Devil’s Tower in Wyoming had historically served as a beacon to land travelers. In 1977, it was portrayed as the bullseye for extraterrestrial travelers in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (synopsis of the plot here). It wasn’t just another mountain. It expressed a sense of something mysteriously powerful and beyond humanity. Today, those narratives are merging as UFO enthusiasts meet at the site to reinforce their belief in the reality of alien visitation.
Devil’s Tower, looking like a lithified gigantic tree stump jutting from the ground, is clearly iconic and unusual. It is a volcanically-derived feature that protrudes from the landscape in such a spectacular way that it induces awe, reverence, and fascination for those who come upon it. It’s no wonder Steven Spielberg used it as the key location in his movie. In the film, the character Roy Neary is paranormally drawn to the site. He sees it in his mind and is compelled to recreate it in mashed potatoes and in the living room. The tower is featured not only in the storyline but in the movie promotion as well. The Tower becomes a key character itself.
Because of the popularity the movie, millions of people know Devil’s Tower as a special location endowed with fictional, mythical, and mystical connotations. It is truly a landmark of spooky geology .
According to Sacred Places North America: 108 Destinations, by Brad Olsen, strange lights and other odd phenomena have been reported in the vicinity of the towers. Volcanic areas have a well-known association with UFO sightings. Some people think geothermal areas are paranormal hotspots. But what’s real and what’s fiction?
The National Park Service has a page with excellent information about the very first U.S, National monument, an honor bestowed in 1906 – how it was named, specifics on its location, height and circumference, and why it is called “Devil’s Tower”. Consult that source for the official information. I’ll just note here that the origin of the phonolite porphyry body protruding from the surrounding landscape is generally geologically explainable. This unusual blob of rock jutting out from the surrounding plain is less prone to erosion and breakdown. It’s an igneous intrusion – liquid rock that cooled under the surface. Columnar jointing of a magmatic intrusion is just normal physics, similar to the formation of mud cracks, though it looks manufactured . The phonolite rocks even ring when struck. (Stay tuned for more coming on this site about “ringing rocks.) The same physical processes formed the steps of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, the angular Devil’s Post-pile in California and the magnificent Fingals Cave in Scotland, all of which also have their spooky legends…
The latest idea on the geological formation of Devil’s Tower is that it is a maar-diatreme eruption/lava dome – a hypothesis based on the alignment of magnetic minerals in the rock samples studied.
The origin of this striking feature is unsurprisingly the source of incredible legends by natives who claimed the land and were inspired by it. The NPS actually closes the monument to climbers in June out of respect for the native ceremonies. The native legends include the well-known story of the bear chasing young girls. By the power of the Great Spirit, the mountain rose up, and the bear’s attempts to scale the mountain resulted in the claw “scratch marks” along the perimeter. We can now scientifically explain the structure of the tower but the legend remains as a poetic reminder that we are intimately connected to nature.
The rock body is not hollow, but totally solid. There is a legend that a hoard of gold is hidden in a cave with a secret entrance. This has never been found even as the site has been well-explored. So, we can put that legend to rest. But what of its sacred and otherworldly associations? Ah, now we come to the spooky part.
The 21st century has laid its claim to Devil’s Tower, particularly in Fall of 2017, which marks the 40th anniversary of Close Encounters release and accentuates the Tower’s place as a modern Mount Sinai and beacon for spiritual beliefs. Unsurprisingly, the Tower is becoming a mecca for UFO proponents. In mid-September, the first Devil’s Tower UFO Rendezvous will be held at Hulette, WY. The attendees will “celebrate all things UFO” including the 40th anniversary of the movie that helped bring attention and public acceptance to the idea of alien visitation. Many people believe aliens have and still are visiting earth. The aim of the festival is to promote UFO awareness and to spurn interest in investigation of these reported anomalies. While the Tower is not a historic “hotspot” of UFO activity (as is the more remote deserts of Nevada are), there has been a handful of UFO reports that immediately gain attention. It’s as if it’s just assumed that such a magnificent site should have its own paranormal aura. One logged report from 2015 shows a tiny white object in a photo of the tower (likely a camera artifact).
Another from 2014 shows a typical oblong saucer shape over the tower (could be a windshield defect, insect, or hoax).
Both reports are not very anomalous and serve only as weak evidence of alien craft, but there is a draw to portray the site in association with UFOs. A writer for VICE – Motherboard tells his story of seeing a cigar-shaped, silver object move across the sky in 1993 when he was 11 years old. I expect this reputation for strange sightings will grow as more people embrace a cosmic spiritual belief in reference to this location. This place is so amazing, it seems obvious it SHOULD draw from outer space as well as from earth. Thus, any anomaly or event reported here will get attention. The totally natural, impressive, and awe-inspiring feature engenders in visitors a sense that this land holds a value beyond our scientific understanding. It’s spooky, for sure, but it’s a natural treasure of the United States, no matter what you believe. We should expect the spooky reputation of Devil’s Tower to grow in the coming decade as tales (credible or incredible) propagate on the Internet and people come to seek out their own special experiences.
Check out this cool video by the people involved in Close Encounters. Joe Alves, Production Designer and Location Scout for the film describes how the incorporation of this location raised the “creative and spiritual sense of the film”.
- Of course, Devil’s Tower has been included on a nearly N-S ley line that also goes through the conspiracy and occult-oriented Denver Airport, NORAD – a UFO tracking site, and the infamous Roswell, the town where a UFO never crashed. That depends on how wide you draw the line, though.
- Vitaliano, Dorothy B. (1973) Legends of the Earth: Their Geologic Origins. p 41.