The Medicine Wheel is an ancient native sacred place that is located high in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. The Medicine Wheel is a great day trip destination and the access road to the trailhead is easy to find. The trailhead has facilities and there are several information kiosks that provide plenty of insight. The ancient Medicine Wheel certainly is a majestic sight to behold and the hike can be likened to a spiritual journey. In fact, the spirituality of this destination can be quite intense in a positive way and it is very easy to find a better outlook on life after doing the trek. The Medicine Wheel is a place where prayers, divination, ancestral reverence and spiritual guidance all take place. The pleasant memories can be reflected upon for a lifetime.
A few precautions must be taken because this destination requires a high elevation 3 mile round trip hike. The Medicine Wheel is located about 9,600 feet above sea level, so altitude sickness can be a concern. The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to drink plenty of water and snack on small portions of food. It is best to relax for about an hour before starting strenuous physical activity, so the body has time to adjust to the thin air. If a dizzy spell does occur when hiking, stop, rest and drink more water, instead of trudging onward. Overexertion in high elevations can cause severe illness or death, so taking it easy is the way to go.
Another precaution to consider is the weather, which can be unpredictable in the Bighorn Mountains. Summer is the best time of year to do this three mile round trip hike, but the summer season can be short high up in these mountains. The snow melt happens late spring or early summer and the first snow of winter can occur as early as late August in these mountains, so the window of opportunity is relatively short. The Bighorn is subject to storms coming from the High Plains. A cold front can drop the daytime temperature by 30ºF, so packing some warm outerwear may be necessary even on a warm day, especially if gray clouds can be seen on the horizon.
As long as a few minor precautions are taken, the three mile round trip hike to the Medicine Wheel should go off without a hitch. There is only one long uphill grade to negotiate, which can be strenuous for some. There actually are a few park benches along this section of the trail, so taking a break can be done comfortably.
The Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark Trail is also accessible for the physically challenged. This hiking trail actually is a narrow smooth dirt road and by requesting permission in advance, a park ranger will open the gates to allow those who have mobility challenges to use a vehicle to get to the destination. The reason for the ease of access has to do with the Medicine Wheel being a spiritual place of healing and many people travel a long way to do the pilgrimage.
The Medicine Wheel is a sacred Native American site that was preserved as a National Landmark in 1970. This landmark has been called several names in the past, such as the "Crow Medicine Wheel or Bighorn Medicine Wheel." The official name was changed to the Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark, with no modern tribal designation, because nobody really knows which ancient culture built this sacred place.
For many years and many centuries, the native people have made pilgrimages to the Medicine Wheel to give thanks to Mother Earth Spirit for creation and sustenance in the world which they live. The Medicine Wheel is a place of prayers, divination and spiritual journeys. This is a place where people can learn a little something from the great spirit, which can help visitors to be more in tune with the world around them.
The Medicine Wheel also is a place of acelestial significance, because the spokes of the wheel point to specific stars at certain times of year. The Summer Solstice is a time when the astrological mystery is unveiled for visitors to easily see. The lunar cycle is also represented in this ancient astronomical calendar. The Medicine Wheel surely played a part in tribal agricultural practices, hunting or migratory planning. This once was a place where guidance came from the stars above.
The culture that made the ancient Medicine Wheel on Medicine Mountain is a mystery to ponder over. For many years, some archaeologists assumed that the Crow made the Medicine Wheel a long time ago, but the Arapaho also have long ties to this place. Leaders of both tribes honestly state that the Medicine Wheel has always been there, so this landmark likely predates these two old cultures. According to accounts described by Crow guides shortly after the Europeans showed up in the 1800s, there used to be several ancient Medicine Wheels on top of the Bighorn. Unfortunately most were destroyed, but it is possible that a few remnants exist.
There is ample parking at the Medicine Wheel Trailhead. Just by taking a few steps away from the visitor center, it is easy to see that this is a wilderness area. Little chipmunks and marmots start poking their heads out of the rocks to greet visitors. After a hiker goes a few hundred yards down the trail, it becomes apparent just how wild this area really is and it pays to constantly be aware of the surroundings. Where there are lots of little wild animals, there are predators that hunt them down. I spotted a big coyote perched on a rock about 150 yards downhill and mountain lions have been known to haunt this area. These predators usually keep their distance, so they pose no problems. Knowing about the local wildlife is necessary for avoiding unexpected danger in this neck of the woods.
Other than seeing a distant coyote, there were no large wild animals along the Medicine Wheel Trail. However, the little wild animals certainly kept me busy. A raven followed me every step of the way and it roosted on the outcrops just ahead on the trail over and over again. The taunting calls of the raven were entertaining, yet haunting, especially when pondering over the spiritual significance of the journey. Hiking while in deep thought has a way of making one blind to the surroundings and this is when surprises usually occur. On one such instance, a Gray Grouse actually walked right up to my feet and pecked at my toe, while I was lost in deep thoughts about about the Medicine Wheel. My first reaction was that this bird sure is friendly for some reason and I just had to laugh out loud!
It was late afternoon when I started the hike and the sun was starting to go down. When I made it to the crest of Medicine Mountain, the Medicine Wheel came into full view. At that same time, rays of bright sunlight burst through the clouds, which was quite a magical sight to see. The view certainly was dramatic and it was then that I realized just how important the Medicine Wheel experience truly is.
If ever there was a place on earth that one would expect to see an ancient Medicine Wheel, then Medicine Mountain is it. This mountain somehow causes onlookers to view this area with respect and reverence. Looking to the west, there is a vast valley that stretches out to the horizon. Toward the south, there are grassy meadows that meet steep cliffs and rocky outcrops along the edge of the mountains. To the east, there are lush alpine forests and plenty of wildlife. Looking north, one faces the trail that meets the sky on top of Medicine Mountain. This is a place where the earth touches the clouds in the sky and rays of sunlight beam down in all directions, just like spokes on a wheel.
The Medicine Wheel is protected by a fence, so the rocks are not disturbed. All along this fence are prayer offerings that are tied to the ropes and the wooden rails. Most of the prayer offerings are scarves, handkerchiefs and dream catchers of every color imaginable. The stone spokes of the wheel and the directions they point to do inspire thoughts of wisdom and visions of ancient times. The Medicine Wheel truly is a remarkable place and the experience is deeper than words can express.
The Medicine Wheel is a timeless spiritual destination that has always been there and will always be there. The tree mile round trip can be done as an easy going nature walk, which certainly adds to the charm. The Medicine Wheel is a unique ancient site that offers peace of mind, spiritual healing and cultural understanding. This is a very special place that should be toured at least once in a lifetime and the experience will provide good memories to ponder over for many years to come!
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