Devil’s Tower, Dirt Devils, and Devilish Tendencies (Can Kill You)
"A dark mist lay over the Black hills, and the land was like iron…There are things in nature that engender an awful quiet in man; Devil’s Tower is one of them,” wrote explorer N. Scott Momaday when he discovered this behemoth in northwestern Wyoming.
The butte was named Bear Mountain according to Indian legend: seven sisters were being chased by their brother, who had morphed suddenly into a growling bear.
“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 rose 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 Big Dippper.”
In 1906 this incredible “igneous intrusion” was declared the first national landmark under Teddy Roosevelt’s Antiquities Act…just fourteen years after Yellowstone was established as the first national park.
Also in the park is a town of black-tailed prairie dogs.
They scurry about right alongside the roadway, sniffing shrubs and building their underground labyrinth. Apparently they only seem cute if you don’t live on the prairie; otherwise they’re little rat puppies that dig up precious ranch property, spit disease, and generally annoy anyone living off the land.
Though I have to say I felt a connection when I saw this. They’re fellow asphalt eaters!
But when the need for speed creeps into my right hand on the throttle, these signs along the highway shock me back to sensibility.
Devils lurk everywhere in this territory.
[Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, August 13, 2012]
HOORAY! Autumn has arrived at Yellowstone National Park, where I spent nearly three days last week traversing the most diverse landscape to date on this fantastic voyage:
A warm greeting in the welcome packet set the tone:
Miles later, a temporary roadblock proved that the note was no joke:
Turns out, I was approaching the Lamar Valley Buffalo Ranch, established in 1907 to restore the bison herd from near-extinction (fewer than 40 survived) after poachers swept the region. The ranch ceased operation in 1952; now the free-roaming herd of 2000 will cross streets wherever and whenever it pleases, thankyouverymuch.
Further down the valley, wide open space, dotted with tall, fluffy trees:
Rolling hills speckled with boulders that were once swept along by massive, melting glaciers and deposited as the water drained into the earth. Take a moment to scan the scene; can’t you envision that flow?
Sometimes, house-sized blocks of ice were left behind, forming kettle-shaped depressions in the earth, creating small ponds:
In contrast, this area of Yellowstone was ravaged by the infamous forest fires of 1988, which burned through thousands of Douglas fir trees, leaving their spindly trunks to tumble down like giant pickup-sticks.
Not to be confused with the Petrified Tree, a fossilized redwood that “is a clue to a warmer, damper, more violent Yellowstone landscape….Volcanic ash and mudflows obliterated a living landscape yet preserved this tree for ages,” according to the plaque.
Miles away, lush spires stretch toward a torn-paper horizon:
Which buffer the sandy, craggy perimeter of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone:
And creep toward waterfalls that will likely thunder for all eternity:
Yellowstone River, a happy, majestic shade of aqua further downstream:
Reminiscent in placid creeks and streams that cut through dewy, wildflower pastures:
…seemingly a world apart from the severe panorama of the Norris Geysers:
And massive mineral deposits near Mammoth Hot Springs:
Old Faithful, smoking and hissing (I could not wait the ~90 minutes until the next predicted eruption), appears tame in comparison:
At the exit to the north, a gentle goodbye via sandy, sage-brush-dotted hills and those beautiful, blue mountains:
Continental Divide x 3
On Wednesday I left Jackson, Wyoming, and completed my first of three long drives through Yellowstone National Park, to the North Entrance in Gardiner, Montana.
As I soon realized, the late-summer sightseeing parade of RVs and SUVs, combined with an ever-changing landscape buttressed by scenic pull-outs around every bend, made for one slow journey.
150 miles and nearly FIVE hours of driving and photographing later, I had traveled up and over the Continental Divide* as the sun fell closer and closer to the horizon:
*mountains that separate watersheds draining into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans
File under: prophet.
Hiking Death Canyon
I giggled on the phone when I told my mom where I was headed. (Hey, she called, and she asked! Yet as we all learned from 127 Hours, telling someone where you’re going on your hike could mean the difference between keeping and losing a limb.)
First, the drive through Grand Teton National Park to Death Canyon:
Seconds after I snapped this photo, the bear ambled off to the right, up a steep embankment.
Suddenly, a second bear charged across the street from the left to follow the first. He was moving so frantically that I could see his fur ripple back and forth with the momentum. The pair bushwhacked up the hill until they were out of sight.