A geological mystery that became America’s first national monument
The Devils Tower in Wyoming was America’s first National Monument. Initially designated by Congress designated the area a U.S. forest reserve in 1892 this mysterious monolith became the nation’s first National Monument in 1906.
This tower of rock rises 1267 feet straight up from the Belle Fouche river. Most of the landscape surrounding Devils Tower is composed of sedimentary rocks. About 65 million years ago, during the Tertiary period, the Rocky Mountains and the Black Hills were uplifted. Molten magma rose through the crust, intruding into the already existing sedimentary rock layers. Geologists agree that Devils Tower was formed by the intrusion of igneous material. What they cannot agree upon is how, exactly, that process took place. As the lava cooled columns formed. As the rock continued to cool, the vertical columns shrank horizontally in volume and cracks began to occur at 120-degree angles, forming the 6-sided columns, which gives us the “grooved” appearance of today’s Devil’s Tower.
Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Lakota, and Shoshone had cultural and geographical ties to the monolith before European and early American immigrants reached Wyoming. Today it is visited by over 400,000 people annually and is a popular spot for technical climbers to try out their skills.
Some people may recognize this edifice as it was used extensively in Steven Spielberg’s film “Close Encounter of the Third Kind”, as the location where Richard Dreyfuss and others were summoned to by the alien visitors. Karen had believed the rock tower in the film to computer-generated and was amazed to find it was real!
Unless you are a skilled climber getting to the top is not easy so instead, we settled for a more sedate mile-long self-guided tour around the base and the chance to listen to a Park Ranger explain the geology, geography and cultural history of the Tower.
The Devils Tower is not the easiest place to get to with its location in North Wyoming – it is the sort of place you have to plan to visit. It around 120 miles north-west of Rapid City Dakota.