For many people around the world, five little musical notes will always bring to mind this awesome formation. That’s because Devils Tower in Hulett, Wyoming was the featured backdrop to the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Who doesn’t remember Richard Dreyfuss making little mashed potato sculptures of it??! What many people do not know is that this massive 1,267 foot behemoth resting about one third of a mile from the Belle Fourche River was the nation’s very first national monument. Consistently ranked as one of the most beloved presidents of all time, Theodore Roosevelt made it his mission to protect many of America’s most fragile and beautiful natural wonders. It is clear why in 1906 this was his first.
Rugged and dramatic, Devils Tower rose spectacularly from the ground several hundred million years ago. The popular theory is that it is a lava neck that formed when magma hardened inside an active volcano leaving the heat cured igneous rock to stand vigil while the more delicate sedimentary rock surrounding it slowly eroded away. What remains is not only visually spectacular, but also an important part of American history and culture. From the first time humans set foot in this land, the tower has been considered to have great spiritual importance. Over twenty different Native American tribes consider the monument to be sacred. As such, all visitors are reminded both verbally and via the many signs throughout the park that the area should be treated with respect and deference.
Aside from being a photographer’s paradise, it is also an adventurer’s dream. Devils Tower is one of the premier rock climbing sites in the United States. The peak has been calling these souls for generations, each trying to outdo the last. One climber even ascended to the top in a mindboggling 18 minutes (the average climber needs about five hours). There is also the story of the stuntman who decided to parachute down but was inadvertently trapped there for nearly a week because his climbing rope fell off a ledge. Probably not his proudest moment. Those not willing to risk life and limb can enjoy special full moon night tours or perhaps bike some of the numerous paths that go up and around the tower. Whatever the reason, any traveler worth their salt should make it a point to add this astounding national monument and the 1,347 acres that surround it to their bucket list.
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