[This is the third of three posts describing a brief road trip during July of 2016.]
The first post covered a week in Glacier National Park, the second involved a few days in Yellowstone National Park, and the third starts out in Cody, Wyoming! Enjoy!
Jack and I had visited Cody and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, or the Buffalo Bill Museum as I refer to it, on several occasions, so we didn’t stay long on this trip. We were getting short on time; we had places we wanted to visit and Jack had a flight to make in several days. So we skipped the evening rodeo, and continued northeast out of Cody on ALT 14, toward Lovell, Wyoming.
A dozen miles past Lovell, we turned north to visit the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (NRA) -Wyoming’s Grand Canyon! I’d been thru this area of Wyoming in the past, but somehow the Bighorn Canyon had never been on my radar. If you are ever in this part of Wyoming, I recommend a visit to Bighorn Canyon NRA – it’s beautiful country!
Bighorn sheep were absent from this Canyon-country for over 70 years prior to the early 1970’s. In the winter of 1975, a half-dozen sheep from the Whiskey Mountain herd were re-introduced in this area. Between 1985-88 the herd of about 34 doubled. In 1994 the herd was estimated at over 160 animals.
Bighorn Canyon is home to Golden Eagles (up to 88″ wingspan), Peregrine falcons (up to 42″ wingspan), American kestrels (up to 21″ wingspan), Red-tailed hawks, Prairie falcons, Merlins and the common Raven.
The Peregrine falcons were nearly wiped out in the mid -1970’s because of DDT poisoning. Between 1988 and 1994 the National Park Service and the Peregrine Fund released 28 birds back into the Canyon, and their numbers have greatly increased again.
Bighorn Canyon hosts a healthy herd of wild horses including a herd of over 200 wild mustangs, all managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Our first stop in the Bighorns would be at Medicine Mountain, about 30 miles east of Lovell, Wyoming. Here we would visit the Bighorn Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark. Dozens of medicine wheels have been identified in South Dakota,Wyoming, Montana, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Most are found in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The Medicine Wheel national Historic Landmark is situated on an outcropping near the top of Medicine Mountain, between Sheridan and Lovell, Wyoming along Highway ALT 14. Turn north on FDR 12 and drive up and around the mountain to park in the lot near the small Ranger Station. There is a 1.5 mile foot trail up to the Medicine Wheel site. Elevation is 9,642 ft.
Above, a Pika hides in the rocks along the trail. Pikas are small mammals weighing about 4-10 oz. They have rounded ears and no tail, and are native to cold climates. They tend to live in rocky mountain sides and shelter in small crevices. Some species burrow in the soil. They are herbivores and do not hibernate. Pikas have a high-pitched alarm call when threatened, and then they hide in the rocks, where they also store food over the winter.
This excellent photo clearly shows the typical layout of these medicine wheels. The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is probably the best preserved of the estimated 70-150 such sites located in north-central North America.
The Bighorn Medicine Wheel measures about 80 feet in diameter and consists of 28 ‘spokes’ of limestone rocks that radiate from a central cairn associated with six smaller stone enclosures found around the wheel’s perimeter. Five smaller stone structures are connected to the outer circumference of the Wheel and a sixth is located outside the Wheel but all six stone enclosures connect to the center cairn by the spokes. It is thought that the site has been used for ceremonial, spiritual, and fasting-vision quest purposes by many Native Americans for nearly seven thousand years. It is also used to mark the celestial seasons and for celestial navigation.
In recent centuries it has been used by Arapaho, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Kootenai-Salish, Plains Cree, Shoshone and Sioux/Lakota. Several dozen tribes currently utilize the site for various purposes.
The following pictures are meant to depict the many offerings, thoughts, prayers and remembrances left at the site. This site struck me as a ‘holy’ place, held in high respect by regional Native Americans for centuries. It’s important that visitors afford the site, the mountain and the surrounding preserved study area, the respect afforded other religious sites, cemeteries, and designated historic areas.
After our visit to Medicine Wheel, we departed Medicine Mountain and continued east on ALT 14 looking for a campground for a couple of days. We drove some back-country gravel roads and found a nice campground to the north off ALT 14. But alas, I don’t recall the names of the roads (there are several) nor the campground. You could ask directions to Bucking Mule Falls and probably find the campground that way. 😉
I just couldn’t resist taking this selfie of Jack and I. We actually camped and hiked together probably not more than ten miles from this campground about five years earlier. On that trip, I picked Jack up in the Black Hills and we headed for the Bighorns, then spent some time in Cody, and I dropped him at the airport. I continued west with another friend for a few weeks of more intensive hiking/backpacking and lots of dehydrated food- that was a ‘working trip.’
So this was a bit of a reunion for Jack and I. Luckily, we had a larger tent to share on this trip, than we had on the earlier trip,which worked out well in terms of comfort! We weren’t backpacking so we splurged on a big tent, and some cold beer from Big Sky Brewing. We did have some dehydrated food, so it did feel like we were roughing it a bit… but just a little bit! We explored some of the local terrain, and hiked out to Bucking Mule Falls.
The last time Jack and I camped out here we were at Bald Mountain. We camped on the north side and climbed to the top which was just over 10,000 feet, according to the survey marker (overall about a 1,000 ft. gain). This is a view of the south side of the mountain. When we were up top earlier, we looked out in a southerly direction to see a vast expanse of varying lower elevations – just like the glimpse you see in the above picture.
Heading east we tried to get a room in Gillette, WY but found no rooms because the town was hosting the National Rodeo Championships. It was getting late and we found a room about an hour down the road in Sundance, WY.
After a good night’s rest we drove on to Rapid City, SD. In Rapid City, Jack brought me to a fantastic store, actually more of a Native American Art Museum. Prairie Edge Trading Co. & Galleries, is a Plains Indian Gallery, Book Store and Fine Art Gallery. You have to see it to believe it. We spent a couple of hours there, I bought some art that is being framed as I write. If you come out to visit Mt. Rushmore, be sure to visit Prairie Edge!
We enjoyed a good lunch at a craft brewery/restaurant next door to Prairie Edge, then I dropped Jack at the airport, and I hit the road for home. I’d planned to spend a couple of days in the Badlands getting some sunrise/sunset photos, but as I passed the freeway exit it was 100 degrees -I decided to just drive straight through to the Twin Cities… nine hours later I was home!
What a trip Jack and I had… three days in a cabin on Lake Yellowstone and lots of hiking; a nice stop in Cody at the Buffalo Bill Museum; the Bighorn Canyon NRA, Medicine Wheel, camping/hiking in the Bighorn Mountains; and a stop at Prairie Edge. We missed the rodeo in Cody and again in Gillette, and sunrise/sunsets in the Badlands -not a bad week!
Medicine Wheel References: