If you’ve never been on top of Devils Tower you are probably wondering what it’s like up there. Over the years climbers have come up with many creative tall tales to tell tourists when asked what is on top – a crystal blue water lake, an elevator shaft up the middle that they took down, an ice cream shop, McDonalds, a skinny gentleman with billowing white chest hair who waxes poetically about the Power of the Tower, alien spaceships and giant probes. The list goes on…
In reality the summit of Devils Tower is a broad hilltop about the size of a football field that slopes gently down from the highest point to its sheer vertical sides. As you might expect it is a rocky place, but there are also grasses, cactus, wildflowers and shrubs including sagebrush that grow on top. A total of 53 plant species have been documented from the summit of Devils Tower. If you take off your shoes to rest your feet, be sure to watch out for the prickly pear cactus! You can also find small mammals such as chipmunks and packrats scurrying and scavenging among the summit boulders, and at certain times of year swarms of flying ants also make themselves at home on top. Jan Conn described it as rather boring because when you are on the top you do not get the feeling of being so high and can not see the vertical sides so it seems just like any other hill top in north eastern Wyoming.
I agree, when sitting on the summit gazing across at the Belle Fourche River and surrounding pine covered hills it is easy to forget that you are on top of a massive sheer rock formation…until of course you walk to the edge and look down. There is a rung from the original stake ladder propped up in the middle of a rock cairn at the high point near the center of the top. Years ago Jan and Herb placed a leather bound sign in register there. The original one is long gone, and in the National Park Service museum I believe. But there is a notebook bound with a fake leather cover complete with fake leather work drawn on with a sharpie. Many climbers have happily signed into the summit register that lives on top. The Summit Log is very deluxe and lives in a very heavy steel pipe that has a screw on top that is sometimes a real bugger to get un screwed. There is occasionally a bison skull, and other sorts of treasures if you take the time to look around up there.
Sometimes on a nice day it seems like the most natural thing in the world to lounge at the top and enjoy the view, but it seems more often than not it’s too hot, too cold, too windy or something drives us rappelling back down the sides.
Wyoming is wild and the weather can certainly be harsh. Just like the sign at the state line says, “Like no place on earth.” So I guess it’s a bit alien for sure.
If you are interested in learning more about the plants that grow on top of Devils Tower check out this cool blog post http://plantsandrocks.blogspot.com/2016/11/devils-towerwhats-on-top-updated.html