Steptoe Butte and the Devils Tower have both similarities and differences. Both can be seen from great distances, are impressively large, and are one-of-a-kind attractions. I was amazed to learn that the Devils Tower’s top is the size of a football field. Steptoe Butte has a cone-shape. Steptoe Butte is in Washington and Devils Tower is in Wyoming. I was surprised to learn that the latter is considered part of the Black Hills region, which is mostly in South Dakota. Both are relatively small in area.
Like Uluru in Australia, Devils Tower is held sacred by Native American tribes like the Shoshone and the Cheyenne. Native Americans prefer that climbers not ascend Devils Tower in June. They hold ceremonies near it year-round, often leaving prayer bundles in trees. Aboriginals in Australia prefer that visitors not ascend Uluru, still sometimes still called Ayers Rock. In 2016 more than 6,000 climbers ascended the Tower on its 200 different climbing routes. Climbers must register with a ranger before starting out.
Steptoe Butte is composed of quartzite. The Devils Tower is phonolite porphyry. There are 4 scientific theories and one mythic one about how the Tower was created. I prefer the mythic. In the Kiowan tale, seven girls are being chased by a large bear. One girl prays to the rock to save them. The rock hears the prayer and grows upwards out of the bear’s reach. The bear’s claw marks are seen all over the Tower, which in the myth continues to grow upward until it reaches the sky where the girls become stars, The Pleiades. Both formations are impressive without being especially beautiful.
There’s a 1.3 mile trail around Devils Tower. I have now walked it twice, once with our son and recently with Ruth. There are 7.4 miles of hiking paths at Devils Tower, camping facilities, a prairie dog town, and a busy visitor center that is 1/3 gift shop. It attracts 400,000 travelers each year and parking can be difficult. Due to its remoteness, Steptoe has far fewer visitors and lacks amenities other than toilets. Most who go there are photographers hoping for vivid sunsets.
The Belle Fourche River (fur trappers named it pretty fork) circles part of Devils Tower before flowing east into South Dakota. It can be seen from the Tower Trail. There are no rivers flowing around Steptoe, but it’s not too far from The Snake and an impressive bridge.
President Theodore Roosevelt made the Devils Tower the United States 1st National Monument in 1906. In that year travelers were on their way up Steptoe Butte to stay at its summit hotel.