We left Casper and headed north east – today’s adventure was to check out the Devil’s Tower Monument before heading into Spearfish in South Dakota. The annual Sturgis motorcycle rally has been on in this area for the past week so there were a lot of motorcycles around. I was quite fascinated by all the bikes, outfits and people – this is a way of life for them and some of the bikes are pretty amazing. Most of them don’t wear helmets – apparently it is ony required by law if you are under eighteen.
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is an American motorcycle rally held annually in Sturgis, South Dakota, usually during the first full week of August. It was begun in 1938 by a group of Indian Motorcycle riders and was originally held for stunts and races, but it has evolved into being a meeting for motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world. It brings significant income to the citizens of Sturgis, a town of only 6,627 people. It is one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world. They reckon some 400,000 attend annually. The population of the whole state of South Dakota is only a 1,000,000 so for that week the population explodes.
Many attendees of the Sturgis Rally have families, bring their children and drive trailers and campers to the rally, and ride their motorcycles just the last few miles. The director of the rally estimated in 2005 that less than half the attendees actually rode there. Shipping companies transport thousands of motorcycles to Sturgis for attendees who arrive via airline. Last year there were 12 fatalities and this year there have been 2 to date.
Apparently there are some sights to behold in Sturgis with females wearing leather chaps with only a g-string or lacy underwear. I was quite keen to go and just feel the vibe in Sturgis but Steve wasn’t keen – not even the minimalistic attire could entice him. To be fair we have seen more motorcycles in the last two days than we have in our lives.
We lined up with the motorcycles to drive up to the Devil’s Tower – it costs USD10 for a vehicle or USD5 for a motorcycle. This is my favourite picture from today.
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. An earlier flow formed Little Missouri Buttes. Over millions of years, erosion of the sedimentary rock exposed Devil’s Tower and accentuated Little Missouri Buttes. The tower rises 867 feet from its base and stands 1,267 feet above the river and 5,112 feet above sea level. The area of its teardrop shaped top is 1.5 acres. The diameter of its base is 1,000 feet.
There are a few walking trails at the base of the tower so we decided to do the one that circumnavigated the base – it was about 2km long. You can also climb the tower with a permit so we witnessed a few people climbing up there – they were attached by ropes and once they reached the top they abseiled down.
The legend of the native Kiowa people says….
“Eight children were at play, seven sisters and their brother. Suddenly the boy was struck dumb; he trembled and began to run upon his hands and feet. His fingers became claws, and his body was covered with fur. Directly there was a bear where the boy had been. The sisters were terrified; they ran, and the bear ran after them. They came to the stump of a great tree, and the tree spoke to them. It bade them to climb upon it, and as they did so it began to rise into the air. The bear came to kill them, but they were just beyond its reach. It reared against the tree and scored the bark all around with its claws. The seven sisters were borne into the sky, and they became the stars of the Pleiades.”
Bear Lodge is one of the many American Indian names for the Tower. Colonel Richard Dodge named it Devils Tower in 1875. He led the military expedition sent to confirm reports of gold in the Black Hills and to survey the area. Scientists them thought Devils Tower was the core of an active volcano. Recent data suggest it is an igneous intrusion.
On July 4, 1893, with fanfare and over 1,000 spectators, William Rogers and Willard Ripley made the ‘first’ ascent, using a wooden ladder for the first 350 feet. The fact that there was already a flagpole for raising Old Glory atop the Tower suggests the first ascent might have been one day earlier. The Tower became a Fourth of July meeting place for ranching families who might see each other but once a year. At the annual picnic, Mrs Rogers used her husband’s ladder to become the first woman to reach the summit.
Records of Tower climbs have been kept since 1937. Some 5,000 climbers come every year from all over the world to climb o the massive columns. Over 220 climbing routes have been used.
In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument under the new Antiquities Act. His action made Wyoming the home of both the first national park – Yellowstone in 1872 – and the first national monument.