Exploring the Sacred Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument is a unique and surprising geological wonder steeped in Native American legends. Located in northeastern Wyoming, near the Belle Fourche River, it is considered sacred by the Indians of the Northern Plains. It is the first national monument in the United States, established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Devils Tower rises 386 m (1,267 ft) above the Belle Fourche River and presents the world's largest example of columnar junctions.

It covers 5.4 square km (2.1 square miles) and features a natural rock tower, the remnant of a volcanic intrusion now exposed by erosion. The tower has a flat top that covers 1.5 acres (0.6 hectares) and fluted sides. It measures 264 meters (867 feet) high from its base and 386 meters (1,267 feet) as measured from the river valley; its summit has an elevation of 1558 meters (5,112 feet) above sea level. The tower probably formed when molten rock, pushing upwards, found a hard rock layer and was forced to spread out in a flat shape. Its color is mainly light gray and beige.

Lichens cover parts of the tower, and sage, moss and grass grow on its top. Squirrels and birds live at the top, and a pine forest covers part of the surrounding country; there is also a sizeable prairie dog village near the base of the tower. Nature enthusiasts love Devils Tower National Monument, and there are trails available for all types of hikers. Named the nation's first national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, it has existed for thousands of years. Natural forces continue to shape Devils Tower as wind and water continue to erode the pillar; it's rare, but sometimes entire columns break and fall to the ground around the tower. When pioneers looking for a new life in the West traveled in wagons along Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, many settled in the Devils Tower area, seeing that there was enough land for livestock and agriculture.

Camping near Devils Tower offers views of the National Monument and the chance to escape the daily grind. Known as Mato Tipila by the Lakota, Bear's Tipi (Arapahoe), Bear's House (Raven) and Tree Rock (Kiowa), it is also known as Bear Lodge. You can stop at the visitor center to learn about one of the ranger-led programs, see the night sky, go hiking, and even climb to the top of Devils Tower. Since the mid-1890s, Devils Tower has been one of the most popular rock climbing spots in the country. Every year, thousands of climbers travel to its phonolite porphyry walls to climb columnar pillars and intensive crack systems. Less traveled trails include shorter, socially distanced walks that offer views of Devils Tower and its surrounding area.

Roxanne Cotner
Roxanne Cotner

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