5. Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark
Zigzagging up and down through Bighorn National Forest, the next leg of Rte. 14A—remember, the A is for adventure—was modeled after routes in the Alps. One of the most expensive stretches of highway ever built, the road slithers around cliffs, slices a few scant feet away from seemingly bottomless dropoffs, and forces cars to struggle up 10 percent grades.
But all is not perilous up here. A side trip to the north on Rte. 12, an unpaved forest road, wends three miles to Medicine Wheel, one of North America’s most mysterious landmarks. Reminiscent of England’s Stonehenge, this native American version features limestone rocks that form a circle 80 feet in diameter. Located on a grassy mountaintop nearly 10,000 feet in elevation, the wheel was possibly used to mark the summer solstice and other celestial events. Tribe members, still holding the site sacred, continue to come for ceremonies, often tying prayer tokens to the fence that encloses the historic landmark.
6. Sheep Mountain Road
About three miles past the turnoff for Medicine Wheel, Sheep Mountain Road exits Rte. 14A for another brief backcountry tour. Most visitors make the trip to admire two local waterfalls, which are accessible via short trails. Porcupine Falls, the first along the way, lies half a mile off the road and plummets 200 feet. Another hike of three miles leads to Bucking Mule Falls. dropping about 600 feet into Devil Canyon, this hidden treasure is one of the West’s tallest cascades.
Back on Rte. 14A, a viewing area just past Sheep Mountain Road takes in the long sweep of the multicolored Bighorns. The mountain chain, its jagged silhouette rising and falling for miles into the distance, arcs slightly toward the southeast. On a clear day you can also see north into Montana and west to the snowcapped Rocky Mountains.
7. Shell Falls
Moose and elk can sometimes be spotted in the willow bottomlands found just before you come to Burgess Junction. Once in town, the drive veers south and west onto Rte. 14, climbing back into the high mountains to the summit of Granite Pass—at 8,860 feet, the highway’s loftiest point.
The road then slopes into Shell Canyon, curving between steep walls of pink granite and rosy sandstone. The sandstone is embedded with an abundance of fossils. The ancient creatures (some of the earliest hard-shelled animals on earth) were saltwater inhabitants that lived here when the area was covered by a sea.
Toward the southern end of the canyon, Shell Falls makes a 120-foot leap. It may not be the tallest cascade in the Bighorns, but it is one of the loudest, letting out a roar as some 3,600 gallons hurtle down the cliff every second. A visitor center features exhibits, and trails crisscross the area.
Leaving the mountains yet again, the drive descends to the plains and Greybull, a business and farming center founded in the 1890s by German settlers. Rte. 14 then rolls across vast plains on the way back to Cody, offering unbroken solitude and endless vistas.