by Vinod Sasidharan, SDSU

A WebQuest designed to help students understand different cultural perspectives relating to the use of Devils Tower (or Mato Tipila), Wyoming. At the end of the exercise, students are required to write a Consensus Statement and propose recommendations to help all stakeholders live and operate without further escalating the tensions associated with multiple-use of Devils Tower.



For 7 years, you have served as the President and CEO of a highly successful Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).  Although planning and managing the local visitor industry and promoting tourism to your destination is your primary responsibility, this well-paid and prestigious job also requires you to serve on the National Tourism Crisis Committee (NTCC).  The NTCC consists of 5 members directly appointed by the Federal Government, i.e., U.S. Department of Interior (USDI).  All 5 members of the committee, including yourself, are Presidents of CVBs from different regions of the U.S..  The NTCC performs the important function of providing much-needed input on matters relating to tourism at the national level.  In the past, the committee has helped the Federal Government by developing solutions to resolve critical problems associated with destination safety and security, cultural-sensitivity among tourism employees, environmental standards for the hospitality industry, and national campaigns for promoting international tourism.


According to an email notification that you have just received from the USDI, a new tourism crisis is brewing at the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, requiring NTCC’s immediate attention.  The email also calls for the NTCC to have a 2-day meeting in Cheyenne.  Within a month following the meeting, the NTCC is required to submit a final comprehensive report of the situation and present the major findings to a panel consisting of the Governor of Wyoming and USDI officials at the Wyoming State Capitol Building.  Attached with the email is an e-ticket to Cheyenne on a flight that leaves next morning along with a hotel reservation confirmation. During your flight to Cheyenne, you connect to the internet, using your laptop, to find as much background information as possible about the crisis that you have been assigned to resolve. The internet search reveals the following information.


 The Case 


America’s first national monument, Devils Tower was established under the authority of the Antiquities Act by President Theodore Roosevelt on September 24, 1906.  Currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, Devils Tower became internationally popular after it was featured as a UFO landing site in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 Oscar Award wining science-fiction flick, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  In addition to its Hollywood celebrity status among other National Monuments including the Statue of Liberty, Devils Tower has also been at the center of a controversial cultural debate involving the appropriate use of Federal Lands in the United States.



Managed by the National Park Service (U.S. Department of the Interior), Devils Tower National Monument symbolizes fundamental differences in cultural orientations and world views.  Located in the Black Hills of northeast Wyoming, Mato Tipila (Indian name for Devil’s Tower) is a sacred place for many American Indian tribes, who have historically treated it as a pilgrimage site.  At Devils Tower, Indian peoples partake in Sun Dances and individual Vision Quests.  The National Park Service conducts year-round projects to preserve and protect the geologic formation as well as surrounding forests and meadows.  Bear Lodge (another name for Devils Tower) is also a significant tourist site and has been a popular technical climbing spot among outdoor recreationists since 1936.


There exists an ongoing dispute between American Indians and rock climbers over the appropriate use of Devils Tower.  In 1995, the United States Department of the Interior's (USDI) National Park Service (NPS) attempted to resolve this dispute with a voluntary ban on climbing during the month of June in deference to American Indian cultural and religious practices.  Despite subsequent court rulings upholding the NPS policy and its Climbing Management Plan (CMP), which was last updated this year (2006), the problems associated with the multiple-use of Devils Tower have resurfaced again.



The USDI wants the NTCC to recommend a new solution to replace the ‘June voluntary climbing closure’ as indicated in the CMP.  The Devils Tower crisis is unlike any other case the NTCC has handled thus far.  It becomes apparent that the NTCC will be required to apply their knowledge and expertise relating to cross-cultural behavior in order to propose a sound plan of action for resolving this dire situation.