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Runtrails' Rocky Mountain Journal
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"Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round.
The earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.
The circle is the essence of Native American life. The Medicine Wheel structure embodies this. It is a place where many have experienced their vision quest, a place of ritual, a place of prayer, a place of lasting vision."
- Black Elk, Lakota Sioux


After we ran near the Porcupine Ranger Station yesterday, we headed up Hwy. 14A about half a mile to the turn-off for the Medicine Wheel, a 10,000-year-old sacred site for the Plains Indian tribes inhabiting this region. It sits on the western peak of Medicine Mountain at about 9,950 feet, perfect for some history and more acclimating.

Many legends and traditions exist that try to explain the origin of the Medicine Wheel, but no artifacts have been found that point to a specific culture or people, according to the US Forest Service website. "Like Stonehenge in England, it is widely believed that the Medicine Wheel was connected to celestial observations, but the exact ways have been long lost."

Medicine Wheel is part of a much larger complex of interrelated archeological sites and "traditional use" areas surrounding Medicine Mountain such as ceremonial areas, medicinal and ceremonial plant gathering areas, sweat lodge sites, altars, and fasting/vision quest enclosures.

I've been to Stonehenge. It was magical in the light of early morning. I heard about Medicine Wheel when I lived in Billings, but we just never drove down to see it. Now that I was so close, I had to go.

We got there too early in the season for the visitor center to be open. From June 20 until the end of September, interpreters will be available to give information and guided tours. There are several informational placards near the parking area and at the Five Springs site along the walk.




There is an uphill, 1.5-mile walking path to the wheel; most visitors cannot drive up. Jim didn't want to push himself too far too soon, so he stayed in the truck with the dogs while I ran and hiked up to the wheel. There were about a dozen other visitors, but none were at the wheel while I was there. I walked when I was near the wheel, respectful of the site.

Here are some photos on the way to and from the wheel:






The rough stone circle of the Medicine Wheel is about 75 feet in diameter with 28 radial rows of rock extending from a central cairn like spokes of a wheel. You can see the "spokes" in the two photos below:


According to tribal beliefs, the circular shape of the wheel represents the earth, the sun, the moon, the cycles of life, the seasons, and day to night.

Visitors walk around the circle in a clockwise direction, the rotation path of the earth, outside a stone and rope fence; only people with permits may enter the inner circle during special  ceremonies, such as the upcoming celebration of the summer solstice. Visitors have left a variety of colorful offerings and mementoes tied to the ropes surrounding the site. A few are shown below:



I really enjoyed visiting this site and recommend it to others. Since Jim hasn't seen it yet, I hope we can return before we leave the area.

Despite the snow bank halfway up to the wheel, there were many flowers blooming in the sun. One of my favorites is the blue Pasque Flower, growing in abundance at the beginning of the trail:


The wildflowers were spectacular along the road leading into and out of Medicine Wheel. I took these photos on the way back to Porcupine Ranger Station:


Another fine day in the Bighorn Mountains! Are you ready to book a flight to Wyoming yet??

Next entry: Camp Creek Ridge training run, second trip to Billings, update on Jim's recovery from the rattlesnake bite.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil