Devil’s Tower – Wyoming

Devil's Tower

Devil’s Tower

This was it. After many years of wanting to see it for myself, I was finally able to get out to Crook County, Wyoming to visit with Devil’s Tower.

Considered sacred to the Lakota and other tribes with both cultural and geological ties to it, Devil’s Tower (Matȟó Thípila / Ptehé Ǧí / Wox Niiinon) is a stone monolith that looms over the surrounding landscape. Along the drive out on US-14 W, the moment the monument comes into view, it’s almost startling and unmistakable for anything else. An enormous pillar that rises up out of a flared stone base, flush with fallen rock peppered throughout with trees and bushes, Devil’s Tower seems to beckon. I actually felt pulled to the site almost the entire way there.

The immediate feeling of seeing the tower wasn’t as emotionally overwhelming as I expected (I had rather high expectations on my own reaction, for some reason), but I find that now when recalling first seeing it – and the slow, winding drive up to the Visitor’s Center near the base, I am filled with strong emotion.

Devil's Tower 3Being the US Park Passport geek I’ve become, my first order of business was collecting my visitor’s stamp before the offices closed. I also picked up a keychain and decorative hat pin, which I’ve been doing for every major site that I’ve visited throughout the US. I have a rather large and noisy collection of keychains now, and the hat pins are being placed around the walls of Matilda’s cabin – with a small, fuzzy jackelope that I picked up in Wall, SD to keep careful watch over them as he perches on the dashboard beside them.

Once the ritual ‘Marking The Occasion With Tacky Plastic/Metal Crap That I Adore’ portion of the journey had been completed, I had plenty of sunlight left to actually take the Tower Trail around the tower itself. It takes about an hour, and there are easily discernable, easy to walk paths that wind around it – which surprised me. For some odd reason, in my head I’d figured that I’d be hiking for at least an hour or two before actually reaching the tower, and that I’d be fending off amorously bitey rattlesnakes the entire way with a large stick.

It seems that almost everybody I’d spoken with about visiting Devil’s Tower beforehand warned me to wear heavy boots and pants, stating that the snakes were everywhere. I arrived in knee length shorts and flip-flops, but had boots and long pants in the car, in case I needed them. The park ranger assured me that I should be ok with what I was currently wearing, as long as I stayed on the path – and indeed, most of the other visitors seemed to be dressed the same – sandals and shorts. It was a fairly warm day, so off I ventured down the path.

The trail hugs along fields of large chunks of fallen rock that surround the base, and visions of the tower itself would poke through the trees here and there – before presenting wonderful, unobstructed views of it. At various points along the trail I spotted ribbons and colorful bundles tied to trees, here and there. A sign indicated that these were offerings/prayers to the tower, and were not to be disturbed.

As I made my way along the trail, I meditated and just let myself BE with the presence of the tower. A reassuring resonance echoed out from it, from what I could feel – I don’t know if it hits others differently, but I would imagine it does. At one point on my walk around the tower, I spotted nine golden eagles flying around its summit, swooping and floating on the air currents.

The entire walk is gorgeous, offering wonderful panoramic vistas of the areas below the tower, as well as fantastic views of the tower.

If you ever find yourself in this part of the country – DO visit. You won’t be disappointed.
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Cave of the Mounds – Blue Mounds, WI

Stalactite Chandelier

Stalactite Chandelier

Cave of the Mounds [http://caveofthemounds.com/] is a natural limestone cave that was discovered back in 1939. It opened as an attraction in 1940.
According to WIKIPedia – “The Chicago Academy of Sciences considers the Cave of the Mounds to be “the significant cave of the upper Midwest” because of its beauty, and it is promoted as the “jewel box” of major American caves.”
I will say that, out of the caves that I’ve visited so far throughout the country, while it’s not overwhelming in size, the sheer beauty of this cave system is really outstanding. It’s almost my favorite cave at this point, although Carlsbad is second due to the enormity of the underground caverns.
Winding Pathway

Winding Pathway

There are many gorgeous clusters of chandelier stalagtites in a wonderful collection of colors, and there’s even a tight, winding path through naturally formed columns of rock, with shallow pools of water to either side. It was this particular feature that actually charmed me the most.

There are multiple areas that look like picture boxes cut out of the surrounding stone, revealing pools of water and truly beautiful collections of stalactites and stalagmites, as well as rather cthonic looking flowstone throughout.
I wish I could’ve taken my time a little more, and taken some more pictures, but the tour guide – although very friendly and knowledgeable, seemed to be rushing things once she was done speaking. She would finish talking, and then she’d turn the lights off without waiting to see if everybody was with her or not, which left me in the dark a few times.
One of the 'picture windows'

One of the ‘picture boxes’

Huzzah for handy dandy flashlight attached to my keys! 🙂 Still, it would’ve been nice to try to get some pictures without gaping tourists milling about in front of them while she talked.

All this being said, the cave is a must see, in my opinion, if you’re out that way.
Do check it out. You won’t be disappointed.

Aztalan State Park – Aztalan, WI

one of the 'pyramid mounds' at Aztalan State Park

one of the ‘pyramid mounds’ at Aztalan State Park

Aztalan State Park is is the site of an ancient indigenous settlement out in Aztalan, Wisconsin. There are several pyramid shaped mounds with flat topped platforms that archaeologists believe served ceremonial and defensive purposes.

There are also a great many whackadoo/crackpot sites out there that have rather wildly varying accounts of the citizens of Aztalan.
One site even goes so far as to explain that there were two opposing religious factions – one that worshiped the sun, and one that worshiped the moon, and posits that these two tribes engaged in a continuing battle for over two centuries. This site further goes on to speculate that the solar/males defeated the lunar/females, and then proceeded to desecrate the site with human sacrifice and cannibalistic rites – none of it, of course, backed up with actual reference material.

the stockade

the stockade

While these and other flights of fancy maybe entertaining, the site itself did exude a powerful pull during my visit. On my first trip, I’d stopped by the location shortly before sundown, so didn’t have time to really enter and walk around until the next morning, when I went back to visit. The topography is quite intriguing, with various grassy mounds scattered about.
I only had an hour to walk around, and the site is quite large. I only spotted two of the grassy pyramid base constructions, both with large fences constructed of tree trunks around the sides.
The energy is cautious, but welcoming. I walked to the top of the mound and just sat for a few minutes, just taking in the feel of the place and relaxing in the flow of energy. I left feeling really happy that I’d taken the time on the trip to stop by and check this place out.

Mansfield Reformatory – Mansfield, OH

Mansfield Reformatory - East Cell Block

Mansfield Reformatory – East Cell Block

It has been said that Mansfield Reformatory (40°47′07″N 82°30′18″W) houses the largest free standing steel cell block in the world – located in the East Cell Block. The grounds and facility buildings have been used as backdrops for various movies, music videos and paranormal TV shows; but the one that brought the facility the most fame was the movie Shawshank Redeption – which coincidentally saved the prison. We learned on the tour through the cell blocks that shortly before shooting started on the movie was supposed to start, wrecking crews were slated to knock everything down.

[FUN FACT: From the 1950s through the 1970s, Mansfield was the home of the infamous Highway Safety Foundation, the organization that created the controversial driver’s education scare films that featured gruesome film photography taken at fatal automobile accidents in the Mansfield area. -WIKIPEDIA ]

East Cell Block

East Cell Block

Donations and tour fees are helping to restore the facility to its former ‘glory’, if one can ever call such a building glorious. There is a haunted ‘event’ there annually, as well as ghost hunting events, which also help towards restorative efforts. One of the couples that we ran across while we were strolling through solitary confinement had several of ghost hunting devices on them – a digital recorder for EVP captures, and something else that could have been an EMF meter. This place had been on my ‘must visit’ list for awhile, so I’m really glad I got a chance to do a walkthrough yesterday.

Self guided tours are $9, and I rather like going at my own pace, so we chose that venue.

Mansfield reformatory was an equal opportunity incarceration facility – housing both male and female inmates (at least until the Ohio Reformatory for Women was opened out in Marysville in 1916) – as well prisoners of war. The more famous inmates range from From 33-year-old alcoholic bookkeeper, O. Henry (William Sydney Porter), who went on to become a celebrated writer, to Mrs. Cassie L. Chadwick, a woman who, through the use of a dozen aliases, swindled businessmen out of millions of dollars before finally being tossed into the clink.

Showers in the East Cell Block

Showers in the East Cell Block

The first portion of the tour goes through the administrative building and warden facilities, which while being lovely examples of building deterioration in general, aren’t really all that remarkable. While walking through this area, we happened upon what is apparently called ‘the chair room’. Many have reported paranormal phenomena in the chair room, and the lighting is apparently kept low for maximum creepy effect. Many people didn’t want to actually go into the room, only stepping up to the door to look inside before walking away, shivering.

The room itself is effective at its intended purpose, but once I stepped inside, I actually felt more comfortable. Low lighting has the opposite effect on me – it relaxes as opposed to making me more tense or scared. After getting a feel for the room, I turned to see a child’s school chair off to the left as I looked back at the open door. Oddly enough, that was more creepy to me than the chair sitting in the middle of the room.

The immensity of the cage in the East Cell Block doesn’t hit you until you walk down into the entry from the chapel. There’s a moment of vertigo as you look down, then your brain gets smacked with how large the place is. It looks like a giant birdcage with a concrete walkway around the bottom. There are walkways along the cells on each level, between the bars around the perimeter that I imagine kept prisoners from either jumping to their deaths, or pushing guards to theirs.

inside a cell - East Cell Block

inside a cell – East Cell Block

The cells themselves are an exercise in claustrophobia. Two inmates were housed in each (approximately) 7×9 square feet space – with one toilet and one sink. Even looking inside the cells and seeing the complete lack of any personal space was discomfiting. Paint is peeling all throughout the facility, as well as flaking away from bars that have long ago started crawling with rust. I’m somewhat of an agorophobe, so smaller places are usually comforting – but funny how that sense of comfort disappears when you step inside, turn around and see bars behind you.

The cells in solitary looked only slightly larger than the ones in the east wing – but the complete lack of outside lighting was distressing, as I supposed was the point. Both East and West cellblock had cells that faced multiple windows, so there was lots of ambient light. The cells in the West wing were palatial in comparison, spacewise – although instead of two inmates per cell, some of these were four per cell. We wondered if prisoners ended up being transferred to the West Wing for good behavior. At one point while walking through solitary, I heard the echo of a voice say, “It only takes a couple of weeks in to make you regret the actions that put you into this place. After a few months, you learn to hate.”

The Blue Cell in the East Cell Block

The Blue Cell in the East Cell Block

The hotspots where I felt myself overwhelmed with emotion were in the showers in the East Cell Block, a blue cell in the East Cell block that I felt myself drawn into, solitary confinement and one of many of the three and a half feet high and maybe a foot and a half wide doors that were spaced throughout both the East and West cell blocks.

I found an open one, and was drawn inside. I had to scrunch down a great deal to walk in, but there was plenty of room to stand when I finally stepped in. It looked like the bottom of a very deep well. I couldn’t see how high the round walls went up, but could only imagine how dark it would get once somebody closed the door. I was immediately overcome with the need to weep, and I actually did bring my hands over my head as if trying to shield myself from something.

One of the 'tiny doors' in the East Cell Block

One of the ‘tiny doors’ in the East Cell Block

Before I actually collapsed into full tears, I took a deep breath and pushed way the overwhelming fear, pain and anguish that was so completely oppressive in this small space – none of it mine. I don’t know whether there are recorded incidents of people being forced into these places, but the feeling that it had definitely happened at least once in this particular space was very strong.

Immediately after taking a picture just outside the small door, something growled at me off to the left. When I turned to look, people were standing over twenty feet away, and there was nothing in the acoustics of the room that would have thrown a sound from people that far away to a point just over my shoulder.

The entire experience left me wondering about the way we treat prisoners in general; not that I haven’t had that on my mind for awhile, with the privatization of prisons currently sweeping the nation. It’s an appalling business. There are many who agree that, for some crimes, there isn’t enough suffering that a person can endure to atone for what they’ve done – but, to play devil’s advocate – at that point, are you ever really going to let such a person out into the world again, after having pushed them further towards savagery and rage?

I left really feeling for the individuals that were once incarcerated here. It disgusted me that the first transfer of prisoners into the new facilites was a local ‘event’ for the affluent of the area, where the well heeled dressed to the nines and likely had dinner and drinks after. It also really bothered me to be able to look through the bars in the East Cell block to see tables and chairs setup for what looked like a wedding reception in the building adjacent. Who has their wedding in a prison?

It’s a fairly inhumane thing we currently do to those we lock up – setting purely punitive measures and creating facilites with punishment as the main objective instead of rehabilitation; and for the merest of infractions in many cases.

I hope that soon, we figure out a better way to deal with those who break the law – and that someday we distance ourselves from prisons for profit. [Here is the full run of pictures that I took]