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USGS Geology in the Parks

Geology of National Parks: National Park Service Support Project

Geology of Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

Project Goals and Products

The Red Beds Trail will be developed into an interpretive tour guide, partially based on the published geologic map of the Monument, with wayside displays describing the sedimentary geology and the relationship to the origins of the Tower. The present descriptions of the sedimentary rocks within the Monument as displayed on the published map are inadequate and require reevaluation. The geologic map will be revised and, where necessary, the six rock units will be correctly identified, described, and the nature of their formation (the types of sediment and location of accumulation) explained and discussed. The concept of geologic time and the processes of erosion will be discussed and focused upon in relation to the rocks being highlighted. Drainage modification, mostly the result of glacial effects, as exemplified by the Belle Fourche-Cheyenne-Missouri River complex, will also be developed as part of the interpretive program.

Devil's Tower
Devils Tower:
Although Devils Tower has long been a prominent landmark in northeastern Wyoming, the origin of the mammoth rock obelisk remains somewhat obscure. Geologists agree that Devils Tower formed from molten rock forced upwards from deep within the earth. Debate continues, however, as to whether the rock cooled underground or whether Devils Tower magma reached the surface. Current research supports the conclusion that Devils Tower was not a volcano, but was injected between sedimentary rock layers and cooled underground (as a laccolith). The characteristic furrowed columns are the result of contraction which occurred during the cooling of the magma. Geologic estimates have placed the age of Devils Tower at greater than 50 million years, although it is likely that erosion uncovered the rock formations only one or two million years ago.
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