Camping, Hiking, United States, Waterfalls, Wyoming

Chasing Waterfalls & Adventures in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains – Day 3: Porcupine Falls and Bighorn Medicine Wheel

Nothing like fresh mountain air to lure one out of bed on a Saturday morning in the Bighorns!  Kubo and I cooked up some breakfast and coffee, and prepared for the day’s adventures.  The previous night we watched headlights switchbacking up the mountain by our campsite, so we figured we needed to check out the road.

Shortly after leaving our campsite we continued on FR11, and we realized we were a mere 12 miles from the Montana state line.  12 miles might not seem a lot, but it’s a LOT when the average speed is so slow!  We ascended the eroded switchbacks, passing treeline and entering an alpine landscape.  FR11 slowly became more and more narrow and rough after several junctions, but we enjoyed the rocky, bumpy ride.  Finally a few miles from Montana we called it good, and turned back around as we had other adventures planned for the day (and I was fretting over the tire pressure sensor light that came on… yep, all four tires still had air, but I’m a worrier!).

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Ascending FR11 above treeline
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Looking back over to our campsite from FR11
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The geology of the Bighorns is quite unlike “typical” Rocky Mountain alpine geology
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Mud and snowfields along FR11
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The wildflower game was still going strong at the higher elevations
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Tackling rocky, bumpy forest roads with Fozzy!
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Eventually I will learn the name of these flowers, which grow at higher altitudes all over the place!
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Splashing through a big mud puddle that the ATV’s were driving around (which made the road about triple the width it should’ve been… stay the trail, dammit!)
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Descending back down FR11

We turned towards Porcupine Falls,  a pretty well-known, established short hike off of FR146.  I loaded up my photography gear, and we set down the steep downhill trail, until we caught sight of the falls – we could swim in it!  We hoofed it back uphill to the car, changed clothes, grab swimsuits, and I quickly made some sandwiches, and we headed back downhill.  Hill repeats for the win!  (This can be a rather strenuous hike if you’re not use to walking up many flights of stairs!  Take water and wear good shoes.)

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Trail down to Porcupine Falls has steps installed in many portions
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First glimpse of Porcupine Falls and it’s sister waterfall that comes out of a cave on Porcupine Creek
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Porcupine Falls easily made my list of favorite waterfalls
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Porcupine Falls
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The smaller falls out of the cave may be seasonal… some other people committed that they could usually hike through the cave as there’s no water.

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Coldest “shower” of my life!!!!
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Kubo taking the plunge into Porcupine Creek

We grabbed some quick photos, and then stripped down and headed into the very cold water, choosing to sit on a sunny rock by the smaller cave falls and occasionally venturing into the water and back out.  This is a popular hike, and there were maybe 20-30 people rotating through.  A couple of girls started jumping into the water from a rock ledge, so Kubo finally worked up the courage to do it a few times – his first time doing such a thing!  I grabbed photos and videos from the safety of the shore 🙂  We spent several hours soaking in the sunshine, soaking in the cold water, and enjoying the sound of the falls.  It was honestly so hard to leave this beautiful spot and start the uphill hike back to the car *sad face*

Our final adventure for the day would be the 3 mile roundtrip hike to the Bighorn Medicine Wheel (now called the Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historical Landmark).  This is a medicine wheel made out of white limestone about 80 feet across and located on top of a mountain over 9400 feet high.  A sacred site to many of the area tribes, yet no tribe publicly claims to have built the medicine wheel.  Using astrological alignments, historians date the Medicine Wheel to 1200-1700.

Though there is a road all the way to the top, you are required to walk in (except for special cases, like the handicap, elderly, etc).  It is 1.5 miles each way, and the grade isn’t too bad for being uphill.  After our impromptu hill climbs at Porcupine Falls, this was much appreciated!  A park service guide at the medicine wheel informed us of the rules (walking left/clockwise, not touching any ceremonial items, and not entering unless we have a tribal affiliation).

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Walking towards the Medicine Wheel

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Looking back towards the air traffic radar station.
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Bighorn Medicine Wheel. It is closed off by a fence, and only those with tribal affiliation can enter through the gate.
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Medicine Wheel
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Medicine Wheel
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Unique rock feature and views over the Bighorn Basin towards Cody from the Medicine Wheel
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To follow tradition, visitors are asked to circle the Medicine Wheel in a clockwise direction
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Because no one will take credit for building the Medicine Wheel, the only logical explanation is ALIENS!  I’m not sure Ancient Aliens has done an episode, but it must be on their radar, right?
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Bighorn Medicine Wheel

We did one circle and then headed back to the car, hungry and tired from a full day of adventuring, hiking, and waterfall soaking!

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Interesting patch of twisted, dead trees. Tornado?
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The marmots were out in full force by the Medicine Wheel

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Okay, we were beyond hungry.  Upon getting back to camp I cooked three cans of soup, which Kubo and I split up.  I started with Italian wedding soup, then a beef pot roast, and finishing with chicken noodle!  I can report that we had successfully eaten nearly all the food we brought with us!  After dinner was consumed, we marveled as a doe deer wandered into our campsite, and hung out with us, apparently not afraid of us whatsoever.  Kubo was even able to stand up from his chair, go to the car, and get our phones out so we could get some photos!  Such a special treat!

After our deer friend wandered away for greener pastures, Kubo started up a small campfire and I hung out in my hammock, dreading having to pack up in the morning and leaving this little piece of heaven!

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Our doe friend enjoying dinner at our campsite
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Today’s sunset was even more impressive the previous night’s!
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