Outside of Yellowstone the landscape continues to show the strange forces at work underground. And nowhere is it more evident than at Devil’s Tower. On my way to my campsite for the night I first catch a glimpse of it looming in the distance like an ominous brown gumdrop on the horizon. In the morning the sky is grey and it’s overwhelmingly windy, but somehow the Tower is the only thing lit up by the sun. It couldn’t be any weirder, but in many ways it is oddly beautiful.
I arrive just in time for a docent-led hike, but either the art student guide doesn’t know what he’s talking about or their isn’t much to say. Scientists don’t exactly agree on why the Tower is shaped the way it is, but the most convincing theory is that it formed in a lava flow pipe underground and stopped up the pipe so that the tower shaped rock and lava was pushed up to the surface as a mound of earth. The less resilient forms of rock around the original “stopper” have eroded away (and are still eroding) leaving behind the extreme form of Devil‘s Tower.
Along my route I also stop at a site where dinosaur footprints have been preserved in what once was a muddy riverbed and now is extremely resilient rock. When you see a sign for “Dinosaur Footprint Site” an image of one giant and very detailed footprint comes to mind. In reality what I find are hundreds of small footprints in tracks across the ground. The biggest prints are about five inches. Most are kind of hard to distinguish, but some are remarkably well-preserved. It’s a pretty cool place, if only because it was only discovered about ten years ago and they still let you walk on the ground where the tracks are and get as close to them as you want.
There appears to be a theme around the area or I just happen to be a geological/paleontological kick because one of the next things I do is visit the Mammoth Site in South Dakota. I have an image of a single Mammoth fossil-like thing highly preserved and maybe encased in glass. It turns out to be a huge piling of fossilized bones of dozens and dozens of mammoths. The site used to be a deep hot spring where the warmth of the water allowed foliage to grow during the ice age attracting animals to eat. Many of them fell into the pit and couldn’t climb back out and died. Overtime the sediment from the spring fossilized their poor unfortunate bones leaving them awesomely preserved for tourists.
The Black Hills are beautiful. Something about the scenery reminds me of a city park with manmade babbling brooks and gently sloping hills. Maybe it’s the way the forestry service selectively removes trees for fire prevention purposes. But the beauty is somewhat overshadowed by the touristy attractions. There are many caves in the area. I toured Wind Cave National Park, but was not impressed. I assumed the cave chosen for National Park status would be the best in the area, but maybe I just went on a tour of the dullest part of the cave, I’ll never know.
On my way out I pass by Mt. Rushmore. I think I planned to stop, but somehow when I pass the $10 parking entrance and see the monument from the road, I get a sinking feeling. It seems smaller in person. I don’t know if I have anything against it, I think rather, I like the image of it more than the actual thing. Seeing it in person, in context, with the beauty of the nature around it interrupted by something so striking, it becomes almost tacky. I want it to stay the powerful image that I’ve known before, so I pass by it as quickly as I can and its only after I do so that I realize why.