American's first national monument is now 115 years old.

How old does that make you feel?

On September 24th, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt used the newly signed Antiquities Act to set aside Devils Tower as the country's first National Monument!

Smithsonian Channel via YouTube

Devils Tower National Monument, also known as Grizzly Bear's Lodge, was the first U.S. national monument, established in 1906 in northeastern Wyoming, near the Belle Fourche River.

The 2.1 square miles feature is a natural rock tower, the remnant of a volcanic intrusion now exposed by erosion.

The name is a misunderstanding. Early Europeans in the area asked the natives what they called the tower. The natives tried to explain the "bad god" that it represented. To the white people that would be something like our "DEVIL" so they called it Devils Tower. That name does not go over well with American Indians to this day.

Bill Schwamle, Townsquare Media

Another old legend from the Indians tells of 7 girls running from a bear. The tower is lifted from the ground by a great spirit to protect them. The sides look like they do because the bare scratched the tower while trying to climb up after them. The girls were taken up higher and you can now see them as what we call The Seven Sisters, a constellation of stars.

@AntonioParis via Twitter

In modern times most people think of UFOs when they think of Devils tower. Thank you, Mr. Spielberg.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a 1977 American science fiction film written and directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban, Cary Guffey, and François Truffaut. It tells the story of Roy Neary, an everyday blue-collar worker in Indiana, whose life changes after an encounter with an unidentified flying object (UFO). The movie plays every night on a big screen at the KOA campground at the base of Devils Tower.

These days a ranch surrounds the tower. Rock climbers can be seen going up and down all day and even night climbing. There is a KOA at its base which is always full.

Adventure Film Archive via Vimeo

We've seen UFOs flying over Wyoming. - You have to. You saw that documentary called Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. 

Well, it's a good thing that those UFOs only show up at night. During the day, when the weather is nice small planes love to buzz the tower.

There are rules. They have to stay a certain distance from the tower according to the aeronautical charts. There is a blue box around the tower on those charts and a notice advising pilots, for the welfare of the pilots, they should stay 3 nautical miles from the tower.

But there are exceptions, such as this fly-in photographed by Wyoming State Senator Ogden Driskill. His family owns the ranch around Devils Tower as well as the KOA campground. Mr. Driskill took these photos of bush planes coming in to rest and refuel after buzzing around the tower, but not too close.

A video from one of these planes is below. It will put you in the cockpit as the plane flies around the tower.

I was there a few years ago to see a fly-in just like this. Pilots landed in a field just outside of the KOA. These little planes don't need much runway. With those big tires, they can land on just about any surface.

Some of these planes are homemade kit builds. Just order from the factory and all of the parts arrive. Assembly required. Would you trust an airplane you built yourself?

The frames are light aluminum. The skins are usually fabric. They don't fly very fast. Actually, they are built to fly as slowly as possible.

These guys love formation flying. On the day that they were at the tower, they thrilled everyone by flying just below the top of the tower, as a group, as they circled it.

But why stop by just looking at these fun little planes. Pilots cannot fly too low over the tower for the same reasons they can't fly too low. But they can still and do still fly over, usually on their way to the Hulett airport, which is just up the road.

Here is a video shot from inside one of these airplanes as it circled the tower. You'll find the tower scene at about 12 minutes into the video.

 

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