Crystal Creek Overlook
Crystal Creek Overlook is located along the Medicine Wheel Passage Scenic Byway. Stop to take in the beautiful views and read the interpretive signs.
Bighorn Basin—It’s Creation
Before you lies the Bighorn Basin, which has its southern end in Wyoming and extends north into Montana. Six hundred million years of geologic history have shaped the area.
Although the basin now receives less than 10 inches of precipitation a year, it was once covered by vast inland seas. When the seas receded, it became a swampy home to dinosaurs. Volcanoes erupting to the west 135 million years ago then buried the basin under huge quantities of ash. Combined with the basin’s shallow waters, the mixture became a clay called bentonite. And, when most of the Rockies were covered by seas 100 to 75 million years ago, the basin was again under water.
About this time, the land began to rise in the process of mountain building that created the Bighorn Mountains. Wind and water’s relentless force wore away the deposits of prehistoric seas and volcanoes, leaving the older rocks you see today. Variety of colors in the rocks came from the minerals within them. Reds are caused by the presence of ferric oxide, and iron. High concentrations of magnesium carbonates often impart a buff color.
Bighorn Basin—It’s History
The presence of humans in the Bighorn Basin goes back more than 10,000 years. Evidence suggests that the prehistoric people were nomadic hunters and gatherers.
Indians inhabited this area until 1878. In the late 1870’s settlers, rangers and miners moved into the basin. By 1883, Henry Clay Lovell was grazing 25,000 head of cattle on the unfenced range. Mormons came in 1900 and developed open canal irrigations systems to carry water to the arid lands.
Farming and ranching have endured and today are the basin’s economic backbone. Bentonite clay is surface-mined and used for products ranging from industrial drilling mud to medicinal applications. Gypsum is mined for use in the construction of sheetrock. Oil and natural gas resources are tapped, and the basin’s geothermal activity is a possible future energy source.
Lewis and Clark’s expedition was the first organized exploration into the area. The great numbers of Bighorn Sheep noted in their journal in 1808 gave the river, basin, mountains, and the National Forest its name.
At a Glance
|Restrictions:||No Camping, Pack It In, Pack It Out|
|Closest Towns:||Lovell, WY|
|Operated By:||Forest Service|
|Information Center:||Medicine Wheel Ranger District|
From Lovell, WY, take Hwy 14A --Medicine Wheel Passage Scenic Byway-- east for about 28 miles. Observation site is on the south side of the highway.
Map showing recreational areas. Map Information