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Wyoming's Devils Tower

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

Devils Tower, Wyoming, photo
Photo credit
Photo: Nature Picture Library / Alamy
Photo caption
Devils Tower may have formed millions of years ago by hot magma hardening before it could erupt.

Devils Tower is a mystery in plain sight: a monolith rising 1,267 feet above the surrounding hills, the sheer rock column at the center of Wyoming’s Devils Tower National Monument 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.

CHILDS PLAY In April 2018, the park began inspiring something else: fun. That's when the path that rounds the column, Red Beds Trail, became the stage for a Track Trail, an interactive route that encourages kids (and kids at heart) to play while hiking. Grab a brochure at the trailhead, and you’ll soon be immersed in a scavenger hunt. Just don't forget to look up once in a while, at the golden cottonwood leaves shivering in the wind and the turkey vultures playing on the updrafts.

Up Next: Secrets of Yellowstone National Park

This article was first published in September 2011 and updated in September 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.