Sacred places

Bighorn Medicine Wheel

Bighorn Medicine Wheel

This view of the Medicine Wheel shows some of the spokes in the wheel.

We returned to The Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark after a 15-year absence. The mile and a half hike to the site seemed easier this time, and we didn’t run into the same violent afternoon storms as we did last time. Of course, we went a little earlier in the day this time, just in case.

Trail to Bighorn Medicine Wheel

It was an up-hill hike to the site.

Last time, there were many more prayer tokens around the site. There were strips of fabric tied to the ropes, each representing a prayer. There were also offerings left around the perimeter, such as prayer bundles, tobacco, or small coins.

cairn with offerings at Bighorn Medicine Wheel

This cairn has an offering of an antelope antler and prayer bundles at its center.

Apparently, many of those were left by visitors of the site, and they aren’t allowed to do that anymore. Only Native Americans practicing their native religion can now leave any prayer bundles or offerings, and those are generally inside the stanchions. So this time, there were fewer visitors, prayer flags, and offerings.

Bighorn Medicine Wheel offering

Offering and alpine flowers

According to the ranger, the cairns were much taller in years past, but tourists would take home stones from the structure as souvenirs. When their conscience bothered them, they would mail them back to the site. That’s probably why they have stanchions up around the Medicine Wheel now and a ranger always on duty.

buffalo skull; Bighorn Medicine Wheel offering

Buffalo skul on top of a cairn

To really get an idea about how the wheel is laid out, I encourage you to look here, at a website that had a good view from above the site. It is hard to see the whole pattern at ground level, particularly if you are a bit vertically challenged like I am. The website also gives a good description of why the wheel is there and what the cairns symbolize. I won’t plagiarize here; I encourage you to visit their site. I was interested in the astronomical significance of the layout. I don’t think they really know how old the site is; I read in various places that it was anywhere from 7000 to 1500 to 500 years old.

Bighorn Medicine WheelI enjoyed the beautiful area around the wheel and the feeling of place in the area. I looked at the rock formations to the west, wishing to visit them, but the ranger on duty said that they were off limits. She said it was an area of preparation for those participating in ceremonies at the Medicine Wheel.

Bighorn Medicine Wheel

This is the ceremonial preparation site. The mountains on the horizon must be the Grand Tetons. Yellowstone is on the other side of the valley.

Early in the hike, we were visited by an area fox, but as we continued our walk, I thought about how dedicated the Native Americans had to be to make the long hike to such a high, remote area (9,642 feet elevation) where the Medicine Wheel was laid. It was a long stroll for me from the parking lot, but for them, it was the culmination of a trip that was significantly longer and harder.

Bighorn Medicine Wheel

More offerings – a skull and jawbones.

The site pre-dates horses in the area so they would have walked the entire way. The thought of having to do that each year –without a map –was daunting to me. Sure, they had an oral history, and with each trek the way was etched into the tribal memory, but it still sounded difficult to me. The summers are short at that elevation and filled with other activities to store food and supplies for the remainder of the year. I respected the way their spiritual practices were such a high priority.

alpine flowers

Alpine flowers are always so tiny!

13 replies »

  1. In 2010 (and this is heresay because I wasn’t allowed to go-I was boarded at the Bird Store), the peeps (creeps?) took the two dogs, not the ones here now but ehe Kyla the Scotie and Kenzie the Westie who appear on my blog’s masthead (kylascott.com) ro Montana to visit the peeps’ family. Why can’t we visit my family or the dogs’ family?? The family arranged for a retired Park Ranger to take them through Glacier National Park. They got the full day treatment-“the hotel you see on the left was built in 1897 and the rosd stretch that we’re on now was impasible in 1927” type of thing The Westie and Scottie were uncharacteristically perfect angels. SQUAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWK-why wasn’t I included?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m pretty sure I know why you weren’t invited. Probably for the same reason my parrots don’t get to go. Parrots gotta scream sometimes and no car or camper is big enough for that. We’ve taken our African Grey with us, because she’s quiet, but not the wild-caught cockatoo or the deranged Amazon. NFW! Sorry, Kismet.

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