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Devils Tower National Monument

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About Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument

The Tower is an astounding geologic feature that protrudes out of the prairie surrounding the Black Hills. It is considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people.

Hundreds of parallel cracks make it one of the finest crack climbing areas in North America. Devils Tower entices us to learn more, explore more and define our place in the natural and cultural world.

American Indians

Most tribes that lived in or near the Black Hills had individual oral histories about the creation of the Tower. Although there are similar elements to many of these stories, they are unique in the details. The names ascribed by the various nations for the Tower also display similar variations. In modern English, they are translated as "Bear's Lodge," "Bear's Tipi," "Tree Rock," "Gray Butte," and more. Some of these stories are shared on the park website.

Stories and histories shared by tribal members indicate that the Tower was a sacred site - a place for winter camps, vision quests, and summer ceremonies. You can learn more about how and why this place is held sacred by American Indians on our website.

Indian tribes were gradually extirpated from the region as early white explorers, and later white settlers arrived at the area. The United States government worked to remove the cultural ties many people had with the Black Hills and surrounding sites like the Tower. During the end of the 1900s, a rebirth of American Indian traditions and values inspired new generations to reconnect with their historical roots.

Today, many tribes still utilize the park for traditional ceremonies. Visitors will observe prayer cloths and prayer bundles attached to trees around the park, especially along the Tower Trail. These represent a tangible connection that native peoples still maintain with this area. Please do not touch or disturb these cloths.

General Information

How tall is Devils Tower? Devils Tower is 867 feet from its base to the summit. It stands 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River and is 5,112 feet above sea level.

How big is the summit of the Tower? It's approximately 1 1/2 acres, about 180 feet by 300 feet. (About the size of a football field.)

What is it like on top? The summit is slightly dome-shaped and rocky, with native grasses, cactus, and sagebrush. Chipmunks, mice, pack rats and the occasional snake are found on top.

How far is it around the Tower? The circumference of the base of the Tower is 1 mile. The Tower Trail is 1.3 miles (2 kilometers).

Why is it called Devils Tower? The name "Devils Tower" originated during an 1875 scientific expedition. The Army commander in charge of the military escort, Col. Richard Dodge, wrote that "the Indians call the shaft "Bad God's Tower," which he modified to "Devil's Tower." The earliest official maps of the area label the formation as "Bear Lodge," which is a direct translation of the Lakota name Mato Tipula. Other American Indian names include Bear’s Tipi, Home of the Bear, Tree Rock and Great Gray Horn.

Some contend that Col. Dodge simply got a bad translation of the indigenous name; others say it was an intentional renaming. The truth is lost to history. When President Theodore Roosevelt declared the site as the first national monument in 1906, Devils Tower was used as the appellation and the name became official. A clerical error resulted in the lost possessive apostrophe (i.e. "Devils Tower" instead of "Devil's Tower").

Geology Questions

Is Devils Tower an old volcano? No. Geologists agree that Devils Tower is an igneous intrusion; this means it formed underground from molten rock. Magma pushed up into the surrounding sedimentary rock. There it cooled and hardened. The sedimentary rock has since eroded away to show the Tower. Some theories suggest it was once part of a volcanic system, others say it was simply an underground intrusion.

Is it hollow? No - you could compare it to a bunch of pencils held together by gravity.

What kind of rock is it? The rock is called phonolite porphyry; it is similar in composition to granite but lacks quartz. Phonolite refers to the ringing of the rock when a small slab is struck, and its ability to reflect sound. Porphyry refers to its texture: large crystals of feldspar embedded in a mass of smaller crystals.

How often do the columns fall? There have been no major falls since in recent history (200 years).

How old is the Tower? Evidence shows the Tower formed about 50 million years ago. The erosion which exposed the Tower likely took place between 5 and 10 million years ago.

Devils Tower National Monument is located 2 hours 17 minutes from Keystone.

Devils Tower National Monument Gallery