Our 2021 Road Trip #21: Camp Cliffs Notes

Wyoming stone pictographs!

Pictographs carved by earlier cultures, ideas and stories scrawled across every surface until they were all canceled and replaced by Snuffy Smith.

Our planned route deep into the heart of Wyoming required us to divert in the wrong direction away from Yellowstone and had nearly zero good options for pit stops along the way, save one (1) lone gas station outside Hyattsville with a tiny parking lot and too many cars already muscled into it. We swung off the highway and pressed northeast toward promises of archaeological revelations, embellished outcroppings, and closeness to nature. By the time we arrived at our next stop, we were happy just to have bathrooms again.

Medicine Lodge wall

Mother Nature built an impregnable wall. Then humans fenced in the wall. We sure showed HER who’s boss.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. We were each raised in a household that couldn’t afford annual out-of-state family vacations. We’re geeks more accustomed to vicarious life through the windows of pop culture than through in-person adventures. Eventually we tired of some of our self-imposed limitations and figured out how to leave the comforts of home for the chance to see creative, exciting, breathtaking, outlandish, and/or bewildering new sights in states beyond our own, from the horizons of nature to the limits of imagination, from history’s greatest hits to humanity’s deepest regrets and the sometimes quotidian, sometimes quirky stopovers in between.

We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

Technically not even 2020 stopped us. We played by the new rules of the interim normal and wandered Indiana in multiple directions as safely as we could. This year the long-awaited vaccines arrived. For 2021 we agreed we had to go big. Our new primary objective was Yellowstone National Park, 1500 miles from Indy…

Medicine Lodge fence and signs!

Step right this way to learn more about the wall.

Nestled within a southern section of the Bighorn Mountains, Medicine Lodge State Archeological Site dates back to 1968 when its first modern diggers dug trenches along the face of what would become known as Petroglyph Cliff, a limestone shelf some 750 feet long, adorned with 60+ levels of petroglyphs and pictographs from previous eras — some of them millennia old, others a bit fresher. Artifacts were of course found in and around the digs, but none of that was on display in the unsupervised portion we saw. I’d love to provide more context, but due to the long drive we arrived after their visitor center closed, and the consensus among numerous relevant websites is, “That’s it, that’s the attraction.”

Medicine Lodge timeline signs!

A brief history of time for field-tripping students in the area.

Otherwise…Medicine Lodge is mainly a campground. A beautiful one if you keep your focus squarely on the natural surroundings and not on the other sweaty campers surrounding you. They have 28 campsites that take reservations months in advance, which is just as well because we’re not campers. Outdoorsman skill deficiency is among the many qualities Anne and I have in common. Longtime MCC readers can confirm they’ve never seen photographic evidence of us wiggling around in a personal tent, heard no stories about ten-mile hikes, noticed no backpacks larger than what comic-con security will permit, and thrilled to precisely zero legends in which we antagonize live bears just to impress Instagram. Any number of travel bloggers embrace any or all of those aspects of “roughing it”, many of whom even came by their followers honestly and without paying sketchy services for robotic head-count boosts. They and their stories are prettier, but theirs are not ours.

Anne photographing Wyoming!

Anne stands next to the Medicine Lodge Wall to provide a frame of reference. It’s smaller than a mountain, but not small.

Without docents or more prevalent signage, Medicine Lodge’s defining feature to us dallying passersby is a wall with old graffiti carved into it with handmade blades rather than sprayed on with affordable paints. For fans of such arts, here some were. Among the campground elements not pictured:

  • The running lawn sprinkler next to one section that I didn’t notice till it was too late
  • The slightly younger couple in a golf cart who chuckled at my soaking, which is fair
  • Those lifesaving bathrooms
pocked section!

Sample protuberances and pockmarks.

strata and erosion!

Strata and erosion scars looming high above our heads.

Medicine Lodge fenced path.

The terrain changes up a bit as you head farther north along the wall.

Medicine Lodge greenery section.

Past a certain point the shrubbery overtakes all that barren rockiness.

Medicine Lodge Creek!

Medicine Lodge Creek flows into the forested part that would lead to more paths and closed buildings if we’d had more time to explore.

Medicine Lodge sketches and striation.

Geologic striation shares space with some of that aforementioned wall art.

Medicine Lodge stick figures!

The main characters, probably. Call them Boxy and Blobby.

Medicine Lodge block figure!

Possibly their archenemy, Lord Water Heater.

turtle art!

[wizened museum curator voice leavened with years of accumulated wisdom] That one’s a turtle!

initials and colors!

Some egotistical artists contributed no narratives, only their autographs.

Jinks Burgess and Speed Martin Go to Medicine Lodge!

I like to think Jinks Burgess and Speed Martin were employees of Lewis and Clark who got separated from the pack, blazed their own trail and somehow flew twenty feet above ground level to note their passing.

Petroglyph Cliff!

…and then it was time to return to the car.

The extra drive time versus total derived contentment may have been disproportionate, but sometimes that’ll happen when you take a chance on seeing something that’s new to you and not necessarily next door to an interstate exit. From Medicine Lodge it was another two hours to our next hotel in the tourist-happy mountain-adjacent town of Cody, which we blessedly reached with less than three gallons of gas to spare.

landscape to Cody!

More driving means more imposing landscapes. Thankfully these cloud shadows were not figurative foreshadowing of dark times ahead or whatever.

cattle fences!

Once again, cattle were the only signs of life by the roadside.

Wyoming farm ditch!

I sure hope nobody’s tired of panoramas, because the best are yet to come. Well, IMHO.

Cody Wyoming!

We arrived in Cody too late to visit any of their museums. On the bright side, our return to civilization meant we didn’t have to sleep in a tent.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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