Will say he was seven sisters and a boy, But the way I learned this story, The way my grandmother told it. There were seven girls they were playing like we did when we were growing up, We say come on let's play tag, They'd say [speaking Kiowa], Come on please come you be the chaser, You chase us. And this one particular sister would say [speaking Kiowa], No no. I guess inside she had medicine and they didn't know it. [speaking Kiowa], and they said come on and she said no no no no no no. And they kept badgering her, so finally she told them okay. And they were playing tag. She said I told you all, [speaking Kiowa], I've been telling you and he won't listen [speaking Kiowa], now something’s gonna happen. As she was chasing them she started sprouting hair, and you know they didn't notice it yet, And then she looks down and she had clause. And then she turned into a grizzly bear. And by that time they've seen that changed completely, And she was running after them to catch them. Out of that bunch of tree is a voice came up in Kiowa. It said [speaking Kiowa] come here, [speaking Kiowa] I'll help you come on. And so as they were running there was a tree stump, There was a bigger. And the rock said come here and I'm going to help you. [speaking Kiowa] run around the rock four times and then shoot an arrow up into the sky. So they shot. They were screaming in the bear was coming behind them, And they jumped on this rock and it started to grow. And by the time they are got there they were above his level and it just kept rowing. [speaking Kiowa] it was jumping and scratching inclined trying to get to them and the claw marks were coming down more prominently, And they were screeching and menu that was their sister but it was not the same being anymore, And they were so scared that the rock just took them straight on up where the last arrow shot, the Milky Way is what my people say. The Big Dipper. And they say when you pray look up there. That's how I grew up when you see those stars up there that's the seven sisters. So I grew up hearing that, The seven sisters.
Piper: Philip White Man shares the northern Cheyenne legend about the tower.
Philip: the story about this rock, there was a young couple living near the water. And early in the morning that lady would go down to fetch water. She be gone for a long time, Finally the husband went and looked for her. She would walk into the water and a serpent would come out of the water and she would fall under the serpents spell. The warrior took a bell and arrow, And he shot an arrow into that serpent. Later he took food back to his children, Daughter and son. He Fed them and there's enough food there to last a while. He said he was going to go and leave them. The envoy and daughter they stayed around the camp for days. Father never did come by back. They all the food and then they started kind of wandering around, Going a little bit further than normal. They heard some rumblings something coming, So they ran about a little rock and here comes the bear. Cheyenne called them [speaking Cheyenne] mother, [speaking Cheyenne] grandmother,. And here that there started going to that rock, And the children were huddled sitting on that rock and they were afraid. Here that there started Klein at that rock. Each time those children request crying out for help. Each time that there the bear clawed, the rock grew. The Bear clawed it all the way around, And the rocks started growing, growing. At that time there have longtail, The creator, the spirits shot lightning down and cut the tail off about there. And reminded that there, That the bear is a mother and mothers, they protect.
Piper: Dorothy Firecloud shares her favorite Lakota legends.
Dorothy Firecloud: the story that I like to share is that of the White Buffalo Calf Woman. The Lakota people had been camped there at the area by the base of the tower and then sent out a couple of scouts see if they could find any buffalo or any animal. That year had a lot of drought and there weren't any animals around, and so the two scouts had gone out for that purpose. As they were walking along they saw this beautiful woman approaching them. One of the scouts saw how beautiful she was and he left it after her, wanting her as his wife. The others got recognized that she was the spirit coming to help them. She got closer, They began to visit with her. And she told them she was going to come back in four days and that they needed to go back to the drive try and explained to try that she would be coming in four days and that they needed to prepare. So the one that kept lusting after her, She called him aside and they were covered in a fog so the other scout wasn't able to see what was happening. As the cloud dissipated he saw that the other scout have been turned to a pile of bones at her feet. Then she told him go back and tell your people to be ready in four days. So he went back to the try and told them what happens and so they prepared for her arrival on the fourth day. On the fourth day she arrived they gave to him the bundle which is the sacred pipe. And she talked them the seven different ceremonies that go along with that pipe. And as she left she told on the ceremonies and these prayers for help you. As she left she walked away, she turn into a buffalo again. And she became first the black buffalo then the red buffalo then the yellow buffalo and she did it for the last time she became a white buffalo. That's the story we have the White Buffalo Calf Woman and how the pipe was given to the Lakota people. And today Arvol Looking Horse is the keeper of that sacred bundle. And he lives up on the Cheyenne River Indian reservation. When I worked as the superintendence it was great to have him come over and participate in a lot of our meetings to ensure that we were doing things properly.
The tower has long been a place of spiritual connection and prayer. Visitors to the tower will see personal prayers, in the prayer offerings and bundles, And clubs attached trees around the tower. The tower is also A location for sweat lodges, vision quests, And in the past funerals.
Dorothy Firecloud: when people come to visit, they should come to the tower as they would when they enter a church because of the significance of the place to native people. A lot of the times people walk around the tower, You're going to see the prayer ties because that's where we go to offer a lot of the prayer ties. Prayer ties are similar to the rosary, As we make our prayer ties we have a lot of prayer clause spread-out I teach one represents a prayer as were going along, refill them with tobacco and we tie the knot. And all of our prayers are contained within those tobacco ties. And replace them at places where it will get the message to whom we need it to get it to. So when you go around the tower, You're going to see the different colors of the four directions. Sometimes it'll also see green which represents the earth, sometimes the blue which represents the sky. People need to remember that the tower is there someone as an altar for the culturally affiliated tribes to do their prayers.
Piper: vision quest our ceremony of coming-of-age, To find prophecy and self-understanding, To commune with nature and spirit, one's own spirit guides and ancestors. To find truth and balance and peace. They're also used for curing emotional and physical illness. They often include long walks fasting and sleep deprivation. The tower is also a place of group prayer. In the summer, near solstice, sacred ceremonies are practice at the tower. One of these is Sundance. During the Sundance young men dance around the ball to which they are fastened, This is accompanied by traditional drama, Praying with the pipe, fasting, and sacred fire. The goal is to offer a personal sacrifice as prayer for the benefit of one's family and community. The ceremony lasts over a period of four days most of which have fasting. The Sundance was outlawed in the US in 1904 and was practiced in secret for many years. Dorothy Firecloud shares more about the history between the US government and Native American religion.
Dorothy: when these places, sacred places were taken over by the federal government back in the early 1900s, Late 1800s, Native people we're not allowed to practice their religion. It wasn't until the American Indian religious freedom back was enacted in 1977 that native people were allowed to practice their religion openly and freely. So A lot of these sites that were trying to get used coming back to, native people we're not allowed to go to for ceremonial purposes. Beginning then in the late 1970s and throughout the 80s is when the tribal people started coming back to these places because they weren't afraid to be arrested. Back in the early 1900s when the act was done through Congress to ban the practice of native religions, A lot of it was done underground, Or in places that they knew that they wouldn't be cock, Or seen. So with the passage of the Native American religious freedom at, Then we were able to start going back to these places, To start getting our ceremonies back. That's only 40 years ago that we've been able to openly practice our ceremonies and our religion.
Piper: sweat lodges also occurred during the summer. A sweat lodges a place of spiritual refuge and mental and physical healing. People often participate in sweat lodges before vision quests and other major rituals. A small low structure is made, One that completely blocked that light and encloses an area. At the center this area is a small pit into which hot stones are place. When the members of the sweat lodge ceremony have been appropriately smudged purified they enter the sweat lodge. Offerings such as tobacco or sweet grass are scattered on this downs to generate steam. Sweat lodges can be done in silence, Or was singing and chanting depending the leaders traditions. Gratitude and respect are two of the most important parts of this ritual. Both for Sundance, And sweat lodge, and many other ceremonies is important that the tower as a sacred place be quiet, Silence and unsullied. For this reason there is a voluntary climbing closure in the month of June when the ceremonies typically takes place, I do respect for the Native Americans and their disapproval of climbing on the tower.
Piper: The Native American history in America as well as Devils Tower specifically has not been a pleasant one. Many visitors today go from the tower to Custer State Park to see American Buffalo. Once these buffalo also round around the tower and were plentiful. That'll be swift pony tells us more about the fate of the Buffalo and their importance to Native Americans.
Beverly: the settlers and the cattleman who were coming through here were told that the only way to totally clear this land out of the Indians was to get rid of their food source, which was the bison. And that's pretty much what they did. They were shooting them from trains. They were shooting them for sport. They were skimming them alive, laying out on the Prairie. Cutting out their times, cutting out their hearts. And that includes the Cavs. Leaving them to lie out there, To die. I can't even imagine the carnage. When I drive, And I look out there at those Perry's I try to imagine all of those bodies lying out there, The sound of them crying out. It's just heartbreaking. It was brutal, It was brutal in combination with all the other things that were going on. Not allowing us to speak our language, putting us in school, kidnapping the children putting them in their little schools to teach them Christianity, Not allowed to speak their language, not allowed to have their hair long. It's just, it's just. There's so much that I can't even, you can't just put it into a few seconds or minutes it's just outrageous. But as far as the bison is definitely a sign to me, he's American. He is us. He is who we are because without him we would've been nothing. He was our food source he was our homes, He was everything.
Piper: Ida Mae Garrison shares about her own experiences and Indian school.
Ida: the first year, that was a terrible time. Here I am close to home, grandma down there, she can't do anything, She's an Indian! And she can't go against that white man's word, no way. So every day that first year of my life, I go down there and look across the Missouri River toward home and I cried every day and keyed in the bed every night. For a year. And then it was over. I'm happy wherever I am, doesn't make any difference. We weren't allowed to speak any Indian. I had these two Chippewa friends, And they spent their language, And of course I was there friend and I was with them when they got caught speaking their native language. And I was punished along with them. Put us in the linen closet, We had bread and water for five days. But we had fun in there, We made our fun! We found an old blanket and unraveled the big strings, we learned all kinds of new things how to make new designs the cat in the cradle. They had a basketball tournament, and we won the tournament! But because we were Indians, we couldn't get the trophy they gave it to our loser. We'd say ‘chika like a chicka like a chell, chell, chell! Boomer like a boomer like a bow wow wow! Chicka like a boomer like a who are we? Pipestone Indian school yes sir-ee!
Piper: Dorothy Firecloud shares about her own powerful experiences here at the tower.
Dorothy Firecloud: being a member of the Rosebud Sioux try, I had experiences all the time that were just small personal experiences. You could feel the power of the place, I could go out on the part of the park that we reserved for the larger ceremonial activities. I just felt a piece there, Finding that piece and knowing that things are going to be okay.
Piper: Beverly Swift Pony also experiences the tower in a profound spiritual way.
Beverly: it is a very sacred place. I mean it's obvious to a lot of people, maybe not everyone gives that feel from it but I think the people that do they get it. They know what it is. I've had something people say to me it just draws you here, It's just like a magnet that's why people come here from all over the world to see it it's like nothing on this planet ever, there's not another one like it anywhere. It is sacred, It is very important to us.
Piper: Dorothy Whitehorse DuLaune talks about the importance of the tower to the Kiowa people.
Dorothy: Devils Tower is the first place any pilot goes when they go north. It's just like Mac, it's a must from every pilot I've ever spoken to, Have you ever been to Devils Tower? Because somehow in our thinking, once you've been there you're really Kiowa. We had experiences there where the rocks talk to us, and the stars are going to be with us for return it eternity, That's the main place we have references everything there. And when I went with my elders, my co-elders, We made sure that we had prayer there and you have to do it in your lifetime.
Piper: George Reed Junior speaks to how for the crowd and many other people it is important that visitors respect the tower
George: A lot of are sacred sites, Our historical sites they've been practically destroyed, Respect for these: Don't disturb, don't destroy, don't desecrate, and don't displace that is what I advocate
Devils towers truly a sacred place. One with a long history and connection to his people. It is important that we as visitors treated with that same respect. As always, my name is Piper Lewis podcasting the tower frequency for you courtesy of Geo core and the National Parks service. For more information on Devils Tower please see our website www.nps.gov/deto our theme music was composed by Ben sound and can be found that been sounds.com thank you for listening