Devils Tower National Monument
|Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming (Photodisc/Getty)|
Devils Tower National Monument is comprised of 1,347 acres in northeast Wyoming, but most people come for its centerpiece: the tower itself. This sentinel of igneous rock rises up almost vertically from the landscape to a height of 1,267 feet. Studied, climbed, and popularized by Hollywood, this rock formation has become an immediately identifiable American landmark.
The tower has also seen its share of controversy. As a sacred Native American site claimed by several tribes (each with its own ideas behind the Tower), Western pioneers journeyed here in violation of Indian treaty rights. Soon, they began climbing and studying, quickly dispatching with the Indian mythology behind it. But modern science, too, is divided on the tower. Geologists agree that it was formed by the intrusion of igneous material, which has since eroded. But beyond that, there's no firm agreement. The tower holds some of its mysteries for itself.
While the tower is the star here, deer and bison wander the surrounding grassland, the smell of Ponderosa pine fills the air, and hawks and eagles circle overhead. Whether climbing, hiking, or driving, the monument offers something for everyone.
Climb the Stack
It's no surprise that climbing is far and away the big thing at Devils Tower, a tempting target and one of the premier crack climbing areas in North America. People have been reaching for the top of this rock since the late 1800s, and they haven't stopped. More than 4,000 now climb here each year. But be careful: Since the rock is continually eroding, safety is of extreme importance. Rockfall is common, and entire columns have been known to crumble (though it's rare). Also, rules abound. Some climbing routes are closed to protect nesting Prairie Falcons. And visitors are asked not to climb in Junethat's when Native Americans hold ceremonies at the ancestral rock.
Amble a Trail
Great views of the Tower are important, of course, but that's not the only reason to lace up. Different environments such as boulder fields, pine forests, and meadows, as well as the wide variety of animals and wildflowers make any hike satisfying. For an easy hike, try the Tower Trail, a 1.3-mile jaunt with interpretive exhibits that also offers great close-up views of the Tower. The 1.5-mile Joyner Ridge Trail will take you through the full range of life zones in the monument, with good views of the Tower. It's especially pretty at sunset. The three-mile Red Beds Trail is the longest trail, and it takes you through pine groves and meadows. It emerges into a broad prairie with good views of the omnipresent tower.
Roll Around the Devil
What is the best way to take in the full scope of Devils Tower? Begin your drive far away in the town of Sundance and approach the tower at your own pace. It's a 29-mile drive, starting at the junction of I-90 and US 14. First, head northwest on US 14, and you'll cross the foothills of the Bear Lodge Mountains, part of the Black Hills of Wyoming and South Dakota. The highway climbs through stands of Ponderosa Pine, and 12 miles in you'll catch your first glimpse of the tower. Continue north on Route 24 into the monument.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication