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Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Bighorn Medicine Wheel

High in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains, near the summit of Medicine Mountain, at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet (3,000m), lies an ancient Native American Medicine Wheel. 

Doug and I are both fans of western stories by Louis L'Amour. It was in one of those books that we learned of the existence of the Bighorn Medicine Wheel. Our interest was piqued. We visited the site once, many years ago; but I can't find a single photograph to document that visit.  

So, as we left the Black Hills on the morning of October 3, 2018, we pointed our minivan towards the Bighorn Mountains for one more visit to the Medicine Wheel on this, our Last Hurrah trip. 

As is often the case, the journey was as interesting as the destination. Aside from high winds and cold temperatures, the day had been beautiful all the way to Sheridan, Wyoming. But as we started up Highway 14A, the clouds were so low that visibility was sometimes only about an eighth of a mile. To our great gratitude, however, we left the clouds behind us as we continued to climb. 

Following are a few photos of the sights that greeted us when the clouds lifted.

20190109 Big Horn Medicine Wheel

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Here is a transcription of the information contained on the sign pictured above:

Medicine Mountain to your left, was named for the Medicine Wheel, a stone circle that lies atop a ridge below its summit. Designated a National Historic Landmark, this symbol remains a mystery as the builders and purpose of the Medicine Wheel remain unknown. There is a theory that the wheel is a replica of the Sun Dance Lodge of the Crow legend and was oriented to point to the summer solstice sunrise. In the Indians' religious life, peaks of the Big Horn Mountains were objects of respect. Indians journeyed into the mountain solitude to make or find their medicine. This wheel is an important symbol of Indian beliefs about man's relationship to the world. Modern Indians use the Medicine Wheel for religious ceremonies. At times, flags, or offerings are left about the wheel, signifying that a ceremony has taken place. A gravel road leads up Medicine Mountain to the site of the Medicine Wheel.

If you'd like to read more about it, I found an interesting article here.

After exiting the highway, there is a three-mile gravel road that leads up to the parking area at the Medicine Wheel. It was recommended that cars be parked halfway up that road and that visitors hike the last mile and a half. 

I'd been dealing with pain in my left hip and both knees, and I knew I couldn't walk that far uphill, especially at that elevation. So I convinced Doug to keep on driving. The next mile or so wasn't much worse than the first mile and a half. But then we rounded a curve and saw the last stretch of road ahead of us.

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It was narrow and very rough. I think it's a testimony of how much Doug loves me that he kept on going. Well, maybe that and there was no place to turn around.

Finally, we were there.

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This is what you see from the parking area.
A circular fence surrounds the Wheel, and a sign directed us to walk to the left to a high point at what would be the furthest distance from the parking area. That high point was the best place to view the Wheel and to take photos.

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The drive back down to the highway and then on down to Cody, Wyoming, where we had a lodging reservation for that night, was beautiful. I'll close with one image from that drive. It's a panoramic shot of the Bighorn Basin.

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Bighorn Basin

The next day, we arrived at Yellowstone National Park, always one of our favorite destinations. But more on that next time.


15 comments:

  1. Linda, these photos are just gorgeous! And the history of the Medicine Wheel is quite interesting to me. And WOW...what a path that last mile and a half was! Thank you so much for sharing this with us. When our children were three and seven we drove to Cheynne Wyoming to visit with friends. It is beautiful country...so unlike anything we have here in WV!

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    1. Thank you, Dianna. I was in awe the first time I traveled across Wyoming. I'd never seen such barrenness or traveled such long distances with no sign of any kind of life. It was like I imagined being on the moon would feel. But now, many years and several trips later, I've come to appreciate the beauty of that state and the character and personalities of those who live there.

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  2. they put in a similar wheel near where I do the Prairie awakening, I have been to a few solstice celebrations there.

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    1. That's interesting, Steve. Thanks for the good wishes for my health. The hip and leg pain was very troublesome for about four months, during the summer and fall. Physical Therapy just seemed to make it worse. Finally, for no apparent reason, the pain abated on Thanksgiving Day. It's still present to some extent, but oh so much better.

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  3. Thanks for telling us about the medicine wheel. I wasn't aware of it, but will now have to add it to our (long) list of places to visit if we make it out there again. Yur photos are gorgeous.

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    1. I find things like this fascinating, George. The road up there is a challenge, though. We were fortunate that we had a beautiful day for this visit. The temperature was 46 degrees, and it was sunny. I imagine snow would be the norm for early October at that elevation. I hope you do get to see it some day. It's a fun side trip.

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  4. WOW! You folks certainly know how to have adventure. These pictures are stunning. I'm not sure if I would have wanted to drive up that last stretch.Thanks for sharing this adventure.

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    1. Thank you, Ruth. I don't think Doug was too keen on driving that last stretch, either; but we had already come so far that it seemed wrong to turn around without reaching our goal.

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  5. What a beautiful day you got for this challenging journey but well worth it

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    1. The day did turn out beautifully, Margaret. And I'm so glad we were able to successfully check the Medicine Wheel off our list.

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  6. Such a lovely place you have here and I'm happily following along with you.
    Beautiful photography!

    Blessings ♡

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  7. Lovely photos, Linda, and what an interesting place the medicine wheel is. In the article you linked I read that "the star alignments are most accurate for around 1200 AD, since slight changes in the Earth's orbit have caused perturbations since, and the solstice alignments remain accurate today", and I thought about how observant those people were...

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    1. Thanks, Petra. I guess that's what intrigues me so about this Wheel...wondering about the people who created it and how much they knew all those years ago.

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