Did you know that in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Devils Tower as the first National Monument? Devils Tower is located in northeastern Wyoming. Native American names for the rock formation include Bear Lodge, Home of the Bear, and Tree Rock. It is a butte composed of what appears to be tightly packed columns of igneous rock that suddenly rises 867 feet from the surrounding prairie land. Geologists think that Devils Tower was formed by an igneous intrusion, basically an underground vein of magma that cooled and solidified. Over time, the surrounding layers of sedimentary rock eroded away, leaving the harder ingenious rock behind.
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While the Antiquities Act of 1906 was created to protect Native American ruins and archeological sites, the President can use the act to protect any historic landmark, prehistoric structures, or any objects or areas of scientific or historic interest. Generally, National Monuments are smaller in size (sometimes a specific building or battlefield), while a National Park may encompass a very large area. Also, National Parks are created through acts of Congress.
The name “Devils Tower” may have come from a misinterpretation. When explorers asked Native American guides the name of the rock formation, they thought it was called “Bad God’s Tower”, which they translated to Devil’s Tower in their notes.
The Native American name for Devils Tower includes Bear Lodge, Home of the Bear, Tree Rock, and Great Gray Horn. The ‘bear’ in the name references a few Native American folklore stories. In some of the stories, children are chased by a bear and pray for assistance. The patch of land they are on is raised high, and the bear scrambles after them, gouging furrows in the side of the tower. The bear tries and tries, but the children are safe.
There have been proposals to change the name of the National Monument to reflect the Native American heritage of the area. Unfortunately, all proposals have not been successful.
Devils Tower has a circumference of about 1 mile. The summit surface is about 180 feet by 300 feet, about the size of a football field.
Devils Tower is made from phonolite porphyry. It is similar to granite but does not contain quartz. As the name indicates, when a slab of the rock is struck, it produces a ringing sound.
Because of its unique structure, climbing Devils Tower is a popular recreational activity. Giving people access to climb needs to be balanced with the fact that the butte is a sacred site for many Plains tribes. Climbers are not banned, but are asked to refrain from climbing the butte in June, when Native American tribes are conducting their ceremonies near the rock formation.