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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Devil's Tower National Monument, June 2011

While in Custer, South Dakota in 2011 we took a daytrip to Devil's Tower National Monument.
 President Theodore Roosevelt established Devil's Tower as the nation’s first national
monument on September 24, 1906.
Devil's Tower is a monolithic igneous intrusion; several geologists believe the molten rock comprising the Tower might not have surfaced, other researchers are convinced the tower is all that remains of what once was a large explosive volcano. 

There are plenty of opportunities to stop along the road and gawk on the way in, but it was a bit hairy when we came to a section of the road that had fallen away on a high curve.  I couldn't get a picture because there was no place to stop without holding up traffic, but it was quite a sight to see a chunk of what used to be road hanging out over a big drop!  There is a nice 40 site park service campground on the way in with views of the tower and the Belle Fourche River. There is no dump station or hookups at this site which is why we came as a daytrip from Custer.

The picture above was taken from the parking lot by the visitor center, which we visited to learn about the tower's formation and history. As the magma rock cooled, it contracted, forming hexagonal (and sometime 4-, 5- and 7-sided) columns separated by vertical cracks.

A 1.5 hour ranger led hike around the base of the tower is offered, but we took the less traveled 2.8 mile Red Beds Trail around the monument to enjoy the surrounding views and get a feel for the tower as part of its surroundings.  The trail starts off at the base of the tower and meanders through a Ponderosa Pine forest.  After hiking about 3/4 mile the forest comes out into some beautiful meadows with views of the area.  The going gets a little more difficult with a series of swithbacks that lead down and away from the tower. 

Soon you enter an area with red clay and sand that give the trail its name.  We couldn't believe how much the terrain of the trail kept changing! I don't think we've ever been on shorter trail that had such variety of habitat.

After turning back toward the tower you have to climb back up toward it and we had to stop a few times to catch our breath, but the reward is getting to a side of the tower you can't see from most spots in the park. Very cool, and we came upon a ranger just minutes afterward to finish our walk with. We learned from her that there is a whole ecosystem on the top, including deer and even snakes!


  1. The Red Beds trail sounds really nice! I've always wanted to visit Devil's Tower, and now I know which trail I'll take when I get there. :)

  2. Thanks for the tour and great photos! We missed this one when we were in the area during the summer in 2007. Next time, we'll be sure not to miss The Devil's Tower. There is just so much to see in the Black Hills, we'll have to allow a lot more time.

  3. I can't see pictures of this without thinking of mashed potatoes. Thanks, Spielberg.

  4. This feels like old home week! :) Yep, while growing up in western SD, I made many trip to Devils Tower. I even did a 5 mile race once around the base of the tower. I thought the photo at the top of your blog looked like it was from the Wyoming/SD area. The red dirt was the giveaway. Thanks for the memories! :)

    1. It's been good memories for me this week too reviewing this trip we took. I have a few more posts to come from this area, glad you're enjoying them!