U. S. Route 14A snakes up the incredibly steep western scarp of the Big Horn Mountains in one of the most amazing set of switchbacks anywhere.
The Bighorn Mountains consist of Archean granite overlain by Paleozoic platform rocks. The uplift is a fault block bounded by two great thrust faults that dip beneath the mountains. The sedimentary rocks are flat in the middle of the range but roll dramatically off the western flank until they are vertical and even overturned.
The Wheel is located on a narrow ridge (arete) overlooking two cirques. Parking is at a visitor center about 2 km (1.5 miles) off Route 14. Visitors have to walk the remaining distance on an easy trail. Most site descriptions say it's 1.5 miles but I estimate it as only a mile. The road is drivable to the wheel and beyond and people desiring access to the lands beyond can drive through but may not park at the site. Handicapped visitors can drive up, snow permitting (when I was there in late June, 2003, a large snowbank still blocked the road.)
Above: Panorama of the wheel from the east. The wheel has 28 spokes, the same number used in the roofs of ceremonial lodges. The number 28 has been speculatively linked to the phases of the moon and the number of days in the human reproductive cycle. There is a raised central cairn and several others on the periphery of the wheel. These have been alleged to have astronomical alignments.
The wheel is 500-800 years old and the central cairn is the oldest part. Excavations have shown it extends below the wheel and has been buried by wind-blown dust.
Above: view from the southeast
Above: panorama from the southwest.
Above: Panorama looking northeast. The wheel is at the extreme left end of the ridge with the snow patch.
|View from Highway US 14A. The Medicine Wheel is on the ridge above.|
|The road to the Medicine Wheel offers broad views of the Big Horn Mountains|
|A small visitor center and parking area are located at the entrance to the site.|
|From the visitor center on the road is closed for visitors to the Medicine Wheel, although it is open for access to the lands beyond.|
|Ancient quarry pits are numerous in the limestone. Indians quarried the limestone for chert.|
|The wheel is located at the very top of the hill on the far end of the ridge.|
|Looking west from the ridge, we see a glacial cirque with evidence of solifluction.|
|Left and below: looking west into the Big Horn Basin.|
flat upland surface north of the wheel.
Below: views of the wheel. Visitors are asked to walk to the left around the wheel, since that direction mimics the movement of the sun in the sky and is ceremonially important to the tribes that still use the wheel in ceremonies.
|Offerings, both tied to the enclosure ropes, and placed in the cairns, are plentiful.|
|Left and below: views of the south and west sides of the wheel.|
|The most unusual offering at the time of my visit was an abalone shell (bottom center, left of the angular rock).|
|Left and below: Views from near the wheel looking southeast along the arete toward the parking area.|
|Left and below: views along the road to the visitor center.|
|Pasqueflowers, long past their blooming season at lower elevations, are just blooming here late in June.|
|Left and below: views of the Big Horn Mountains.|
Created 7 April 2003, Last Update 01 July 2012
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