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Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Rising from the plains of northeastern Wyoming, all brown lines and squared top, this 867-foot formation looks like a stone gumdrop. It’s so otherworldly, in fact, that the Kiowa believed the Great Spirit created the tower when he raised the ground to save seven sisters from a giant bear. (Scientists, of course, have their own ideas: that the tower is magma that pushed to the surface or that it’s the remnant of a bygone volcano.) Make your own theory on the 3-mile Red Beds Trail. From the visitor center, head clockwise, hiking 1.3 miles through ponderosa forest and grasslands, with views of the tower’s northern face. Stay right at the first intersection and enter the Spearfish formation—an exposed layer of 200-million-year-old sandstone, siltstone, and shale, oxidized red by iron sediment—at mile 1.5. On the way around, spot a sandstone hoodoo with a rock perched precariously on top of a 20-foot-tall pillar. And imagine how it got there.
Palisades Interstate Park, New Jersey/New York
Between the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, and the Chrysler Building, there’s a lot of competition to be New York’s most iconic silhouette. But consider the 540-foot-tall Palisades, a 20-mile long colonnade that rises above the Hudson River. See the cliffy wall of basalt—eroded into sharp, hexagonal edges over the past 200 million years—on the 9-mile Giant Stairs Loop. Link the Closter Dock and Shore Trails along the Hudson, scanning for the Man-in-the-Rock Pillar, which looks like a face etched into the cliffs, near mile 2. Next, scramble .5 mile over massive slabs of basalt that fell from the wall above (the “Giant Stairs”) and watch for a waterfall that spills 100 feet over basalt columns. Close the circuit on the Long Path.
Hughes Mountain Natural Area, Missouri
Climb to the top of 1,200-foot Hughes Mountain for its 100-mile views of the Ozarks, but stay to explore one of the oldest columnar basalt formations in the U.S. Perched high above the plains, the Devil’s Honeycomb is a cluster of 1.5-billion-year-old interlocking hexagonal rock towers, worn smooth over millennia by wind and rain. Get the best vantage on the Devil’s Honeycomb Trail, a 2-mile out-and-back to the summit of Hughes. Ascend through blackjack oak and red cedar until the trees start to thin out at mile .8. A post to your left marks the end of the official trail. Head cross-country southeast, where you’ll see six-sided columns mixed in with a kaleidoscope of wildflowers: rock pink, yellow star grass, and wild hyacinths (blooming in May and June). Retrace your steps on the return.