Wyoming's Devils Tower

The country's first national monument juts majestically out of the plains near Sundance, Wyo.

Devils Tower, Wyo., image

Devils Tower may have formed millions of years ago by hot magma hardening before it could erupt.

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Devils Tower is a mystery in plain sight: a monolith rising 867 feet above the northeast corner of Wyoming for no apparent reason. No wonder Teddy Roosevelt declared it the country’s first national monument in 1906, and Steven Spielberg, some 70 years later, cast it as the ultimate alien landing pad in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Who knows whether doe-eyed extraterrestrials actually do flybys? For hikers, climbers, and geology lovers, a visit is still out of this world.

LOST IN TRANSLATION The Lakota Sioux name for the formation, Mato Tipila—meaning “Bear Lodge”—was misinterpreted by an early translator as “Bad God’s Tower,” which morphed into the current moniker.

CHALLENGING CLIMB The first men known to reach the top of the tower, local ranchers William Rogers and Willard Ripley, did it in 1893 by driving wooden pegs into a long vertical crack in the formation to create an ad hoc ladder.

PR GOOF In 1941, publicity seeker George Hopkins parachuted onto Devils Tower and got more than he expected: national attention for the six days he was stranded on the top.

REVELATION The tower likely formed when a mass of magma hardened before it could erupt, and was then exposed over millions of years as wind and water wore away the softer rock around it.

Photography courtesy of Wikipedia/Colin Faulkingham

This article was first published in September 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

If You're Going: 

Devils Tower is located 30 miles northwest of Sundance, Wyo., and is open year-round. For more information, call (307) 467-5283 or visit nps.gov/deto.

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