Half The Park is After Dark
America's National Park Service sites contain many cherished treasures. As darkness falls on Devils Tower, a different kind of light illuminates the night sky. That light comes from objects in deep space, and transforms the night from a place of darkness into a place of wonder.
The night sky inspires human lives too. Oral histories about the Tower incorporate tribal star knowledge. Astronomers and night sky photographers seek out the darkness of parks like Devils Tower National Monument, islands of night in an ever-brighter world. What inspiration can you find as you enjoy the darker side of the first national monument?
Lakota Star KnowledgeIn Lakota, Devils Tower is known as "mato tipi la paha" or "The Hill of the Bear's Lodge." More commonly called Mato Tipila (Bear Lodge).
Through their oral traditions, Lakotas have passed on their knowledge of the stars to current generations. In addition to other known Lakota constellations, "Mato Tipila" shines brightly in the northern hemisphere. The fact that it shares the name of the geographic feature known as Devils Tower is no coincidence.
Common astronomy today uses Greek or Latin names and constellations. Castor and Pollux are two bright stars that mark the constellation known as Gemini. These stars, as well as several others form the Gemini constellation, and known to Lakotas as Mato Tipila - Bear Lodge.
Both the geographic feature and the constellation Mato Tipila are roughly rectangular in shape, but with a slight lean. When the constellation rises, it is on its side; but as it sets it falls perpendicular to the horizon, mirroring the shape of the Tower. Lakotas developed their star knowledge over generations of watching the night sky; although many aspects of their culture became fragmented by the end of the 1800s, their astronomical connections are still taught and studied today. Oral histories about the night sky include elements common to many cultures, such as the Milky Way, the North Star, and Orion's Belt.
Connections between people and the night sky stretch back for millennia. The star knowledge of the Lakotas is one of many ways that demonstrate the cultural signficance the Tower site has for so many diverse people. Today, you can enjoy the park after dark and marvel at the same sky and the same stars that have captured the imaginations of people for thousands of years.
Ideal Locations for Night Sky Viewing
Joyner Ridge Parking Lot and Trail - Turn left onto a gravel road before you reach the Devils Tower Visitor Center to reach the parking lot and trailhead. This area provides one of the best views of the Tower, and with very little light pollution it is ideal for dark sky photos.
Circle of Sacred Smoke Sculpture and Picnic Area - Turn left at the park administration building and proceed to the picnic area. With few trees, the night sky opens up over Devils Tower.
Night Sky Programs - The night sky is one of many resources which Devils Tower National Monument protects. Throughout the year the park hosts night sky programs. Scheduled programs are listed below, and you can check the park's event calendar for details.
Astronomy and night sky programs are dependent upon fair weather conditions. Check our Facebook page, website and the weather for current information before you come.
For more information on night sky viewing, visit the National Park Service Night Sky page.
Goodman, R.1992. Lakota Star Knowledge: Studies in Lakota Stellar Theology. Rosebud Sioux Reservation Mission, South Dakota: Sinte Gleska University.
Last updated: May 3, 2019