Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and more

[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!

 

Mountains in Bighorn Canyon NRA

Mountains in Bighorn Canyon NRA, north-central Wyoming

 

Rugged country in Bighorn Canyon NRA

Rugged country in Bighorn Canyon NRA

 

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 NRA (1)

Bighorn Canyon NRA (1)

 

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 NRA (2)

Bighorn Canyon NRA (2)

 

Bighorn Canyon NRA (3)

Bighorn Canyon NRA (3)

 

Wild horse population managed by BLM

The wild horse population is managed by Bureau of Land Management

 

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).

 

Heading east from Bighorn Canyon

Heading east from Bighorn Canyon into the Bighorn Mountains

 

Bighorn Basin

The Bighorn Basin lies just west of the Bighorn Mtns. and is about 100 mi. wide and 140 mi. long.

 

Entering the Bighorn Mountains

Entering the Bighorn Mountains from the west

 

Entering the Bighorn Mountains

Entering the Bighorn Mountains, looking back at Bighorn Basin

 

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.

 

 

Foot-trail to Bighorn Medicine Wheel

Foot-trail to Bighorn Medicine Wheel, Medicine Mountain, WY

 

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.

 

Pika in the rocks (1)

Pika in the rocks (1)

 

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.

 

Pika in the rocks (2)

Pika in the rocks (2)

 

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark (1)

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark near the top of Medicine Mountain, WY (1)

 

Bighorn Medicine Wheel

Bighorn Medicine Wheel, Photo credit: www.nativeamericansonline.com

 

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.

 

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark (2)

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark (2)

 

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.

 

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark (3)

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark (3)

 

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark (4)

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark (4)

 

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark (5)

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark (5)

 

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark (6)

Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark (6)

 

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. 😉

 

Camping in the Bighorn Mountains, WY

Camping in the Bighorn Mountains, WY

 

Camped in the Bighorns

Jack and I camped in the Bighorns

 

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.

 

Hiking to Bucking Mule Falls

Hiking to Bucking Mule Falls

 

Approaching Bucking Mule Falls Overlook

Approaching Bucking Mule Falls Overlook

 

Bucking Mule Falls (1)

Bucking Mule Falls (1)

 

Bucking Mule Falls (2)

Bucking Mule Falls (2)

 

Canyon view from Bucking Mule Falls Overlook

Canyon view from Bucking Mule Falls Overlook

 

The trail back to camp

The trail back to camp

 

Meeting folks on the trail

Meeting folks on the trail

 

South side of Bald Mountain, WY

South side of Bald Mountain, Bighorns, WY

 

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:

http://www.sacred-destinations.com/usa/bighorn-medicine-wheel

http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/medicine-wheel

http://www.native-americans-online.com

~~~~~~~

 

About Mike Hohmann

I did lots of camping/hiking as a kid in the Scouts, and I still strive to 'be prepared.' After high school, I got bored with more school and enlisted in the Army Corps. of Engineers, doing two tours in Vietnam. Post military, I completed BS and MBA degrees and spent several decades with Corporate America, working mostly in the areas of conventional and renewable energy. I also spent over a decade as a self-employed small business consultant in marketing and finance. As a young family man with a wife and two kids, we spent many vacations camping and hiking in northern Minnesota. I spent additional long weekends fishing the rivers and camping/hiking along the North Shore of Lake Superior. I retired early and hit the trails hard-- in the lower-48, Alaska, and western Canada. These days I backpack, car-camp and day-hike, go snowshoeing, and try to get the grand-kids out to teach them the ways of the trail. Other interests include American Revolutionary War and Civil War history, 19th and 20th century firearms, Native American history; business and macroeconomics. I'm a recently-licensed amateur (Ham) radio operator, and I look forward to many radio-related adventures in coming months. Life is good! Member, Superior Hiking Trail Association; Member, Appalachian Mountain Club; Member, REI; Member, ARRL- Amateur Radio Relay League, the National Assoc. for Amateur Radio; Twin Cities Metro Skywarn Spotter; Twin City FM Club; Richfield Amateur Radio Club; QRP ARCI, Low-Power Amateur Radio Club International; Honorary Member, Toronto QRP Society; Life Member, National Rifle Association
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2 Responses to Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and more

  1. Great photos, man. Very well done.

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