Monolithic Devils Tower National Monument

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MONOLITHIC DEVILS TOWER NATIONAL MONUMENT
Discover America’s First National Monument
By Eva Eldridge

 

Travel writer Eva Eldridge discusses her visit to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming on Big Blend Radio.

 

In the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Richard Dreyfus acted like a madman. He built a towering edifice out of mashed potatoes and when that didn’t satisfy his vision, he hauled mud into the house and built his tower. His family didn’t understand and neither did he. He was driven to this place, it talked to him, and he found an answer at Devils Tower. It had been a very long time since I’d watched the movie, but when my husband and I drove within viewing distance of Devils Tower, we understood its power.

 

Devils Tower or Bear Lodge (Mateo Teepee) is rich in Native American history. Several Great Plains tribes, the Arapaho, Crow, Cheyenne, Shoshone, and Lakota lived in the area and have their own stories of how the Tower came to be. In 1868, a treaty was signed which guaranteed that the lands around Mateo Teepee would stay in the Tribes’ control. Unfortunately, the treaty was short lived. In 1874, General George Custer violated the treaty and by 1875, settlers and miners moved in fueled by gold fever in the Black Hills. The Native Americans were pushed back into smaller reservations and the country around Devils Tower was left to speculators.

Charles Graham filed a preemption application in 1890 and the General Land Office rejected all claims to acquire the land for personal gain. From there it took another sixteen years for President Theodore Roosevelt to turn Devils Tower into the first National Monument.  It took many more years for the site to be developed with roads and a bridge across the Belle Fourche River.

Today, visitors marvel at this natural wonder as they drive on Wyoming’s Highway 24. Several pullouts are provided so people can stop and view the monolith. The remarkable geology reveals its different aspects as you drive up to the Tower and the Visitors Center.

The igneous rocks that make up the Tower are known as phonolite porphyry. The rocks formed a hexagonal fracture pattern as they cooled creating the unusual look of the Tower. From a distance, the columnar joints aren’t as noticeable, but as you drive closer, you can see how amazing they are. My husband, whose first degree is in geology, objects to my description of them as giant French fries all aligned together to form the monolith, however, to me that’s what it looks like.  At the base amongst the trees and scrub, huge angular boulders are scattered everywhere. It seems like the magma pushed its way to the sky, then stopped.  Current theory says the magma pushed up between the sedimentary rocks laid down by inland seas that rose and retreated over millennium.  Erosion took care of exposing the harder rock of the Tower and left what we see today. If you look at the summit of the Tower, you can see how the top is fractured and weathered. It is a continuous process of building up and breaking down.

Devils Tower sees most of its 80,000 visitors during the summer months. If you plan to visit during their busy season, be aware that parking is limited. We arrived in the afternoon and there were long lines to get into the park. Once in, we were unable to find parking for our large pickup truck and ended up in an RV spot. The Visitors Center, an old log cabin, is packed with information about the area. The Devils Tower Trail and the Red Beds Trail are accessible from the Visitor’s Center parking lot. 

I could relate a lot more history and information about this monument, but I recommend that it’s better to visit it yourself. There are several RV parks and campgrounds in the area. You should call for availability and reservations because everything seemed filled up when we were there. I would love to spend a couple of days in this beautiful area and explore the trails and some of the Ranger programs.

Devils Tower National Monument is located at WY-110, Devils Tower, WY.  You can find more information at https://www.nps.gov/deto/index.htm.

Eva Eldridge is a contributing writer for Big Blend Radio & TV Magazine and Parks & Travel Magazine. Along with travel and lifestyle articles, she also writes fiction and poetry. Visit www.EvaEldridge.com.

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State Travel Guide September 24, 1906
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About the Author:

Eva Eldridge is a contributing writer for Big Blend Radio & TV Magazine and Parks & Travel Magazine. Along with travel and lifestyle articles, she also writes fiction and poetry.

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