Devils Tower: the first U.S. National Monument

Northeast Wyoming is home to one of the most remarkable landscape features in the United States. The towering mass of volcanic rock known as Devils Tower has long been the destination of curious travelers and is the source of several Native American legends describing the origin of the rock formation. We made a short detour on our way from Indiana to Seattle to see this striking and beautiful gift from Earth.

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Seen from a distance, this “tower” is one of the most striking features in Wyoming

One of the legends of the origin of the tower tells the story of girls who were pursued by a huge bear. The girls prayers were answered when the Great Spirit caused the rock to raise from the ground with the girls safely on top. The bear attempted to climb the smooth sides of the rock, and his claws made the distinctive shapes we see today.

Geologists tell us that the tower was made when volcanic intrusions of lava pushed up into thick layers of sandstone, now eroded away after millions of years. The rock, an igneous basalt type, took on the shapes of columns when it cooled. Called a columnar formation, this shape is not uncommon and can be found in rocks all over the world.

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Close up shot of the columnar structure. Each “column” is about 8 feet across!

The Devils Tower was the first designated US National Monument, so declared by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906. The first Caucasians saw the tower in the 1850’s. It was the site of the famous finish of the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 

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