South Dakota/Wyoming Road Trip: Day 6

Our journey to the Bighorn Mountains marked my return to these familiar hills 30 years after I left my job as a firefighter with the US Forest Service. Our first activity of the day was a six-mile hike in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area just west of Buffalo.

Cloud Peak in the Bighorn Mountains

From the Circle Park Trailhead, we followed the trail to Sherd and Rainey Lakes before turning around. At Sherd Lake, we had beautiful views of the lake with the 13,000-foot granite summit of Cloud Peak towering in the distance. Although the Forest Service classifies this trail as “heavily used,” on this clear, fall day, we didn’t see another person.

From the Circle Park Trailhead, we drove back down the mountains, then back up again via Highway 14, a winding road that climbs up the east flank of the mountains above Sheridan that eventually took us to the limestone covered summits of the northern Bighorns. This part of the Bighorn Range is much different than the granite peaks of the central Bighorns. The mountains are decorated with spectacular cliffs and rock outcroppings that resemble Stonehenge.

Medicine Wheel Ranger Station

At the base of these peaks is the Medicine Wheel Ranger Station, the place I called home for two summers. It was nice to see that, other than a new paint job, the place looked pretty much the same as it did those many years ago.

But our real goal was the namesake of the ranger station: The Medicine Wheel. This ancient artifact was constructed on top of a treeless mountain nearly 2,000 years ago. No one knows exactly what the wheel was for; probably an astronomical tool for tracking the sun, stars, and seasons. When I lived here, you could drive right to the wheel.

Limestone Rock Formations on Duncum Mountain

But some things do change: now, in an effort to protect this fragile piece of history, the road is closed below the wheel, requiring a three-mile round-trip hike. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, it was late in the afternoon, we were tired and hungry, the nearest restaurant was more than 20 miles away, and we just didn’t have the energy for another hike. So, we saved the Medicine Wheel for a future visit, when I get the urge to once again visit my former home in the Bighorn Mountains.


About Mike

I have a passion for adventure travel that began in 1989 with my first overseas trip: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Having never been to a foreign country, Africa felt like being on another planet; I knew then and there I was hooked on travel. Since that time, I have visited all seven continents and dozens of countries. I’m using the experience I’ve gained in planning my own trips to help my clients plan their own adventures through my adventure travel company ( After working as a firefighter for the US Forest Service in California and Wyoming for three years, I moved to Durango, Colorado where I graduated from Fort Lewis College with a degree in accounting. After graduation I moved to the Denver area where I worked in a Big Eight accounting firm to obtain my CPA license; soon afterward I began a career as an auditor with the Colorado Department of Education. My background in accounting helped me develop detailed-oriented skills that have been extremely useful in researching and planning my own travel over the years. I think this provides a unique asset to my clients in putting together their adventure travel plans. I currently live in Golden, Colorado with my wife Valerie, who shares my love of adventure travel. I’m an active member of the Colorado Mountain Club where I lead trips for club members and have taught ski lessons in their Telemark Ski School. I enjoy skiing, mountain hiking, trail running, photography, and astronomy. I take any opportunity I can get to explore new places, whether it’s on the other side of the world or just down the road.
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