I believe it was a junior high field trip when I was learned about Wormus Perpendicularis – a strange breed of worm that burrowed tunnels up and down, but never side to side. The species quickly died out because they never ran into partners with which to breed. All that remains is their fossilized tracks in the Rocky Mountains. You can see these tracks in mountain passes where the rock has been cut away for roads.
Of course, by high school I had all figured out that these “worm tracks” are actually marks left by construction crews that drilled into the rock to break it away or dynamite it when building the highways. But it got me looking at rocks. And in Wyoming, there are a lot of cool rocks.
The Rocky Mountains were made, in simple terms, when two tectonic plates rammed into each other and buckled upward. You can imagine that this was a rather violent event and there were fissures and wrinkles for hundreds of miles. One such wrinkle is now Vedauwoo (Vee-duh-voo) in southeast Wyoming. This giant slab of granite stuck out of the ground and cracked in thousands of places. Over the years, water and wind have worn the cracked edges and created gigantic pebbles and other oddly shaped boulders.
Well known by climbers, Vedauwoo is also great fun for those who are happy on the ground. The area provides several path options and you can choose exactly how much energy you want to expend. Many paths lead to fun nooks – and yes, crannies – as well as some spectacular views of the plains below. There is also an abundance of wildlife from the golden-mantled ground squirrel (think chipmunk, on steroids) to deer, red-tailed hawk to finches.
Probably the best known rock in Wyoming is Devils Tower. If you want to get your nerd on, Devils Tower is an igneous intrusion – a big chunk of molten rock that broke into the sedimentary rock structure, which has now eroded away leaving only the stump of cooled lava. Scientists are still unsure whether the molten rock broke through to the surface, making it a volcano, or not. Regardless, the result is a big ol’ rock sticking up into the air.
A big rock may not seem like something that would take a long time to view. Maybe you’re thinking you’ll go, you’ll look, and you’ll leave. But this is a really big rock you’ll want to save some time to appreciate. For one thing, it’s a really, really, REALLY big rock. As you’re standing at the base, it’s astounding. And then…what’s that pink speck up there? Did it just move? Why yes, that’s one of the thousands of climbers that come to Wyoming each year to climb.
There’s nothing like a little pink dot of person to make you realize just how huge Devils Tower actually is. It doesn’t take long before you start to root for the climbers as if they are your best friends. And it doesn’t take much longer than that before you start to wonder if you want to sign up for the climb. For many (me), it doesn’t take much longer than THAT to realize they are better off on the ground. For those of us who love being on the ground, the path around Devils Tower is a good hike and it provides absolutely stunning views of the Belle Fourche area below – as well as many angles to look up at the Tower and say, “now THAT is a really big rock.”
Wyoming has another, lesser known igneous intrusion in the southwest corner of the state. But its manufacture is about the only thing Boars Tusk has in common with the Tower. Located in the Red Desert, Boars Tusk rises out of the ground without any trees to mask its stark rise toward the sky. This giant rock stands alone in a sea of sand with only distant buttes breaking up the horizon behind it.
Again, the initial simplicity of the attraction may convince you this is a short trip out to see the rock and then rock on. But, as with many places in Wyoming, a moment of stillness will show you how much “nothing” has to offer. The desert is actually rich with both plants and animals which generally reside close to the ground – a still person will discover numerous reptiles, ground squirrel, ferrets, rabbits, fox and coyote. With small mammals come big birds such as hawks, falcons, and eagles. This is also a prime location for the pronghorn, wild horses and a herd of desert elk.
The great nothingness of this area is part of the attraction. There is no formal path around Boars Tusk because there are no limits. It is open, public land. Wander where you want. Make your own path. And, as you’re blazing your own trail, let the sounds of the Killpecker Sand Dunes become your theme song. The wind in this valley actually whistles as it winds around the buttes and over the dunes. You’ll have to hear it to appreciate how beautiful it is.
There are many more rocks in Wyoming that are worth a visit. There is Hell’s Half Acre at Powder River. There are the fossilized fish near Kemmerer. And, of course, there is the crown jewel of Wyoming stone – the Tetons. It doesn’t matter which region you visit or how far off the path you choose to go, just remember that Wyoming rocks.