A Visit to the Medicine Wheel

Buffalo, WY

One of the things we had on our list to do here in northern Wyoming was a drive into the Bighorn Mountains to visit a site known as the Medicine Wheel.  To get there we drove north on I-25 for about 50 miles before turning west on US-14 at the little town of Ranchester.

Flat prairie on the way to the mountains

Route 14 winds its way steeply up into the Bighorns until it gets above the treeline.  While the temperature down in Buffalo was in the low 90s up in the mountains it was a cool 70 degrees.

After driving a total of a hundred miles, we finally came to the turn for the Medicine Wheel.

A well-maintained dirt road leads from the highway two miles up to a parking area.  From there it is a hike of a mile and a half to the wheel.  At an elevation of just under 10,000′ the site is not officially open yet and snow blocks the path in some spots.

This little guy kept a keen eye on the trail

A bench along the path had a beautiful view and provided a great spot to enjoy lunch.

Lunch with a view

As we walked down a hill we could see the location of the wheel on top of the next hill.

The wheel is on the peak in the distance

Another viewpoint along the path

We arrived at the wheel to find that the information panels nearby had not yet been installed.  The clear skies allowed the sun to keep us warm but the wind was very strong.

Not much info here!

The wheel is built from roughly loaf-sized stones gathered from the surrounding area. The structure consists of a circular rim 25 yards in diameter, 28 spokes extending from the rim to the center, and a series of seven cairns.  The age of the circle is undetermined but  archaeological evidence indicates that the area has been used by Indian tribes for over 7,000 years.

Native Americans still use the wheel for ceremonial purposes and leave spiritually significant items attached to the rope fence that surrounds the structure.

As we visited the wheel, a rock formation along a cliff just to the west caught our eye, so we went over to take a look.

We returned to the Jeep and began the journey back down the highway as it ran along a creek.  As we rounded a curve we both spotted a dark spot along the water.  We quickly came to a halt and, upon a closer look, spotted this guy feeding along the creek.

Enjoying a mid-afternoon snack

Heading back down out of the mountains

After needing jackets while visiting the Medicine Wheel, we returned to Buffalo and found temperatures in the low 90s.  But we managed to survive the heat and the forecast calls for lower temperatures tomorrow!

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38 Responses to A Visit to the Medicine Wheel

  1. Debbie L says:

    How amazing! Great wildlife and views!!! Ah makes me so envious. One day we’ll be there!

  2. Sue says:

    I don’t like the look of snow and shorts Pam…..its just not right (Wright?). The medicine wheel, however, is really interesting. The nearby rock formation looks like an ancient castle. Great Moose!

  3. geogypsy2u says:

    Wow, seeing a moose is such an awesome sighting and the wheel looks like an interesting visit but really, shorts in the snow. You are tough. A balmy 70 on the NR today.

    • placestheygo says:

      It was the perfect shorts day, Gaelyn:) Hiking in the snow with shorts is very strange. The Medicine Wheel was a very neat site. Glad we made the beautiful drive.

  4. Larry says:

    I’ve only been in that area in the fall and have never seen it green like this. Great views from the top and I definitely prefer 70’s to 90’s.

  5. Gay says:

    What a great piece of history.
    Now I’m really envious…a moose!

  6. Yay, Moose! Looks like a perfect outing for a warm day. I love how the views go on forever!

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, 10,000′ was the place to be with temps in the 90’s. We weren’t sure about the snow cover but decided to take the chance. The beautiful moose was the icing on the day:)

  7. Interesting looking rock formations, and how fun to see a moose!
    This is a part of Wyoming we haven’t been. Looks like it should go on our list.

    • placestheygo says:

      So far it has been a great decision to spent time here. We are looking forwarding to getting in some hiking in the Bighorns in the coming weeks. The snow should be down some with our high temps. Love my moose:)

  8. Jodee Gravel says:

    I’ve studied the Medicine Wheel for years, enjoyed ceremonies, etc – so I’m bummed to see this is at 10k’ 😦 The hike out doesn’t look ominous but don’t think I can do the elevation. Maybe I’ll be more acclimated by the time we come out of Montana! Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful spot. And the moose!! Not only a sighting, but pics too 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      I was surprised that the elevations didn’t bother us at all. It didn’t seem that high. You might be okay. We weren’t short of breath in the least and we haven’t hiked that high in a long time. You would really enjoy this Medicine Wheel. The moose was terrific!!

  9. Laurel says:

    A moose!!! I’ve wanted to see a moose forever! Beautiful landscape, and the medicine wheel is fascinating. We’ll definitely put this on our list. Your “lunch with a view shot” today made me do a double-take, haha!

    • placestheygo says:

      This was only my second bull sighting. The first one in Rocky Mountain NP was difficult to see real well. I was beside myself with excitement!! The Medicine Wheel and the drive are well worth the trip. Glad you caught out different lunch with a view photo. We needed our feet to be off the ground for the the view shot. But the bench was too narrow for us to get both feet in the air. So we got creative:)

  10. montanaclarks says:

    Isn’t that just the coolest place–I lived in Powell, WY for a couple years before marrying Michael and visited the Medicine Wheel. Congratulations on spotting the moose!!

  11. girlonahike says:

    Never heard of this, but it looks really cool! I absolutely love high alpine terrain. – Alicia @ http://www.girlonahike.com

  12. Sherry says:

    The Medicine Wheel is high on my list and has been for years. So glad the snow was off the trail so you could go and show it to me. Given the precariousness of our situation, I can’t be sure we’ll make it. The public is apparently no longer allowed to use it. There is a ritual, fairly available, for that. Can’t say I’m surprised but that’s sad. How cool to see the moose!

    • placestheygo says:

      We had never heard of the Medicine Wheel before our arrival. So glad we had the chance to visit the site. Only being able to walk around the perimeter adds to mystic of the place:)

  13. debbiemc14 says:

    Awesome hike! A little snow to keep you cool. The Wheel was interesting. How nice to see the moose!

  14. pmbweaver says:

    John is way better than Paul. Paul would NEVER drive 100 miles to hike.
    I just have to laugh when I see shorts and snow. What a hoot.
    Thanks for the history lesson. I have no idea what the Medicine Wheel was all about.
    Gorgeous vista with a bonus…a moose. Cool.

    • placestheygo says:

      This long drive was something we were planning to do anyway. There are several Scenic drives here and this was one of them. So the added hike up to the Medicine Wheel was a bonus. With the spectacular scenery the trip went by very quickly. Paul would have done this drive:)

  15. Maxxtrails says:

    How awesome to see the moose, and even better to get a picture! Looks like a good hike, although I would rather do it without the snow 😊

  16. LuAnn says:

    It must have been disappointing not to have any info posted up at the Medicine Wheel, but to see a bull moose after that made it all worth it I’m sure. We lived in Yellowstone for two years and never saw a moose, although we often heard about moose sightings. It took us making a trip to the Tetons to finally find that elusive creature, on the very first day! It was the highlight of our visit.

    • placestheygo says:

      Luckily, LuAnn, we had done a lot of reading prior to the visit about this Medicine Wheel so we didn’t need the info sign. The cairns are placed to line up with various sun and star positions. The Wheel gate is only open for occasional ceremonies that the Native Americans have. Just walking around and looking at all the items that have been tied to roping was so fascinating.

      We’ve only seen moose on the west side of Rocky Mountain NP. And we’ve only seen one bull and it was pretty hidden in the woods. This guy was huge and so easy to watch. I was very excited to say the least:)

      • LuAnn says:

        We saw a few moose when we were in the Tetons. Such a beautiful animal. We were able to watch them from a bridge spanning a river. They were feasting right along the river. It was a great experience. Thanks for the information on the Medicine Wheel. Having lived in northern AZ for many years, we are always drawn to Native American sacred sites.

  17. rommel says:

    Mysterious in intriguing sense for sure especially without any posted information. Is calling it “Medicine” Wheel have something to with anything about healing? Maybe after doing the “ceremonial purposes”?

    • placestheygo says:

      Rommel, we had done some reading before this trip so we knew what the Wheel meant. John didn’t add all the details to the blog. But there are several cairns placed to line up with various movements of the sun and stars. The Native Americans hold healing ceremonies at certain times of the year.

      • rommel says:

        I got the pieces to fit! I don’t really know much about their ceremonies. I did read The Teaching of Don Juan, and learned about the Natives during intercultural showing.

  18. This is a cool hike which I wished we were with you, but at that elevation! Gorgeous landscape, I think in WY we will be seeing all green.
    Lucky day for you with a Moose sighting!

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