Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Bear's Teepee

We are in the Belle Fourche campground
at Devils Tower National Monument (map). We can see the tower out one side of the bus, and the Belle Fourche river out the other.

The guides had advised that this Park Service campground fills up by early afternoon, and so we got a relatively early start from Gillette. We took US14 out of town, shunning I-90 as is our custom. There is, however, a 30-mile stretch where the two highways run side-by-side, separated only by a grassy median with a barb-wire fence.

We elected to spend two nights here, even though most visitors to the Monument, other than rock climbers, spend a mere matter of a few hours here. Yesterday afternoon we explored the small park on our scooters -- the park's 25MPH limit makes for easy travel even on the 49cc Honda.

This is our first visit here, and, I have to say, the photos and postcards do not do it justice. It truly is impressive and imposing. Of course, only the white man, in his arrogance, calls this place Devil's Tower -- the native Americans call it Tree Rock, the Bear's Lodge, or the Bear's Teepee, depending on tribe.

Today we are having a day of relaxation around the campsite. We will also take another ride up to the visitor center, and perhaps even walk around the tower on the paved trail. The temperature is projected to be in the 90s today, and so we'll also walk over to the river later for a dip, which will involve reclining, as the river is perhaps five yards wide and a foot or two deep.

Tomorrow we will continue east into the Black Hills National Forest.


  1. Devils Tower is a cool place, but it's extra-special to the history of protected public lands, as it was the first national monument designated using the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Act allowed the President to declare a national monument to protect historic and prehistoric places, as well as "objects of scientific interest." While the Act was passed in large part to protect the SW archaeological sites which were under peril, Teddy Roosevelt set a huge precedent by using the authority to designate Devils Tower first. Without that broad interpretation, we very well may not have many of our national treasures--such as the Grand Canyon--preserved as parks and monuments today.

  2. We too were amazed at the reality of Devil's Tower. It was astonishing, despite the fact we'd seen it frequently in photos. Here is my blog on our visit there last September:

  3. If different tribes have different names for the same place, why is it arrogant for the "white man" to have a different name as well?

  4. @scott -- thanks for posting that. We're aware of the history -- it's on the park web site, after all, and it seems to be reiterated nightly at the ranger program. I did not want to lengthen my post with information that I already linked at the start, but the comments is a fine place for it.

    @debbie and joe -- thanks for linking your blog entry here.

    @d.a. -- that's a great question, and it highlights the fact that I left many things unsaid in my post. It seems arrogant to me because the white man took this land from the native Americans without a second thought, and proceeded to impose his own rule upon land that belonged to the natives for millennia. And the name came about because of a translation error, which underscores the fact that early white explorers here did little to understand, let alone respect, the native American perspective on this place.

    We travel frequently here in Odyssey on tribal lands -- the collective dregs into which earlier white Americans and their government forced the native peoples of this land, after taking by force the choicest pieces for themselves. And we are ever mindful that we are the product of generations of privilege, and that we enjoy these riches only after a heavy price has been paid in blood.

    So perhaps my comment was out of place, in the context of there being many equally appropriate names for this one place. But it was born of a (superficial, admittedly) understanding that, even today, many native Americans see our modern usage of this park (e.g., by climbing on the tower) as a desecration of a sacred place.

    At least it is in the public trust, protected for future generations of Americans, native and otherwise. It might just as easily have been placed in private hands a century and a half ago, had it not been for the intervention of the General Land Office and then, as Scott points out, the President.




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