On top of the Bighorn Range in Wyoming is Medicine Mountain, desolate and nearly 10,000 feet high and only reachable during the warm summer months. And on top of it lies a mysterious and ancient Native American medicine wheel that precisely predicts certain astronomical events.
This is not a casual walk. It is 1 1/2 miles from the parking lot to the medicine wheel. And 1 1/2 miles back down to the parking lot again. That’s a three-mile roundtrip hike, at altitude. The wind blows continually and very strong up here, seemingly from every direction.
There is little UV protection at such heights, so wear a hat and cover your skin. Carry water. The hike is climbs sharply. Even moderate exertion at such altitude can be stressful for your heart, so take frequent breaks.
That’s easy to do because the scenery is breathtaking. There is nothing but wilderness to see in any direction.
On the day we went, skies were bright blue, with big fluffy clouds. But mountain weather can change very fast and storms on Medicine Mountain can be fierce.
Once you reach the top, you will find a small marker attesting to the mystery of the place and a walkway around the wheel, which is encircled by a fence.
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is an 80’ diameter wheel-like pattern made of stones. At the center of the circle is a doughnut-shaped pile of stones, a cairn, connected to the rim by 28 spoke-like lines of stones. Native Americans use this site regularly for religious purposes and special ceremonies called vision quests. Sometimes, Indians remain here for as long as four days, without food or water.
The stone lines of this medicine wheel precisely point to where the Sun rises or sets on summer solstice and where certain important stars first rise at dawn after being behind the Sun.
Some 80 different Indian Tribes hold ceremonies here and Indian prayer bags, pieces of cloth and other religious and ceremonial decorations are affixed to the rope fence.
The wheel s part of a vast set of old Native American sites that document 7,000 years of their history in North America. The surface stones here are believed to be 700 years old. Beneath it are multiple layers of stones and rocks and because this site is sacred to Native Americans, no digging is allowed
So no one is sure exactly how old this wheel is. Like Stonehenge, it has been built up by successive generations who added new features to the circle. Archaeologists suspect that the function and meaning of the medicine wheel changed over time, and it is doubtful that we will ever know what the original purpose was.
There is no charge to visit the medicine wheel, though it sometimes closes to outsiders during Native American ceremonies.
I can’t imaging a Class A making the climb, or finding a spot in the parking lot. It’s an easy ride for Class B RVs, and probably Class C motorhomes, too.
The site is not easy to reach. The nearest town is Lovell, Wyoming, 33 miles to the east. The GPS coordinates ate Latitude: 44 degrees 49′ 32″ N.; longitude: 107 degrees 55′ 15″ W.
During summer months, there are usually two National Park Service employees there, one at the parking lot, another on top. Besides preventing access during Native American ceremonies, they are delighted to answer questions. They also protect the site from artifact thieves.
On top, visitors are asked to be quiet and respectful, as if in church.