Monday, July 10, 2017


Forty miles east of Lovell, Wyoming is a puzzle, a very old unsolved puzzle. It sits atop Medicine Mountain, 9642 ft above sea level, and has become known as Medicine Wheel. It can only be seen for approximately two months out of the year. That's when the snow melts away and uncovers the wheel. For many, it's a tourist attraction and for many more, it's a shrine. Over the years, scientists have visited this spot and discovered all sorts of celestial ties - obviously seasonal ones. It's like a giant summer clock that uses stars to tell the time. But we still don't know all of its secrets, why it was built, or who actually built it. It is the oldest prehistoric relic in North America.
One of the Crow chiefs said, "It was built before the light came by people who had no iron."
What do we know about it? Not much. Within the area we call Wyoming, we know that there was at least 12000 years of prehistoric occupation. These are the people who were predecessors of the American Indians. We've identified the Clovis people as the earliest, followed by the Folsom, and eventually Eden Valley people who were the big game hunters. They lasted until about 500 A.D. By then we had more gatherers and hunters, and they eventually became what we know today as our American Indians.
We also know these historic people quarried. Southwest of Lusk, Wyoming is a large area filled with quarries that contain evidence of prehistoric people who at various times worked the quarries often collecting quartzite, jasper, and agate. These Wyoming rocks have been found as far away as the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. We also know that they mined limestone. The Medicine Wheel is made up of limestone boulders that were mined elsewhere and brought to the top of the mountain.
The wheel has a circumference of 245 feet, the diameter is 80 feet, and there are 28 spokes that radiate from a central pile of stones called a cairn. (A cairn is nest-like structure made of stones gathered and
loosely placed.) The cairn is about 12 feet in diameter and about 2 feet high. There are also six smaller enclosed circles of stone near the perimeter. Each one is just large enough to hold a sitting human. The very center, apparently someplace in time, contained a pole. It is also believed that the wheel was still being added to maybe as recently as 500 years ago.
The clock aspect to the wheel gives the location of the summer solstice and marks the location of quite a few major stars that rise from the horizon at dusk. The star pattern is most accurate about 1200 A.D., the reason being the earth has undergone some tiny shifts over the years, but even with these tiny shifts, the solstice has remained accurate. 
All the tribes tend to focus on the summer solstice as an important date, but the various tribes also celebrate certain days based on the stars as noted in the wheel. The number 28 is important to the various tribes. It's the lunar cycle of their calendar, and the number 28 shows up in their ceremonial buildings. But the solstice for the Am. Indians, surprisingly is not much different from people all over the world who have celebrated the day. It is a day of new birth, the end of the old and the beginning of the new. It is when time appears to stand still for just a few moments. Much like a basketball player who leaps for a slam dunk and gives the impression of being suspended in time for a minute second. He's no longer moving upward nor has he begun his descent. The sun on the longest day of the year seems suspended, showering its powerful light on everything below. It is a day of happiness.
             The symbol of the wheel is used in various ways by the different tribes. The wheel is broken into four parts. Each part is separated by the four cardinal directions, North, South, East, and West. Each section represents the four seasons, the natural elements consisting of wind, earth, fire, and water along with the basic aspects of life itself, the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical.  It is a balance between living things and the cosmic whole, a peaceful coexistence.
There is a network consisting of 23,000 acres of land with prehistoric trails, landmarks, and other sacred sites around Medicine Wheel. The wheel being the oldest site is still revered and used by the Arapaho, Shoshone, Crow, Lakota, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Cree, and other American Indian tribes in the area. It is the best preserved of all the sacred, ancient American Indian sites, probably because of the location and the surrounding terrain that has protected it. The four cardinal directions are well-defined with each section, marking life. It's a little circle in the cosmic whole. It is one of approximately 150 wheels found in Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, and north to our Canadian neighbors in Alberta, and Saskatchewan.
Getting to Medicine Wheel in Wyoming isn't for the faint of heart. It's a mile and a half hike up the mountain. Once there, usually an interpreter will be available to educate and answer questions. From this area on top of Medicine Mountain, there is a panoramic view of the Bighorn Basin. The vista of the surrounding area is awe-inspiring. The Medicine Wheel is still used today by tribal members as a place of worship and prayer. But maybe the most interesting thing is visitors to the site are astounded at the amazing feeling of the power within the mountain and the peaceful coexistence of all things.
 I love incorporating real history, and the contributions of our American Indians. They were the stewards of the land. They coexisted with Nature and understood far more than the trappers or early settlers who invaded the land of the American Indians. 


  1. Now I simply HAVE to go there. My husband and I love visiting places like this but I wasn't familiar with Medicine Wheel. We've trekked over Chaco Canyon, Hovenweep, Mesa Verde (when you could walk inside the ruins), and other Southwestern sites. You've stirred up a nest of curiosity. Great post--it gave me goose bumps.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Caroline. I think Medicine Wheel is fascinating. It's amazing to me how the people so long ago figured out the cycles of the star patterns and even things such as the solstice. The accuracy is unreal. And it's amazing that these circles are not just here. All over the world, people figured this stuff out, and made these giant "calendars". If you go, check out all the ancient sites that are in the area.

  2. Great information! I've listened to many radio shows that featured the ancient past of America. Most fascinating. I wish it was taught in the schools. However, I haven't heard anyone discuss this particular mysterious Medicine Wheel. I think it must be part of what is called the Megalithic culture, which was world wide, as you mentioned. Good, good stuff. Thank you!

    1. It really is fascinating. It's on my bucket list! I'd love to sit there and and "watch" the sun as it follows its path.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Savanna.

  3. I found this article particularly interesting since I am reading FOOLS CROW, a western Lakota Medicine Man of great significance in Lakota history, as research for my WIP. I happen to be reading about medicine wheels, what they're for, how they are made, and the ceremonies in which they are used. So this article about the mysterious medicine wheel in Wyoming fascinated me. Isn't it interesting how these wheels were made in ancient cultures throughout the world. It sort of gives me chills to consider these similarities in cultures that never met.
    Great article, E.

    1. I think we make a huge mistake when we look at ancient people by assuming they were not intelligent. Over the years, we have built upon what someone else before us figured out. So they used what they had, what they knew, which was that the sun rose and set, and the pattern repeated itself. These were their clocks and a way of marking time. I doubt that we've become more intelligent, we just have more knowledge at our fingertips.


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