“ Chimney Rock was designated a National Historic Site on August 9, 1956, and is maintained and operated by the Nebraska State Historical Society. Located in the valley of the North Platte River, this landmark has been remarked upon by people for centuries. Chimney Rock is known as the most famous landmark on the Oregon-California Trail. „
Chimney Rock, Historical Site, Bayard , Nebraska
You can find this landmark and the visitor centre just off Highway 92 in Nebraska a short way down Chimney Rock Road.
This strange finger rock formation was something I had not really heard about at all before our recent trip to the USA where we covered quite a bit of the Oregon wagon trail out west. This rock which can be seen from some distance away became a place to look out for on this long and arduous journey. One pioneer referred to the rock as "the most remarkable thing I ever saw." While I wouldn't go that far in my excitement I was certainly impressed as you could see it from miles away and there was nothing much else around.
The Oregon Trail was also the route followed by the Mormon pioneers with their handcarts as well as the Pony Express, the Rocky Mountain trappers and traders and the California Trail. This rock was seen by many pioneers over the years and brought cheer and relief to those on their journey as this became a well known landmark.
Today this is a National Historic site and in a position where you can clearly see this rock they have built a visitor centre which tells the story of the importance of this rock to the people who passed by as pioneers over the years.
The visitor centre is open daily from 9.00 till 5.00 but closed on all state holidays except Memorial Day, Labor Day and 4th July. It costs $3 per adult and children are free. If you are a National Historic Society Member then you also get in free.
The visitor centre is called The Ethel and Christopher J. Abbott Visitor Centre but I not sure who these people were but the centre is administered by the city of Bayard, the Nebraska State Historical Society and the US National Park Service but the state of Nebraska owns the 83 acre ground which was designated a National historic site on August 9th 1956.
The actual rock itself is about three and a half miles south of the city of Bayard and is on the south side of the North Platte River. In order to get to the rock you have to travel down a gravel road that takes you to about half a mile from the rock and then you have to walk. They do warn you that you must wear appropriately dressed with proper hiking boots and full length trousers as the terrain is really rough and there are rattle snakes and many yucca plants. I am sorry to admit that when we heard all that and because we were not dressed accordingly we decided not to bother walking to the rock. We felt that we had seen it clearly enough from the end of the road and the visitor centre.
THE VISITOR CENTRE
The centre is a sort of museum with real artefacts and authentic documents, it is also a tribute to all those brave men, women and children who passed by and camped near this rock during the years of movement out west. The centre also had a number of 'hands on' activities for children and would be a good place to take a class of children to learn about the pioneer's journeys.
We were particularly impressed with a replica covered wagon base and set of shelves. The idea was that you were a pioneer loading your wagon and had to select your supplies from the shelves and make choices as the weight was limited. It was harder than we thought and required quite a lot of discussion about what would be more useful to you on the journey.
I loved reading the accounts from people's diaries, especially the younger pioneers. We found out about the way medical problems were dealt with, the diseases that hit the pioneers while on the journey, the excitement they felt at seeing Chimney Rock and so on. One particular account explained the treatment for a snake bit and it seemed that the patient survived in spite of, rather than because of the treatment.
The reason that this landmark caused so much excitement for the pioneers is that it represented the start of the second phase of the journey west or to put it in a more positive light 'the end of the first phase of the journey'.
Many were so excited by reaching the monument that they felt the need to carve their names into the rock. Even travellers who passed the rock on the north side of the river waded across to carve their names or climb "this great natural curiosity." Sadly I think, none of those inscriptions from the travellers in the past remain today and we have to rely upon diary entries of those travellers for testimony as to the fact they existed.
HOW WAS IT FORMED?
The rock stands proudly at 500feet about the surrounding area and the North Platte River. It was formed by erosion of the surrounding softer rock and the fact that is is partly Brule clay mixed with volcanic ash and sandstone which is harder than the surrounding rock and is near the top of this finger. The clay wore away leaving this harder sandstone mixed chimney of rock standing way above the surrounding landscape.
The fact that this rock has been described and written about in such detail is evidence that it has not eroded much over the last centuries. Captain Benjamin Bonneville wrote in 1832 ........
"at this place was a singular phenomenon, which is among the curiosities of the country. It is called The Chimney. The lower part is a comical mound rising ot of the naked plain; from the summit shoots up a shaft or column, about one hundred and twenty feet in height, from which it derives its name. The height of the whole....is a hundred and seventy five yards.... and may be seen at a distance of upwards of thirty miles."
WOULD I RECOMMEND A VISIT?
Yes indeed if you are in the area this is a really well set up museum and historical centre. The information is presented well and is really fascinating. There is a huge picture window which perfectly frames the Chimney Rock so you get a really good view without having to endanger yourself walking up to the rock.
If you have any interest in the history of the American west and the pioneer travellers then this gives you a really good insight into what they went through. We visited the Oregon Trail Museum in Montpelier, Idaho prior to this museum and they complemented each other perfectly.
Thank you for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.