Our Time in The Black Hills

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Warning… this post requires a bit of reading, but I believe it’s worth the read, so I trust that you will make it to the end!

Ken and I have been at Devils Tower National Monument for a month. We have weathered much rain, a couple of severe thunderstorms and tornado warnings, along with the residual mud that Ken has had to traverse in order to maintain the coach, with only a few pair of shoes having paid the price… all part of volunteering at Devils Tower!

Our volunteer position here entails answering questions of all kinds since some days we work at the desk inside the Visitor Center (VC) and some days we lead guided walks on the Tower Trail. The schedule also has each of us roving and talking with visitors at Prairie Dog Town about once a week. We spend time outside of the VC at the Kiosk where we do a Ranger Talk to an audience that we have gathered to listen to the story of “Devils Tower George,” and about once a week I rove the Belle Fourche campground here to gather an Evening Program audience to once again hear the story of George Hopkins, the 30-year old parachutist and daredevil who was stranded on the Tower for six days in 1941.

If you haven’t noticed, we only have the one prepared program talk, which is because our assignment here is just two months. The other volunteers, staff, and interns working in Interpretation are longer term and, as such, they have developed multiple and more detailed programs. For example, the Evening Program (EP) should be about 45 minutes in length, whereas our program is designed for a 20-minute talk. Last week my EP audience was very engaged and we had a lot of fun, which stretched it out to almost the full length.

So, that’s what we do here, except that we are always willing to do whatever needs doing, such as sharpening over a thousand Jr. Ranger Program pencils and taking on additional Tower Walks when others are sick. Next week Ken is scheduled to hand out Visitor Survey Cards and I have driven over to the Wyoming Welcome Center in Aladdin, WY and shared Devils Tower information with everyone who was interested in visiting. The days are mostly busy, but then there are those times when we are scheduled on “Projects” where the time runs a bit slower.

At this halfway point of our time here at Devils Tower, which is located in the northern part of the Black Hills, I thought it appropriate to share information that answers some of the questions we get from visitors. So, sit back, relax, and prepare to be informed…

According to Wikipedia, the “Black Hills…  are a small and isolated mountain range rising from the Great Plains of North America in western South Dakota and extending into Wyoming, United States… The [Black] hills were so-called because of their dark appearance from a distance, as they were covered in trees.

Native Americans have a long history in the Black Hills. After conquering the Cheyenne in 1776, the Lakota took over the territory of the Black Hills, which became central to their culture. In 1868, the U.S. government signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, establishing the Great Sioux Reservation west of the Missouri River, and exempting the Black Hills from all white settlement forever. However, when settlers discovered gold there in 1874, as a result of George Armstrong Custer‘s Black Hills Expedition, miners swept into the area in a gold rush. The US government took back the Black Hills and in 1889 reassigned the Lakota, against their wishes, to five smaller reservations in western South Dakota, selling off 9 million acres of their former land.”

The Lakota and others of the 26 Native American tribes associated with Devils Tower believe the Tower and the land around it to be a sacred place. “The most common ritual that takes place at the Tower are prayer offerings. Colorful cloths or bundles are placed near the Tower – commonly seen along the park’s trails – and represent a personal connection to the site. They are similar to ceremonial objects from other religions, and may represent a person making an offering, a request, or simply in remembrance of a person or place.”

As also stated on the NPS website, “Oral histories and sacred narratives explain not only the creation of the Tower, but also its significance to American Indians. They detail peoples’ relationships with the natural world, and establish those relationships through literal and symbolic language.”

The Lakota oral history story says that the Tower was created because a group of girls went out to play one day and were chased by several giant bears. To escape the bears, the girls climbed a rock, “fell to their knees, and prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. Hearing their prayers, the Great Spirit made the rock rise from the ground towards the heavens so that the bears could not reach the girls.” In trying to climb the rock, the bears left deep claw marks in the sides, which are today the vertical cracks on Devils Tower. “When the girls reached the sky, they were turned into the stars of the Pleiades.”

As you might have gleaned from the information here, there is so much more to Devils Tower than just the Tower itself, and we are enjoying the challenge of learning about it all and sharing what we’ve learned with visitors. After all, this is just one of the reasons why we volunteer.

While still fully immersed here, it’s impossible to stop time and the days are clicking away causing our sights to turn toward North Dakota and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. But, that’s a story for another post.

Thanks for reading to this point where I will add that despite another round of threatening storms yesterday, we are refreshed and ready to take on another week of talking with thousands of visitors because Ken now has mud boots and I managed to get a pedicure after a short, but fun getaway to Deadwood, South Dakota.

We hope that you are filling your summer with lots of outdoor fun while staying cool!

Dorothy and Ken

Native American prayer bundles and prayer cloths on Aspen tree
View from the base of the Tower at the boulder field
Close up in Prairie Dog Town
Ken in the Visitor Center – explaining a geological theory to a visitor – with the 1935 painting of an American Indian Oral History Story hanging over the mantel in the background – to the left at the counter is a young visitor preparing to take the Jr. Ranger pledge
View of the Belle Fourche River from the Red Beds Trail
Our hike on the Red Beds Trail
The day Devils Tower disappeared – fog completely enveloped the Tower!
Lakota Hoop Dancer – Evening Program at Belle Fourche Campground, Devils Tower
Looking up from the south side of the Tower Trail
Prairie Rattlesnake next to the Tower Trail (northwest side)
Ken on the porch of the 125-year old General Store in Aladdin, WY
Scenic drive through Spearfish Canyon to Deadwood South Dakota


Calamity Jane


Street shoot out in Deadwood
Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are both buried at Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, SD
View of Deadwood from the cemetery
Driving towards Devils Tower – Goldenrod is growing everywhere
Ken trying on his new mud boots


4 Replies to “Our Time in The Black Hills”

  1. Sounds like you’re happy and busy! It’s amazing our brains store so much new info each time we go somewhere new.

    Leaving AK around Sept. 8 – driving through SD for residency and new driver’s license…
    Happy travels…Florida, right?


  2. Howdy folks! Well that wasn’t nearly as much reading as when the grand kids got ahold of your blog….haha. Anyway, lots of good information. I remember visiting the Tower years ago but didn’t remember any of the history. I always hated the way the Indian Nations were treated :(. Not much has changed today. Oh well, no political posts for me.

    So glad you two are keeping busy and enjoying yourselves. We just got back from three weeks in Michigan, along the lake. Michigan sure needs some new roads! Some were terrible. Although I did notice they are working on some. We went all the way up to Mackinaw City but not the Island, been there done that already. We had a wonderful time. Lots of bike riding and the weather was fantastic….I don’t know why we came back so early. It’s hotter than heck here now.

    Love the boots Ken! Where are yours D? Miss you guys and hope to see you soon.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Robin, I have the cutest rain boots, but I don’t have to go out and empty the black water! 😉
    Your trip is very intriguing… I am looking forward to exploring Michigan and Wisconsin! Hoping to get there during the summer of 2020. Isn’t this country of ours a vast expanse of places to visit and learn about?
    We can’t wait to see y’all in October, so stay cool until we can get there!!


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