Can a nomad soul like mine live in one section or region and never feel the pulse quicken when the next place calls? The subtle shift in the wind ignites daydreams of new adventures in the beckoning breeze.
I had to call in all my angels and guides however to uproot my heart from the enchanted Black Hills of South Dakota. National forest boondocking is free but requires a move of at least five miles every 14 days. I wasn’t ready to leave that raspberry meadow on the roaring creek in the shadow of Crystal Peak outside Hill City, South Dakota. But I respect the other wanderers who fill the places I free up, so I sang travel songs and prayers into my pack and headed north to Big Horn country.
Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana in the Bighorn National Forest and Canyon region also made my roots itch to grow deeper, faster, longer. Twenty square acres can offer snow-capped mountains, hills rolling into wide prairie valleys dropping to canyons laced with crystal streams, waterfalls, and roaring rivers. The entire universe can exist in one alluring square inch.
There is also comfort in the northwest summer temperatures. Unlike the South’s wet sweat lodge heat, it’s quite simple to find cooling shade in the northern trees and bluffs. A nearby icy creek, river, or lake can relieve even the worst heat of the day and evening breezes bring the perfect chill for snuggling in.
Those of us who prefer life offgrid are drawn like migrating birds to fish, hike, build camps, share stories, and heal in the mountains of Nature’s backbone where the veil becomes exquisitely thin.
Social and sacred gathering sites like Medicine Lodge outside Hyattville, WY invoke feelings of going to grandma’s – on steroids. The bluff along Medicine Lodge Creek has been a gathering place spanning 10,000 years from Paleoindians to the Crow people. Each left a mark, a lesson, a sharing across the bluff’s 750-foot mural.
Figures have been pecked, incised and painted by artists representing at least 60 different northern plains groups. The diversity and quality of the figures makes this massive mural one of the major rock art locations in the region. Late Prehistoric Period hunter-gatherers created most of the petroglyphs. Local tribes of Crow and Shoshone made the recent art during the 1700-1800’s. The work captures every single known, recorded figure of the northern plains artists.
That is what we know. It’s the unknown that pulls me beyond the Medicine Lodge mural and campground to nearby creeks, wet and dry, sheltered by towering, ancient rock bluffs decorated with clinging evergreens, sage, and sweet grass. Medicine Lodge nurtures solo journeys where protective filters dissolve and the soul opens to sing, dance, pray, and play with the Universe.
True to form by the end of the first day traveling to the area I was fairly aware of my coordinates but road conditions blocked access points recommended by two office-based rangers in two different national forest districts. I was beyond maps, coordinates, and certainty.
Perhaps it is part of my journey to waste energy on futile attempts to map the wilderness because I still do it every time while my gray hair laughs at my folly. Go to town. Recharge all gear. Refill tanks and food stores. Get maps and coordinates. Head out like I’m in charge.
GPS is my only hope in the city. But the more the on-grid networks fade, the more I hear, see, feel, smell the way like I did as a child. It is simple but not easy to remember the way always shows up when I have exhausted all of my skills and let go of my planned outcomes. The way waits for me to ask and wraps me in sweet encouragement and obvious signs leading me to where I’m meant to be.
I won’t try to use words to define the shelter of Medicine Lodge because it seems insulting to try to contain flow. I can assure you it is worth losing yourself to the Bighorn. May you and yours know the peace, grace, and welcome that appears when lost is found.