You probably remember it as the mashed potato mountain Richard Dreyfus carved in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
It’s way better than that in person.
Today it’s called Devils Tower, but originally it was known as Bear Lodge or Brown Buffalo Horn. There are a number of Native American stories about how it came to be, but the one most commonly told (and my favorite) is a Kiowa story:
“Eight children were there at play, seven sisters and their brother. Suddenly the boy was struck dumb; he trembled and began to run upon his hands and feet. His fingers became claws, and his body was covered with fur. Directly there was a bear where the boy had been. The sisters were terrified; they ran, and the bear after them. They came to the stump of a great tree, and the tree spoke to them. It bade them climb upon it, and as they did so it began to rise into the air. The bear came to kill them, but they were just beyond its reach. It reared against the tree and scored the bark all around with its claws. The seven sisters were borne into the sky, and they became the stars of the Pleiades.”
That’s a great story. So why is it named Devils Tower? Well, an expedition came through in 1875 and they think an interpreter mistranslated the name to mean Bad God’s Tower. A formal request to change the name has been filed with the federal government, but so far no action has been taken. Personally, I prefer the name Bear Lodge. It has context.
The tower is massive. You can see it from miles away and it just keeps getting more impressive as you get closer. It is the size of a football field, only taller (867 feet from base to summit). The circumference of the base is one mile, and there is a fairly easy trail you can walk to get a 360-degree view of the tower.
Geologists are pretty sure that molten magma pushed up into several layers of sedimentary rock around 50 million years ago. What geologists can’t agree on is how that process took place or whether the magma made it to the surface before it cooled. I really want to be at a dinner table when geologists are arguing about this.
To be in the presence of this massive tower, with its crazy hexagonal columns, is to be rendered speechless. Even the kids were quiet.
If you ever find yourself in Northeast Wyoming, make a stop here. It’s a couple of hours of your time and well worth it.