Uncover the Mystery of Devils Tower National Monument
Devils Tower National Monument, nestled amid Wyoming’s sacred Black Hills, near the town of Sundance attracts avid climbers, adventure seekers and curious spectators. Learning the history, geology and legend of the national monument will make your visit to Devils Tower even more fascinating and meaningful.
History and Geology
Established by President Theodore Roosevelt as our first national monument in 1906, Devils Tower is a mass of gray, striated rock that rises 1,267 feet above the surrounding pine forests. Nearly 25 years passed before a full-time National Park Service employee was stationed at the monument, and the one-of-kind formation didn’t gain attention from tourists until the 1930s.
Geologists predict that Devils Tower’s characteristic delineated columns were formed more than 50 million years old as a result of cooling magma. The erosion of the rocks likely uncovered the dramatic formation 1 to 2 million years ago, making Devils Tower visible above overlying sedimentary rocks.
Devils Tower’s mysterious character has mesmerized people for centuries, from American Indians to Wyoming’s early explorers. Many American Indian tribes still consider the tower a sacred site and, as a result, the monument is closed to climbers during the month of June to respect tribes’ cultural traditions and rituals such as sun dances, prayer offerings and vision quests.
The National Park Service estimates that more than 20 American Indian tribes have a cultural affiliation with the monument, including Arapaho, Crow, Lakota, Cheyenne, Kiowa and Shoshone tribes. While there are several different stories regarding the origins of Devils Tower (also known as Mateo Tepee or Grizzly Bear Lodge), the Kiowa legend is one of the most frequently told:
According to the Kiowa tale, seven little girls were playing in the forest when giant bears suddenly started chasing them. The girls ran from the bears, jumped on to a low boulder and prayed to the rock. The rock responded to the prayers and began to grow upward, protecting the girls from the bears. When the bears jumped at the girls, they scratched the massive rock, broke their claws and fell back to the ground, forming Devils Tower’s famous cracks and columns.
Things to Do
Visitors to Devils Tower can learn more about the natural and cultural history of the monument at its visitor center, where you can also find out about special activities and events.
Hiking, climbing and camping are also popular activities in the area. Classic rock climbers frequent Devils Tower’s rock columns, which can feature cracks up to 400 feet long and Class 5.6 to 5.13 climbs. Meanwhile, trails allow hikers to explore the wildlife-abundant forests and meadows surrounding the monument (look for deer, prairie dogs, turkeys and even porcupines). Campers can pitch a tent at Devils Tower KOA, a well-maintained area built on the filming site of Steven’s Spielberg’s UFO flick “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
If you have time, head to Devils Tower View Restaurant and Campground, located about 3 miles from the monument, for unobstructed views and a fantastic buffalo burger.