USA // The Rockies //

The Bighorn Mountains and Bighorn Basin

Of the three scenic highways that wind through the Bighorn Mountains, US-14A from Burgess Junction, fifty miles west of Sheridan, is the most spectacular. The road (typically closed Nov–May due to snow), edges its way up Medicine Mountain, on whose windswept western peak the mysterious Medicine Wheel – the largest such monument still intact – stands protected behind a wire fence. Local Native American legends offer no clues as to the original purpose of these flat stones, arranged in a circular “wheel” shape with 28 spokes and a circumference of 245ft – though the pattern suggests sun worship or early astronomy.

The route down the highway’s west side, with gradients of ten to twenty percent, is said to have cost more to build per mile than any other road in America. Tight hairpin bends will keep drivers’ eyes off the magnificent overlooks down into the Bighorn Basin, a sparsely vegetated valley walled in by mighty mountains on three sides and ragged foothills to the north.