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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Devils Tower, Wyoming
by Elizabeth Le Compte
Physical Geology
Spring 2014

Devils Tower: The Misnamed Intrusion


Devils Tower is a popular climbing spot, natural phenomenon, alien landing spot, and important cultural icon to the plains Indians. Devils Tower was not always the name of this rock formation. There are various tribal names for this formation, all centering around the theme of a bear. Some of these names include: Mato Tipila (the Lakota name) which translates to “Bear Lodge”, Bear Rock or Bear Mountain, Tree Rock, Grey Horn Butte, He Hota Paha, Grizzly Bear Lodge, Bear’s Tipi, and Home of The Bear. In 1875, on an expedition led by a man named Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, his interpreter is believed to have misinterpreted the tower’s name to mean Bad God’s Tower, which was later shortened to become Devils Tower. 














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Devils tower is located in Crook County in north eastern Wyoming, a tower of igneous rock jutting out 1,267 feet above its surrounding plains and landscape of sedimentary stones. The tower itself is what’s called a laccolith intrusion. An intrusion is a forceful entry of magma into other preexisting rock formations. Geologists are perplexed as to the reason behind the formation of this specific intrusion, being that there is no existing volcanic evidence anywhere in the vicinity of Devils Tower.

     Some geologists believe that the rock formation of Devils Tower formed deep underground. As the magma began to cool, it formed many hexagonal columns, and as its cooling continued, vertical cracks formed in the rock. Over time, erosion exposed the dark greenish-grey igneous rock, also known as phonolite porphyry, of the tower that we can now see today.




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            In Steven Spielberg’s movie “Close Encounters of The Third Kind”, Devils Tower played a prominent role as the landing location for aliens, and a central location people in the movie obsessed upon. Since the release of the movie in 1977, the number of people visiting the park increased by 75%.(Close Encounter with the Milky Way)


Description: Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind 

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Devils Tower is considered to be an important sacred landmark by over 20 of the Native American plains tribes, a few being the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa, and Lakota tribes. Each tribe has their own legend of how the tower came to be, and each legend, in some way, involves a bear. One of the legends is as follows:

Long ago, two young Indian boys found themselves lost on the great prairie. They had played together one afternoon and had wandered far out of the village. Then they had shot their bows still farther out into the sagebrush. Then they had heard a small animal make a noise and had gone to investigate. They had come to a stream with many colorful pebbles and followed that for a while. They had come to a hill and wanted to see what was on the other side. On the other side they saw a herd of antelope and, of course, had to track them for a while. When they got hungry and thought it was time to go home, the two boys found that they didn't know where they were. They started off in the direction where they thought their village was, but only got farther and farther away from it. At last they curled up beneath a tree and went to sleep.
They got up the next morning and walked some more, still traveling the wrong way. They ate some wild berries and dug up wild turnips, found some chokecherries, and drank water from streams. For three days they walked toward the west. They were footsore, but they survived. How they wished that their parents, or elder brothers and sisters or tribe members would find them as they walked on what is now the plains of Wyoming. But nobody did.On the fourth day the boys suddenly had a feeling that they were being followed. They looked around and in the distance saw Mato, the bear. This was no ordinary bear, but a giant bear, so huge that the boys would make only a small mouthful for him.   He had smelled the boys and came in search of that mouthful. He came so close that the earth trembled with each step he took. The boys started running, looking for a place to hide, they found none.  The grizzly was much, much faster than they. They stumbled, and the bear was almost upon them. They could see his red, wide-open jaws full of enormous teeth. They could smell his hot breath. The boys were old enough to have learned to pray, and the called upon Wakan Tanka, the Creator: "Tunkashila, Grandfather, have pity, save us." All at once the earth shook and began to rise. The boys rose with it. Out of the earth came a cone of rock going up, up, up until it rose more than a thousand feet high. And the boys were on top of it. Mato the bear was disappointed to see his meal disappearing into the clouds. This grizzly was so huge that he could almost reach to the top of the rock when he stood on his hind legs. Almost, but not quite. His claws were as large as a tipi's lodge poles. Frantically Mato dug his claws into the side of the rock, trying to get up, trying to eat those boys. As he did so, he made big scratches in the sides of the towering rock. He tried every spot, every side. He scratched up the rock all around, but it was no use. They boys watched him wearing himself out, getting tired, giving up. They finally saw him going away, a huge, growling, grunting mountain disappearing over the horizon. The boys were saved by Wanblee, the eagle, who has always been a friend to our people. It was the great eagle that let the boys grab hold of him and carried them safely back to their village.” (The Devils Tower Story and Legends from the Indians)




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            Devils Tower is a very unique and curious creation of nature. One day geologists may know how and why this intrusion was formed, but until then it is a majestic piece of nature that exists for all of us to enjoy.





Works Cited


·         United States. National Park Service. "First Stories." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 31 Mar. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

         "The UnMuseum - Devil's Tower." The UnMuseum - Devil's Tower. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

         United States. National Park Service. "Geologic Formations." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 19 Apr. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

·         "Devils Towers Geology and How It Was Formed." Devils Towers Geology and How It Was Formed. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

·         "Geology and Physiography of Devil's Tower." Geology and Physiography of Devils Tower. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

·         United States. National Park Service. "Frequently Asked Questions." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 19 Apr. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

·         "Devils Tower--Climbing on Sacred Land." Indigenous Religious Traditions. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

·         United States. National Park Service. "Geologic Formations." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 19 Apr. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

         United States. National Park Service. "Places." National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 20 Apr. 2014. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

·         "Devils Tower, Wyoming." Devils Tower. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

·         "The Devils Tower Story and Legends from the Indians." The Devils Tower Story and Legends from the Indians. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.

·         Smith, Graham. "Close Encounter with the Milky Way: Incredible Image of Natural Phenomenon in Skies above Devil's Tower Recalls Sci-fi Classic."Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2014.