National Monument, Wyoming
Devil's Tower - Wyoming
Devils Tower (also Bear Lodge Butte) is a laccolithic butte composed of igneous rock in the Bear Lodge Mountains (part of the Black Hills) near Hulett and Sundance in Crook County, northeastern Wyoming, above the Belle Fourche River. It rises dramatically 1,267 feet (386 m) above the Belle Fourche River, standing 867 feet (265 m) from summit to base. The summit is 5,112 feet (1,559 m) above sea level.
Devils Tower was the first declared United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt. The monument's boundary encloses an area of 1,347 acres (545 ha).
In recent years, about 1% of the monument's 400,000 annual visitors climbed Devils Tower, mostly using traditional climbing techniques.
Devils Tower, 1900Devils Tower, on west bank of Belle Fourche River, south of Hulett. Crook Wyoming. Circa 1900. Plate 17, as Ives Three Color Process, in U.S. Geological Survey. Professional paper 32. 1905, figure 1 in U.S. Geological Survey. Folio 150. 1907.
Nathaniel H. Darton - U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library
The name Devil's Tower originated in 1875 during an expedition led by Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, when his interpreter reportedly misinterpreted a native name to mean "Bad God's Tower". All information signs in that area use the name "Devils Tower", following a geographic naming standard whereby the apostrophe is eliminated.
Native American names for the monolith include: "Bear's House" or "Bear's Lodge" (or "Bear's Tipi", "Home of the Bear", "Bear's Lair"; Cheyenne, Lakota Matȟó Thípila, Crow Daxpitcheeaasáao "Home of Bears"), "Aloft on a Rock" (Kiowa), "Tree Rock", "Great Gray Horn", and "Brown Buffalo Horn" (Lakota Ptehé Ǧí).
In 2005, a proposal to recognize several Native American ties through the additional designation of the monolith as Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark met with opposition from United States Representative Barbara Cubin, arguing that a "name change will harm the tourist trade and bring economic hardship to area communities". In November 2014, one Arvol Looking Horse again proposed renaming the geographical feature "Bear Lodge", and submitted the request to the United States Board on Geographic Names. A second proposal was submitted to request that the U.S. acknowledge the "offensive" mistake in keeping the current name and to rename the monument and sacred site Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark. The formal public comment period ended in fall 2015. Local state senator Ogden Driskill opposed the change. The name was not changed.
Devils Tower is a world class climbing destination. Browse the rules and regulations for climbing the tower.
The landscape surrounding Devils Tower is composed mostly of sedimentary rocks. The oldest rocks visible in Devils Tower National Monument were laid down in a shallow sea during the mid- to late-Triassic period, 225 to 195 million years ago. This dark red sandstone and maroon siltstone, interbedded with shale, can be seen along the Belle Fourche River. Oxidation of iron minerals causes the redness of the rocks. This rock layer is known as the Spearfish Formation.
Above the Spearfish Formation is a thin band of white gypsum, called the Gypsum Springs Formation. This layer of gypsum was deposited during the Jurassic period, 195 to 136 million years ago.
Created as sea levels and climates repeatedly changed, gray-green shales (deposited in low-oxygen environments such as marshes) were interbedded with fine-grained sandstones, limestones, and sometimes thin beds of red mudstone. This composition, called the Stockade Beaver member, is part of the Sundance Formation. The Hulett Sandstone member, also part of the Sundance Formation, is composed of yellow fine-grained sandstone. Resistant to weathering, it forms the nearly vertical cliffs that encircle the Tower.
During the Paleocene Epoch, 56 to 66 million years ago, the Rocky Mountains and the Black Hills were uplifted. Magma rose through the crust, intruding into the existing sedimentary rock layers.
Closeup photo of the columns on Devil's TowerTheories of Formation
Credit: Phil Konstantin
Geologists Carpenter and Russell studied Devils Tower in the late 19th century and came to the conclusion that it was formed by an igneous intrusion. Modern geologists agree that it was formed by the intrusion of igneous material, but not on exactly how that process took place. Several believe the molten rock comprising the Tower might not have surfaced; others are convinced the tower is all that remains of what once was a large explosive volcano.
In 1907, scientists Darton and O'Harra decided that Devils Tower must be an eroded remnant of a laccolith. A laccolith is a large mass of igneous rock which is intruded through sedimentary rock beds without reaching the surface, but makes a rounded bulge in the sedimentary layers above. This theory was quite popular in the early 20th century, since numerous studies had earlier been done on laccoliths in the Southwest.
Other theories have suggested that Devils Tower is a volcanic plug or that it is the neck of an extinct volcano. Presumably, if Devils Tower is a volcanic plug, any volcanics created by it — volcanic ash, lava flows, volcanic debris — would have been eroded away long ago. Some pyroclastic material of the same age as Devils Tower has been identified elsewhere in Wyoming.
The igneous material that forms the Tower is a phonolite porphyry intruded about 40.5 million years ago, a light to dark-gray or greenish-gray igneous rock with conspicuous crystals of white feldspar.] As the magma cooled, hexagonal (and sometimes 4-, 5-, and 7-sided) columns formed. As the rock continued to cool, the vertical columns shrank in cross-section (horizontally) and cracks began to occur at 120-degree angles, generally forming compact 6-sided columns. The nearby Missouri Buttes, 3.5 miles (5.6 km) to the northwest of Devils Tower, are also composed of columnar phonolite of the same age. Devils Postpile National Monument in California and Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, are also columnar basalt, which are superficially similar, but with columns typically 2 feet (0.61 m) diameter.
Devils Tower did not visibly protrude out of the landscape until the overlying sedimentary rocks eroded away. As the elements wore down the softer sandstones and shales, the more resistant igneous rock making up the tower survived the erosional forces. As a result, the gray columns of Devils Tower began to appear as an isolated mass above the landscape.
As rain and snow continue to erode the sedimentary rocks surrounding the Tower's base, more of Devils Tower will be exposed. Nonetheless, the exposed portions of the Tower still experience certain amounts of erosion. Cracks along the columns are subject to water and ice erosion. Erosion due to the expansion of ice along cracks and fractures within rock formations is common in colder climates, a prime example being the featured formations at Bryce Canyon National Park. Portions, or even entire columns, of rock at Devils Tower are continually breaking off and falling. Piles of broken columns, boulders, small rocks, and stones, called scree, lie at the base of the tower, indicating that it was once wider than it is today.
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