Scott's Bluff National Park Nebraska
WHERE IS IT?
In the state of Nebraska just off the Old Oregon trail known today as State Highway 92 West. It is clearly marked by signs off Highway 71 and is three miles west of Gering, Nebraska.
A while back I wrote a review on Chimney Rock, which is east of Scotts Bluff and that was the most famous natural landmark to the emigrants. Chimney Rock was mentioned in more emigrant diaries than any other natural feature but this rock feature known as Scotts Bluff was a close second.
WHAT MAKES THIS SPECIAL?
As you might realise we spent some weeks in the USA following some of the pioneer trails and visiting particular landmarks along the way. This sort of rock gateway is a mighty eight hundred feet above the North Platte River and as such it has been a natural landmark for many of these pioneer people and served as the path marker for those on the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express Trails. That is the interest it had for me as I just cannot get over how brave these people were to make the journey into the relative unknown risking everything in the hope of a new life.
THE NATIONAL PARK
This National Monument was established 1919 and at the time it was believed to be the highest point in Nebraska. In actual fact the highest point is in Kimball County near the Colorado state line. The park preserves 3,000 acres of rocky and unusual land formations which rise out of the flat prairieland all around.
The actual Scotts Bluff National Monument is open seven days a week all year around except for January 1, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25.
There is a Trail Museum and visitor centre just at the base of the Bluff and that is open in the Summer Season from 8 a.m to 7 p.m and the winter season from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The road to the summit closes half an hour before the Visitor centre.
Being a National Park we got in with our 'America the Beautiful' National Park season pass. Private vehicles pay $5.00 for seven days; if you live within reasonable distance then you can buy a $15.00 ticket for one year which allows you into both Ft. Laramie NHS and Scotts Bluff.
WHAT CAN YOU DO THERE
There are no camping facilities nor indeed are there any cafes or other food supplies within the park. There are cold drinks machines in the visitor centre. There is also a drinking fountain near the Saddle Rock trailhead and toilets near the visitor centre. There is NOTHING in the way of water, restrooms or anything at the summit; you just go to enjoy the view.
You can drive up to the summit during daylight hours as stated above but you can only walk or cycle on the road during daylight hours when cars are NOT allowed so you have to be pretty speedy! There are walking trails though so that is where you should walk rather than on the road but they are rough so you need proper walking attire and of course bring adequate water and sun protection in summer.
There are rattlesnakes in the area so they say to be aware and to avoid startling them!! That was one very good reason for not walking in my view. We drove up but did walk around the top area keeping our eyes open for the slithery creatures; you don't have to tell me twice when it comes to dangerous snakes.
WHO WAS SCOTT?
Scotts Bluff got its name from a fur trapper called Hiram Scott. According to various stories Hiram Scott was returning to St. Louis from the 1828 rendezvous when he died. The legends of his life and death add to the many stories of Scotts Bluff. The stories vary but he became ill or injured when returning east and died near these rock formations in 1828 some tell the story that Scott was injured in an encounter with some Indians at the rendezvous at Bear Lake in Utah and this his has been used to explain why Scott became incapacitated on his journey back east.
THE VISITOR CENTRE AND OREGON TRAIL MUSEUM
We spent an hour or so in this building. We were caught as we went in by one of the men working there wanting to talk about England as he had been for here some time and really desperately wanted to tell us all about it. Once we had managed to extricate ourselves we had a good look around. The building is divided into three main areas.
The first and to me, the most interesting had exhibits from the pioneer days and told of the exploration which took place by the different people moving westwards. The explorers or travelers varied from the fur trappers and traders through to the wagon trains, the Mormons pulling their hand carts and finally the Pony Express riders. All these people passed through the area and used the Scotts Bluff formation as a marker for their path westwards.
Exhibits included maps, historical accounts, wagons with supplies, photos and was very well presented. There was not a lot of hands on stuff but was certainly child friendly.
The next section which caught my eye was the area with all the original William Henry Jackson paintings and incredible photographs. Jackson spent many year of his life painting and photographing the westward expansion. Indeed he was the first to take photographs of Yellowstone National Park. This small out of the way museum has the largest collection of his work which included sketches, paintings and photographs. These works tell the story of the trials and hardships faced by the brave and hopeful people travelling westwards during the period from the late 1800s and into the early 1900s.
The final area I am afraid didn't interest me much as it was about the rock formation and the landscape. I know that is not something I should be proud of but I like landscapes as they are and have a limited interest as to how they have formed. This room did however have a short film which told the visitor about the Oregon Trail and used Jackson's paintings and other works to bring it to life and that was very interesting, it only last about ten minutes but was very well put together.
Although the landscape remains largely as it was when the pioneers arrived some things have changed. There are roads and buildings but it is still pretty sparse, flat and not a lot around there. There are probably fewer native animals but it is still far from a metropolis. We drove along and saw very few buildings and the road was pretty empty so it was not hard to imagine the wagons near the visitor centre travelling across the rather flat and desolate prairie surrounding the two bluffs.
UP TO THE SUMMIT
There was no road to the summit when the park originally opened but after 1931, when Horace Albright, Director of the National Park Service visited the site he was so impressed that he said he would support the building of a road to the summit.
Some federal money was given and work began on the Summit Road. This required tunnels and excavation and some of the work was assigned to private contractors. There were various problems and obstacles to overcome but by 1937 the tunnels were complete as well as the paving of the road. So finally the Oregon Trail Museum was dedicated on July 16, 1936, and the Summit Road was opened to the public on September 19, 1937.
The drive up is fairly spectacular and some of the tunnels are pretty long. Once you reach the top there is plenty of parking and you can pretty much walk where you like with care, avoiding crumbling rock edges and trying to avoid startling any rattle snakes. When we were there many of the native wild flowers were out and they were very pretty. The view is pretty amazing as the surrounding area is almost completely flat so you can see for literally miles. The Mormon trail went a slightly different way around the bluff and that was easy to see from the summit too.
WHAT DO I THINK?
If you have an interest in the history of the American westward expansion and all the groups of people that became part of this time in history then it is certainly worth visiting. We visited the Oregon Trail Centre in Montpelier, Idaho early on in our trip and that was fascinating but much more interactive than this. We also visited Chimney Rock near here and several other smaller museums in the states that we passed through and each place added that little bit more to the story. I love reading about this time in history and it never ceases to amaze me how strong and determined these families were. I love reading and learning about them but I know that I could never have survived what they did; they were tough in those days!
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