The winding road to Devil's Tower was hilly, green, and smelled of pine, a stark difference from the parched crumbling earth of the Badlands. It appeared when I was still six miles away, as a lonesome faint blue column soaring out of the ground. I've seen lots of photos, but it’s bigger than the image I carried in my head. You know how when you see a celebrity they always seem shorter in person? Well, imagine meeting Kevin Spacey and he's 1,208 feet tall!
Just accept that that analogy is perfect and continue.
I wondered what pre-scientific people thought when they first saw this strange monolith emerge through the atmosphere from far away. Such an odd thing would surely generate legends. I didn't have to wonder long though; a roadside plaque told me one such legend…
Native American's told of seven little girls being chased onto a low rock by attacking bears. The seven girl's prayers for help were heeded. The rock carried them upward to safety as the claws of the leaping bears left furrowed columns in the sides of the ascending tower. Ultimately, the rock grew so high that the girls reached the sky where they were transformed into the constellation known as the Pleiades.
Definitely an interesting story, but I think science is often better than fiction. In reality, ancient seas ebbed across this part of North America, including all of Wyoming, and split the continent into two. Silt, sand, and other rock fragments got deposited on the sea floor and formed soft sedimentary rock. 50 million years ago, molten rock pushed up through that sedimentary rock a mile and a half below the earth's surface and became a harder igneous rock that cooled and fractured into columns as it crystallized.
As eons passed, erosion more easily stripped away the softer rock around Devil’s Tower, leaving the 1,208-foot column that I stare up at today. Knowing how long such a process takes, makes me more passionate about protecting it, and more grateful for our National Parks.
Now, the Pleiades on the other hand, those formed out of seven little girls. It's true. They got that part exactly right. Any scientist worth his salt will tell you the exact same thing.
A Backpacker's Life List by Ryan Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.