On a trip to see the Iowa State Capitol and the Nebraska State Capitol, we decided to spend part of a day at Scotts Bluff in western Nebraska. It was very interesting and full of history, but quite dry. Our dog wasn’t too happy about that, but she got over it 🙂
Scottsbluff was founded in 1900 across the North Platte River from its namesake, a bluff which is now a National Park called Scotts Bluff National Monument . The smaller town of Gering had been founded south of the river and the two cities have since grown together to form the 7th largest urban area (Scottsbluff Micropolitan Statistical Area) in Nebraska.
Over 800 feet above the North Platte River, Scotts Bluff has served as a landmark for peoples from Native Americans to emigrants on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails to modern travelers. In the Lakota language, Scottsbluff is called pȟaŋkéska wakpá otȟúŋwahe (“Platte River City”, lit. “abalone river city”).
While there we took a short walk in the footsteps of the pioneers on the original Oregon-California-Pony Express Trail and stopped to enjoy a subway picnic. We also drove the Summit Road which is a 1.6 mile drive featuring scenic views and the only three vehicular tunnels in the state. It was pretty cool to see and do. There is also a shuttle service available to visitors traveling with RVs or towing trailers. The shuttle also benefits visitors who are interested in hiking one-way down Saddle Rock Trail.
We didn’t do a full hike, just a short walk with the dog, but we did get a glimpse of the varied resources of the area such as short and mixed-grass prairie, wildflowers, native trees and shrubs, geologic features, historic features, and many species of birds and mammals. We did see a few people hiking up the bluff on the Saddle Rock Trail.
The main things we wanted to see in Scotts Bluff were Chimney Rock, Courthouse and Jail Rock. The first one we saw was Chimney Rock. This was one of the most famous and recognizable landmarks for pioneer travelers on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, a symbol of the great western migration. This formation is a slender spire rising 325 feet from a conical base. The imposing formation, composed of layers of volcanic ash and brule clay dating back to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago), towers 480 feet above the North Platte River Valley.
Courthouse and Jail Rocks, which rise 400 feet above the North Platte Valley, are composed of Brule clay, Gering sandstone and volcanic ash. The rock formations are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and in the Nebraska Natural Areas Register.
This pair of rock formations also served as a landmark along the trails for many pioneers traveling west in the 19th century. Many travelers would stray as much as five miles from the Oregon Trail just to get a glimpse of the rocks. Through the years, hundreds of westward-bound emigrants mentioned Courthouse Rock in their travel logs and journals.In 1845, one traveler described the rock as resembling the ruins of an old castle which rises abruptly from the plain. The voyagers may have called it the Courthouse; but it looks infinitely more like the Capitol.
We had a great time walking around the Scotts Bluff Monuments, taking pictures, and imaging what the voyagers thought while they were there looking at the Rockies in front of them. I can’t even imagine looking at those and knowing that they still had to go through them. My 6x great-grandfather was John Colter of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I am sure some of them probably went this way. Very interesting visit to this amazing area.
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