Driving through the rolling hills of northeast Wyoming we pass by vast grasslands, quiet ranches, and small country towns. The scenery is peaceful, undisturbed, and my mind easily wanders to scenes of the Wild West. Lost in thought, I imagine the Sundance Kid causing havoc in these parts, stealing guns and horses, establishing his reputation as an outlaw.
As we come up over a hill, I’m jolted from my daydream by the sight that sits before us. Off in the distance is a curious stone pillar, rising high above the surrounding plains.
It seems to come out of nowhere, clashing with the grassy fields before it. There are no mountains in view, or even any other large rocks. Just grasslands, pine forests and this one of a kind natural wonder- Devils Tower.
Devils Tower- Geological Wonder, Sacred Site and National Monument
Devils Tower is a flat-topped, igneous intrusion that looms 1,267 feet (386 m), above Wyoming’s eastern plains and the Belle Fourche River Valley.
When I first saw Devils Tower, I couldn’t help but wonder how it was formed. And no, I didn’t think it was put there by aliens, even though it does look out of this world!
Geologists agree that Devils Tower was formed by forcible entry of magma into or between other rock formations (intrusion), but there is some disagreement on how this process took place.
One theory is that Devils Tower is an eroded remnant of a laccolith (large mass of igneous rock which intrudes though sedimentary rock beds but doesn’t reach the surface). Other theories are that Devils Tower is a volcanic plug or the neck of an extinct volcano. Either way, erosion has played a part in exposing this mass of rock that has since become an important historical and spiritual landmark.
Several Plains Tribes have ties to Devils Tower, both as a sacred site and a subject of legends. They each have different names for the monolith, including Tree Rock (Kiowa), Bear’s Lodge (Cheyenne, Lakota), and Bear’s Tipi (Arapaho, Cheyenne).
The rock became known as Devils Tower in 1875 during an expedition led by Col. Richard Irving Dodge. His interpreter mistakenly thought the name meant Bad God’s Tower, hence the label Devils Tower.
In 1906, President Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower to be a National Monument. He used the Antiquities Act, referencing “objects of historic and scientific interest”, to establish Devils Tower as the first National Monument in the United States.
The Legend of Devils Tower
There are several similar Native American legends about Devils Tower that have been passed down through the years, but the one I first read is from the Kiowa Tribe. Here is my retelling of the popular legend:
One day, seven small girls were playing off in the distance from their tribe’s camp on the river. The area was home to a great number of bears. As the girls played, suddenly a bear began to chase them. They started running back towards their camp, but the bear was about to catch them. The girls jumped on a rock, about three feet high, and began praying, “Rock, take pity on us. Rock, save us.”
The rock heard the girls’ pleas and began to rise upwards, pushing them higher and higher. The bear jumped and clawed the rock, trying to grab the girls but they were out of reach. The bear continued to scratch at the rock, but broke its claws and fell to the ground.
The rock continued to rise until the girls were safely pushed up into the sky, where they are to this day as a group of seven little stars (the Pleiades constellation). The marks of the bear’s claws are there yet, too.
Our Visit to Devils Tower
Our time at Devils Tower was spent leisurely walking the trail that encircles its base. From the trail we got incredible, up-close views of the tower.
I was fascinated by the geology, especially the columns that form the tower. These rock columns are the tallest and widest in the world. Some are over 600 feet (183 metres) tall and 20 feet (6 metres) wide! If you look closely, you might even notice that the columns are 4, 5, 6 and 7-sided.
As we walked around the tower, we noticed a few adventurous people climbing up its side. I was surprised that climbing Devils Tower is allowed, considering that it’s a sacred site for many tribes and is a protected landmark.
My uneasiness about the climbing only grew the further we walked around Devils Tower. It was impossible not to notice that many of the columns had fallen down and now lay among the boulders scattered at the base. This is probably not due to climbing, but rather water freezing in crevices and plant roots cracking the rocks.
One of the information boards along the trail said that no large rocks or columns have fallen since the park was established in 1906. If that’s true, I guess Devils Tower is not as delicate as it looks!
As the trail continued on, we got more into the ponderosa pine forest that surrounds Devils Tower. Near the end of the loop is boulder field, which is exactly what it sounds like. The size of some of those rocks was quite impressive!
I left Devils Tower thinking that it was one of the coolest, most unique natural landmarks I have seen so far on my travels. I can see why Devils Tower was a filming location for the science fiction movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It really looked other-worldly, like it belonged on another planet!
Tips for Visiting Devils Tower
- Getting There: Devils Tower is located in northeast Wyoming. We visited from Spearfish, South Dakota and took I-90 to Sundance, then U.S. Hwy. 14 to the Devils Tower Junction (State Hwy. 24). Drive time from Spearfish to Devils Tower was one hour.
- Hours and Admission: Devils Tower National Monument is open 24 hours, 7 days a week except December 25 and January 1. Admission is $10 per vehicle for a 7 day pass ($5 for bikes, motorcycles and pedestrians).
- Visitor Centre: The visitor centre/bookstore has exhibits about the history and geology of the tower. It’s open from 9:00 am- 4:00 pm.
Hiking Trails: There are many hiking trails at Devils Tower National Monument. Please note that pets are not allowed on the trails and they are not recommended for wheelchairs.
- Tower Trail- Paved, close up views of the tower, exhibits along the trail, 1.3 mi (2 km).
- Red Beds Trail- 3 mi (4.8 km)
- South Side Trail- 0.6 mi (1 km)
- Joyner Ridge- 1.5 mi (2.4 km)
- Valley View Trail- 0.6 mi (1 km)
- Campsites: The Belle Fourche River Campground has tent and RV sites, first-come, first-served. There are no hookups, showers, or laundry facilities.
Accommodations Near Devils Tower
The closest community to Devils Tower is Hulett, but Moorcroft, Sundance and Spearfish (South Dakota) are a short drive away.
We stayed in Spearfish and found it convenient for visiting both Devils Tower in Wyoming and Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. For your convenience, here is a list of accommodations in Spearfish. Please consider booking your accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!