Winter hiking often involves snowshoes, but not if you wander along the southeastern edge of the Beartooth Mountains into Weatherman Draw.
Weatherman Draw creases one of the driest areas in the state — a place where rain and snow are rare visitors. That makes it a great place to hike when more popular mountain trails are snowed in. By summertime, it’s too hot to hike there, so it’s the perfect off-season spot.
Also known as the Valley of the Chiefs and Valley of the Shields, the public land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management is protected as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. That’s because it contains scattered pictographs and petroglyphs, some of which date back 10,000 years to American Indian tribes that lived in the region.
The name Valley of the Shields comes from pictographs of warriors behind large shields, depictions that are believed to date to before the arrival of the horse in North America. Why this particular area was the scene of so much art is a mystery, but there is a mystical, harsh beauty to the place.
Once threatened by oil and gas development, and then with a loss of access when property along Cottonwood Road was offered for sale, the public has continually rallied to protect this sacred, spiritual, sandstone enclave.
If you choose to visit, please respect these delicate artifacts. I could suggest where to hike to find the ancient images, but I think it’s more fun for you to discover these small treasures on your own while exploring the sandstone cliffs, rocky draws and overlooks that provide views of the Beartooth Mountains to the west and the Pryor Mountains to the east.
Depending on recent weather, the gravel road to Weatherman Draw can be either dry or snow-packed and icy. Take precautions and pack tire chains, a tow rope and always make sure there is air in your spare and you’ve got a full tank of gas.