North American climbing guides identify any number of spires, columns, arêtes, peaks, and high ridges, named usually by their first ascenders, as towers. The term is related to tor, a Celtic-rooted British word for a high rock or rocky hill. A prominent feature of this kind is Devils Tower in Wyoming, an 865-foot volcanic neck scored by closely spaced vertical cracks. Its name conforms to a Euro-American habit of identifying dramatic landforms with the underworld. The Kiowa people, according to N. Scott Momaday in The Way to Rainy Mountain, have a more heavenly view of this tower’s origin. Seven young sisters, chased by a bear who had been their brother, took refuge on a great tree stump that called to them and bore them into the sky, the bear scratching futilely at its sides. The stump became the tower the Kiowa call Tso-aa, the sisters became the seven stars of the Big Dipper, “and so long as the legend lives,” writes Momaday, “the Kiowas have kinsmen in the night sky.”

John Daniel