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Stories of Stone: Medicine Wheel Park

Uncover the intriguing significance behind these unique rock formations and honor the presence of the Native American burial mounds at Valley City's Medicine Wheel Park.

Valley City, nestled in the beautiful Sheyenne River Valley, is not just a scenic haven but also a treasure trove of captivating stories and fascinating sites, including Medicine Wheel Park - a 30 acre park with solar calendars, Native American burial mounds, nature trails, astronomy observation sites, and a solar system model.

Medicine Wheel

Early cultures throughout the world built rock structures which joined the landscape to the sky, some serving as calendars (Stonehenge in England is an example). Over 100 Medicine Wheels constructed by Native Americans have been found in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains of the United States and Canada. The complete story of these structures has been lost in the vastness of time.

In 1992 at Valley City State University, Professor Joe Stickler and his students began this unique project which soon expanded beyond the walls of the classroom to involve the community.

The Medicine Wheel's large circle measures 213 feet around. The 28 spokes radiating from its center represent the number of days in the lunar cycle. Six spokes extending well beyond the Wheel are aligned to the horizon positions of sunrises and sunsets on the first days of the four seasons.

The design of this rock sculpture was inspired by the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming and reflects the beauty of the Earth's journey around the Sun and the grand cycle of the seasons.

Native American Mounds

This Medicine Wheel is a multicultural symbol celebrating the calendar discovery process by our intelligent human ancestors around the globe and honoring the presence of the Native American burial mounds immediately to the east.

This particular burial mound complex, built 500-2000 years ago, was originally comprised of fifteen circular mounds and five linear mounds, twelve of which remain within the boundary of the Park.

The area was first surveyed in 1883 by T.H. Lewis, who was part of the Northwest Archeological Survey which mapped features such as burial mounds, rock alignments, and pictographs in eleven states and Manitoba, Canada.

Walking Tour of the Solar System

The Solar System model stretches from the Sun (represented by the red center of the Medicine Wheel) to Pluto, one-third of a mile away on the edge of the Regional Technology Center parking lot. Boulders representing the planets are spaced in exact proportion to their distances from the Sun on a scale with one food equaling approximately three million miles. The Earth's orbit corresponds to the outer circle of the Medicine Wheel. Mercury and Venus are inside the circle and Mars just outside. The large rock near the parking lot symbolizes Jupiter. By walking on the path east of Jupiter, you will pass Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. A panel at the scenic overlook between Uranus and Neptune describes the early history of Valley City.

Meridian Calendar

The 38 foot utility pole and rock alignment nearest to the Medicine Wheel serve as a reminder of another ancient method of keeping track of the seasons.

This type of calendar uses the length of the shadow cast by the utility pole at local apparent noon when the sun is highest in the sky. At this moment, the shadow points directly north. The 15 food shadow cast by the utility pole on the first day of summer lengthens to over 100 feet on the first day of winter. Three large boulders in the rock alignment mark the top of the pole's shadow at the beginning of each season.

Evidence suggests that the Ancestral Pueblo Indians of southwestern United States used meridian calendars to monitor seasons.

North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT)

The North Country Trail is a 4,600 mile footpath linking communities, forests, and prairies across seven northern states from Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota, to Crown Point, New York. A segment of this trail winds through the wooded hillside of Medicine Wheel Park and along the Path of Planets. Whether you walk, bike, hike, backpack, bird watch, snow-shoe, or cross-country ski, there is a section of trail waiting for you to enjoy.

Visit for more information.

How to Use the Wheel as a Calendar

By standing at the lettered cairns (the horseshoe-shaped figures) around the outer circle and looking directly across the center of the Medicine Wheel to the opposite cairn, the horizon locations of the sunrises and sunsets on the first day of each season can be observed.

For example, stand in cairn C and look across the Wheel to cairn F. This alignment points to the horizon position of the setting Sun on the first day of Summer. Moving to cairn A and looking across the Wheel at cairn D points to the position on the horizon of the setting Sun on the first day of Winter. At this latitude the Winter and Summer extremes are separated by an angle of 73 degrees. The Spring and Fall alignments are the same and midway between the Winter and Summer positions.

Article provided by Joe Stickler, VCSU

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