Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Nature Geek Vacation Destination - Devil's Tower National Monument (Crook County, WY)

On Monday I wrote about how a visit to Badlands National Park left me completely awestruck.  There was one other location that we visited during our vacation that had the same effect on me - Devil's Tower National Monument.

Devil's Tower as seen from the road entering the Monument
Devils Tower a monolithic rock structure composed primarily of an igneous rock known as phonolite porphyry.  Like granite, phonolite forms when magma below the surface of the earth cools slowly allowing visible crystals to form.  Phonolite contains many of the same minerals as granite, but largely lacks quartz (a prime component of granite).  Instead, the bulk of phonolite is composed of potassium feldspars.  The phonolite at Devil's Tower is a type known as phonolite porphyry.  To say that a rock is porphyritic means that it has both small and large crystals.  At Devil's Tower, the phonolite porphyry cooled at a rate that caused it to contract and form vertical columns of hexagon rock up to 15 feet across.  These columns give the surface of Devil's Tower its unique look.

Devil's Tower - note columns of igneous rock and boulders littering its base

There are several theories of how Devil's Tower formed.  The simplest theory is that a column of magma pushed up from the earth's mantle through overlying layers of sedimentary rock.  This magma probably cooled and solidified before it broke the surface - there is no evidence to suggest it reached the surface.  Over time the layers of sedimentary rock eroded away, exposing the harder igneous rock that forms Devil's Tower.  The tower itself is slowly eroding away as evidenced by the broken boulders of phonolite porphyry scattered around its base. 

Devil's Tower rises 867 feet (265 meters) from its base to its summit.  Completely isolated from any other peaks, it rises above the surrounding prairie and pine forests.  Awesome (in the sense of causing or inspiring awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration or fear) barely begins to describe Devil's Tower.  It is little wonder that all Native American Tribes from the region consider it a sacred place.  Many of the trees at the base of  the tower are tied with prayer bundles.

Devil's Tower - note the prayer bundles tied to the tree at the right of the image

Because of the site's sacred nature and its unique geology, in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt used the newly passed Antiquities Act to declare Devil's Tower our nation's first national monument.  Administered by the National Park Service, Devil's Tower National Monument protects the tower and approximately 1374 acres (a little over two square miles) of surrounding prairie and Ponderosa Pine forest.

If you want to visit Devil's Tower, from Mid-Michigan it is approximately one thousand two hundred eighty mile (or nearly nineteen hours) of driving away.  Obviously, this is not a weekend trip, but when combined with other sites such as the Badlands and Black Hills this is a can't miss vacation destination for any nature geek!

If you do choose to travel to Devil's Tower, here's a little hint:  the best views of the tower are not the one's you get by visiting the base of the tower.  The base of the tower is crowded, with approximately 400,000 visitors each year.  Do yourself a favor and after leaving the visitor center parking lot, turn onto a gravel road that lead to the Joyner Ridge Trail.  This road lead to a gravel parking lot about one mile northwest of Devil's Tower.  When we arrived there, there were only two other cars in the lot.  Here is the view you are rewarded with...

Here are a few more Devil's Tower photos from the Joyner Ridge trailhead.  I like how the clouds in these images look like a puff of smoke coming out of the Tower.  Enjoy.

This final picture is probably my favorite on of Devil's Tower with the lone Ponderosa Pine, grasses, and the Tower off in the distance surrounded by more pines.

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