Devil’s Tower

“You can’t sleep here!”

The Man stood over us silhouetted against the dawn sky. I sat up and looked in his direction. It was barely light out but I could make out his uniform and the telltale hat.

Beyond The Man’s hat 1200′ of rock intruded into the dawn sky. The sun was just beginning to rise and the east face turning blood red and we lay in the dirt and watched the shadows drip.

The hour come round at last The Man yelled again, “I said GET UP!”

We quickly gathered our sleeping bags and climbed into the car.

He opened the gate and beckoned us through. The road wound clockwise and spiraled towards the centre and we journeyed around and upward and soon we left the car and continued on foot towards the tower.

In the early morning hour the rock was crisp and cool against our hands and we shivered as we worked our way up the leaning column that seemed to speak and move beneath our feet. Beyond the column the southern exposure captured the morning sun and soon the crisp morning fell apart as the rock accepted the offering of sun. We continued to move upward our throats already parched. Above the cracks widened and we had to wedge our bodies into the shadows; the line between sun and shade a difference of 20 degrees.

We pushed our way up the cracks while one hand grew numb from cold and the other glistened with sweat. We emerged on top mid morning, the sun just beginning to blister our parched mouths.

Our stay on the summit was brief. Returning to the edge we threw the ropes off into the wind. A gust caught them and the ropes rose from below and were thrown over our heads – as if we were being told to stay awhile. We recoiled and tossed them again; this time the tower allowed us to leave.

Back down we wound the ropes and wandered down a trail writhing with people. There was a water fountain in the parking lot where I drank deeply. A young boy stood and watched me, his eyes on the rope around my neck. When I stopped drinking he asked, “What did you find up there?”

I cannot remember what I told the boy. I remember the top was the size of a football field and the ground rose gradually to mound of rocks. 900′ beneath the edge was solid ground and 1200′ below the grasslands flowed into the horizon. The native peoples say that the rock grew out of the earth and that a bear raked the sides all around. Geologist tell us the tower burst through the earth 40 million years ago and the grasslands are eroding away beneath our feet.

On the top I balanced on a piece of wood someone had wedged into the summit cairn, teetered briefly and then jumped. Floating for one second between the earth and sky I closed my eyes and tried to discern whether the rock was rising, or the earth was falling.