Day 7: Discovering Geometry at Devils Tower

This is Devil’s Tower National Monument in northeastern Wyoming: 

It is, well, a tower of rock that rises up from the land and looks nothing like the surrounding mountains. It has all the makings of a great interdisciplinary topic:

  1. It’s awe-inspiring. 
  2. Scientists don’t know why it exists but have three competing theories. 
  3. There are various Native American stories that explain its existence, and it still holds a sacred place in the local cultures today. 
  4. There is a voluntary rock climbing ban during the month of June because of its cultural significance, but we saw four separate climbers the day we visited. 
  5. The name itself is the result of a mistranslation made hundreds of years ago (which is also true of the Badlands). 

Also, there’s some good math to be found here. We encountered this sign right after we drove in: 

Why tetrahedrons? I don’t know, but it’s a question worth investigating. In addition, there was this in the visitor center:
Here’s a closer view of the tower so you can see the columns:


I know that the reason they form in these shapes has to do with chemical bonding angles as the rock cools, but I took Engineering Geology twenty years ago so I don’t remember all the details. So there we have it: two ways that math appeared in unexpected places on my trip today, plus the potential for an interdisciplinary topic that includes a non-trivial way to tie math to other fields (which is not always the easiest thing to do). 


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