Bear Lodge at Devils Tower NM
Devils Tower National Monument. Wyoming. August 6, 2014
Copyright © 2014 A. F. Litt, All Rights Reserved
Photo of the Day by A. F. Litt: November 10, 2014
The best laid plans… Well, I hope to get back on track with the photo of the day after a month long hiatus. Life got pretty busy there for a bit, as life tends to do, and I decided that rather than spending a month feeling guilty about not keeping up with the photo of the day I’d just put it on hold and re-launch the re-launch when I could realistically post on a regular basis.
So, here goes… I’m making plans- I hope God doesn't laugh!
A month ago, I had a pretty decent post sketched out in my head for this photo, but a month of busy days later and those plans are faded. On our trip, we visited many sites that are sacred to Native Americans, here and the Medicine Wheel probably being first and foremost. I was going to post a weeks worth of photos on these sites in conjunction with Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 13 (some may know that day by another term), but that week got very busy.
So I will pick up with this photo, but then move on.
As we followed our path across the west this summer, though, we did visit a lot of sacred places, and Bear Lodge and the Medicine Wheel were very powerful experiences for me. It was my first visit to the Medicine Wheel, but my second to Devils Tower National Monument. My first visit to the monument was many decades ago, and my excitement was centered around visiting the location that played such a major role in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
On this visit, though, images of alien spacecraft floating around the tower had faded from my mind, and arriving at the monument on the same day that we visited the Medicine Wheel, I was in a more spiritual mindset.
The painting here shows a scene from the etiological myth of the creation of this landform. It’s real name is Bear Lodge… Devils Tower is a western name from the pioneer days and is actually considered by many Indians to be rather offensive, because this is not a dark or evil place in their view.
And this is a spot where western ideas and indigenous ideas really clash… The tower is considered to be one of the world’s great climbing spots, but climbing on a spiritual monument is rather insulting to those who feel that this is a sacred location. Imagine peoples’ reaction if the Washington Monument was turned into a base jumping platform, or if St. Peter’s Basilica was turned into an EDM nightclub…
So the National Park Service has a tough job here. They’ve asked climbers to stay off the formation in June, the peak season for ceremonies to be held at the monument, and while this is merely a request, many, though not all, climbers honor this voluntary restriction. They ask visitors to stay on the trails and not to use the site as a recreational playground, though this is difficult to enforce and even my own boys had trouble “remembering” to not leap parkour style between the boulders of the talus field at the formation’s base…
However, that lapse did lead to a very powerful discussion about faith and respect for everyone’s individual beliefs, which, while difficult at times, was pretty amazing.
To me, this should be a part of the power of these sites. Even if we do not come from the spiritual tradition that led to these sites being recognized as sacred by the first peoples, we should appreciate this spiritual aspect when we visit these locations as much as we appreciate the sheer physical beauty of these spots. If we can meditate and pray, or even have a discussion amongst ourselves about the junction of the physical and spiritual world that occurs in these locations, regardless of our individual beliefs, then even better!
I feel God’s presence very much in these sites. While my faith does not assign any particular holiness to these specific locations, they are still some of the best works in our land of a God whose holiness infuses every place and every thing. If other faiths recognize the sacredness inherent in these sites too, that can serve to remind us… encourage us to remember… that there is a spirit in the land, regardless of how we define it, if we call it God, Allah, the Great Spirit, or anything else, even just simple Nature, and sites like this should be treated as sacred no matter what faith lays claim to this or that particular piece of real estate.
As for the name… There is some noise about changing the name to Bear Lodge National Monument, but this is politically tricky, and there are some who feel that the history of the name Devils Tower should be respected as well. While I side more with changing the name, I understand that a compromise may be in order, too. So my suggestion would be to call the monolith Bear Lodge while keeping the name of the national monument as is.
Hence my caption on this photo… Bear Lodge at Devils Tower National Monument.
From the National Park Service:
- Monument Home Page: http://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm
- Devils Tower - Sacred to Plains Tribes
A review of the ethnographic literature demonstrates that Devils Tower was a sacred area for several Plains Tribes, and that it is considered an important landmark in tribal narratives.
- First Stories - In Their Own Words
In the 1930's, the importance of Devils Tower to many Plains Indians was recorded in first person narratives.
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