World’s Largest Petrified Tree?

Devils Tower, Wyoming (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

16 August 2022

Have you ever seen the Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming?

I had no idea it existed until Allison Cusick displayed a photo and jokingly described it as the world’s largest petrified tree during his presentation on Botanical Superlatives. I’ve never been there but I was hooked.

The origins of this gigantic “tree stump” are as amazing as its appearance.

Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Though no one knows for sure, most geologists agree that it’s a magma intrusion — not a volcano — of rare igneous rock called phonolite porphyry that formed 50 million years ago. At first it was buried underground but erosion has exposed it to stand 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River.

Devils Tower National Monument geologic cross section from Wikimedia Commons

The National Park Service describes it as the largest example of columnar jointing in the world.

Closeup of rock columns at Devils Tower (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Devils Tower is important to Native American culture and was established as the first National Monument in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It is one of the few monuments that allows rock climbing.

No it’s not a petrified tree.

Click here for a stunning photo of the Milky Way over Devils Tower at APOD.

(photos and images from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

17 thoughts on “World’s Largest Petrified Tree?

  1. I have never heard of this either, Kate. Thank you for the post. The picture of the galaxy above it is spectacular as well! Have a good week, friend.

  2. Drove past Devil’s Tower over 50 years ago with my parents on our way to the Herons and Yellowstone. It is impressive!

  3. You all must have never seen the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind……
    When we drove out west with our girls 25 years ago, this was one of our first stops in the National Parks system (along with the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore and Jewel Cave). It’s a nice easy walk around the base of the tower, and there are prairie dog colonies in the lands near it, which was the first time we’d ever seen them.

    1. Right? Seriously Kate how can you have avoided seeing pictures of Devils Tower? There’s also a lovely city of prairie dogs that lives at the base of the tower, worth a visit for both attractions. 🙂

  4. I have been there 3 times and so impressed. But my favorite photos have been the ones with the smoke ring around it.

  5. My favorite place from this year’s travel trip. We didn’t plan on visiting but are so happy we did. Fascinating.

  6. I thought everyone knows that it’s a giants foot, watch Mudfossil University on YouTube, Roger Spurr explains this in detail. Tendons snap like a rubber band at the abrupt transition. Makes complete sense…

  7. I heard that ground penetrating radar recently showed an extensive root system beneath it. I think it is an old tree stump. I wanna know who chopped it down and what they did it with. 😉

    1. I’m pretty sure those are just the ancient lava tubes that connected at the base of this formation. The lava didn’t seep through from just one place, kind of like how water seeps through underground, in a root like manner.

  8. The comment from the “Certified Arborist” is bogus. I was there last week on a perfect fall day.
    Following is information from a park service visitor information sign at its base..

    Buried Tower
    Ancient rivers took millions of years to excavate
    Devils Tower. The waters carried away softer
    sedimentary rocks, leaving behind the harder igneous rock called phonolite. This rock type is found here in northeastern Wyoming, and central Montana, but mostly in east Africa.
    The Tower is still emerging. The Belle Fourche
    River (below) continues to wash away the softer
    sedimentary rocks. Plateaus across the valley
    – some higher than the Tower’s summit – are eroded layers of the same sediment that once surrounded and covered Devils Tower.
    The Tower today stands 867 feet (264 meters) high, from the visitor center to the summit.
    Approximately one and one-half vertical miles of rock and sediment have washed away since the Tower formed.

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