The Romance Reviews

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Forever West

The other day I saw the most amazing time lapse video on the Wyoming tourism site.  (  I know I watched the video at least five times, and each time, I kept murmuring that I wanted to go home.  I can honestly say that I love the state of Wyoming, and like the old saw that California is more a state of mind that an actual place, Wyoming is a state of being: a state of being at peace, a state of infinite possibilities, and a state of being calm even in the face of all those possibilities.  Wyoming has always presented herself to me as bigger than life, where someone is judged not for who they are but for what they can do and accomplish.  Every time I have been in Wyoming, I see a hardy pioneer spirit still alive and well. 

Devil's Tower rising from an early morning mist
I’ve written before that every western historical romance I’ve penned has been set in Wyoming—or the Wyoming Territory, as these romances were set in a time before Wyoming became a state.  So, with that in mind, I’d like to take the next couple of blog entries to introduce you to my adopted state.  This time, we’re going to start in the northwest corner of Wyoming, near the Black Hills of South Dakota, at Devil’s Tower.

Belle Fourche River and Devil's Tower
Devil's Tower rises 1,267 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River and is on the edge of Thunder Basin National Grasslands.  Where the tower is located is the only place in Wyoming that none of the mountain ranges that rise from her plains are visible.  What makes the tower so striking is its sharp, near-vertical cliffs with regular furrows and flattened top.  During the age of the dinosaurs, this area was once under a shallow, warm sea.  Over a period of millions of years, sediment was deposited on the floor of this sea and this eventually turned it to sedimentary rock such as sandstone, shale and siltstone.  At the end of the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, pressures from within the earth forced the land upward.  These pressures created the nearby Black Hills and Rocky Mountains.  The pressure also forced molten rock toward the surface at the location where the tower now stands.  What scientists cannot agree on is whether this molten rock ever made its way to the surface.  If it did, then Devil's Tower is probably the remains of an ancient volcano and the tower is a volcanic.  A volcanic plug is formed when a volcano becomes extinct and the molten rock in tube that carried the magma from deep in the earth to the crater of the mountain cools and becomes solid igneous rock.  Usually the rock in the tube is much tougher than the rest of the mountain and as the wind, rain and snow erode the mountain away, the plug becomes exposed.  One well-known example of a volcanic plug is Ship Rock in New Mexico which towers 1,700 feet above the surrounding plain.
Ship Rock in New Mexico

Another theory of how the tower formed is that the tower is a laccolith.  A laccolith is an intrusion of hot magma from deep within the earth that never reaches the surface.  It pushes up a bulge of sedimentary rock above it, but no caldera or crater is formed.  As the molten rock cools and the soft sedimentary rock of the bulge is worn away, the harder igneous rock is exposed.  If this is the case the top of the tower probably became visible between one and two million years ago.

I’m not a geologist (even though, at one time in my undergrad studies, I seriously considered changing my majors because I had so much fun in the geology classes I took as electives), so I’m not saying which theory carries more weight, but I’ve heard from several PhD geologists they believe that Devil’s Tower is a volcanic plug.  It doesn’t matter to me, because the geology behind the tower doesn’t alter its incredible beauty.

Pleiades rising through the trees
There is also the Native American myth regarding Devil’s Tower.  The myth ties the tower to the constellation of the Pleiades, the cluster of stars that many of us know as “The Seven Sisters.”  The Indian myth goes something like this:  One warm, sunny fall afternoon, seven children were playing in the meadow by the river, collecting berries, and just being kids.  Out of the woods along the river came a grizzly bear.  When he saw the children, he chased them.  Frightened, they ran from the bear but the only refuge they could find on the prairie was a tree stump.  They leaped up onto the stump and prayed to the Great Spirit to help them.  The stump began to grow bigger and bigger and the grizzly leaped up at them, trying to catch them.  As the grizzly slid down the stump, his claws left the long marks down the rock that are still visible today.  And, because the stump grew so large, it turned into rock and the children were able to step off the rock into the sky and they stayed there to play and became the constellation we know now as the Pleiades. 

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