Bighorn Medicine Wheel

The Bighorn Medicine Wheel: A Mysterious Astronomical Landmark

The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is a mysterious arrangement of stones located on Medicine Mountain in Wyoming, near the Bighorn Range. It’s covered by snow for most of the year and can only be seen during the summer. The stones form a wheel shape, 80 feet in diameter, with 28 spokes extending from a central cairn. This pattern is not unique to Wyoming and is found in hundreds of similar stone wheels throughout North America.

Bighorn Medicine Wheel

These structures, known as medicine wheels or sacred hoops, were built by Native Americans for centuries for various purposes, ranging from ritual to astronomical. Bighorn Medicine Wheel is one of the most well-studied and preserved, and archaeoastronomer Jack Eddy found that it has celestial significance. Eddy suggests that it was used by Plains tribes between 300 and 800 years ago to predict the positions of the Sun and stars around the summer solstice. The cairns and spokes align with specific points on the horizon and mark the heliacal risings of stars Aldebaran, Rigel, and Sirius, which pinpoints a calendar date.

Wide angle view of Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark in Wyoming

The number 28, associated with the lunar cycle, is considered sacred among some tribes, and there are 28 spokes in the medicine wheel and in the roofs of some ceremonial buildings. The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is still used by Indigenous groups to predict the summer solstice, and it is a registered National Historic Landmark monitored by an archaeologist in the summer. Other important medicine wheels include ones at Moose Mountain in Saskatchewan and Majorville, Alberta, which is believed to be 5000 years old.

Jawbone and colorful cloth at Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark in Wyoming

Dreamcatcher at Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark in Wyoming

To visit the Bighorn Medicine Wheel, take US 14A and turn onto a marked gravel road (Forest Road 12) about 32.6 miles east of Lovell, Wyoming. The road is only accessible from June to October and the last 1.5 miles to the Wheel must be walked. Motorized vehicles are not allowed except for handicap accessibility. A fence surrounds the Wheel and tourists are expected to respect the prayer cloths and other sacred items placed by Native Americans.

Off Forest Road 12
Lovell, Wyoming, 82431
United States

Photos by jkraft5/, Flickr.






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