Scotts Bluff with Dome Rock

I traveled through Nebraska this spring on a road trip.  I stopped at the Wildcat Hills State Park and discovered I was close to a national monument called Scotts Bluff.  I was excitied to check out this piece of history.  So I drove up to the town of  Scottsbluff which is located on U.S. Highway 26 east of the Wyoming border.  

Scotts Bluff rises out of the surrounding prairie like an indestructible boulder that was buried.  Actually, it is made of the same stuff as its flat surroundings that have been eroded by wind water over millions of years.  So why is it still there?  The reasons are rather straightforward, the hills in this part of Nebraska had kinds of umbrellas protecting them from the weather.  These umbrellas, called caprocks, come in the form of limestone concretions.  Limestone concretions are layers of much harder rock in the midst of the softer layers.  Like concrete they are made up of a mixture of minerals. Through time and coincidence the minerals seep into pockets that become the limestone's mold, and over millions of years the harder stone that is formed can protect the soft.

Limestone Concretions
Park Headquarters from the top of Scotts Bluff

The park is just outside of the towns of Gering and Scottsbluff.  The visitor's center is located on the south side of the park along what was the Oregon Trail.  I went into the visitor's center to pay my entrance fee which is only $5.00 for me and my car.  The pass is good for the next 7 days too.  

 Inside the center are depictions of Scotts Bluff and the Oregon Trail.  Many of the pieces of art are by William Henry Jackson (1843-1942)[5246]. He was a photographer, painter, and sketch artist who on his travels, realized the importance of documenting the migration of settlers and the scenery of the growing country in general.  There are also artifacts from the settler's journey that were cast aside or forgotten in the trip west.

Conestoga Wagon

The day, in late May, that I was there was hot and still, it was perfect weather to tromp around the park for a few hours with a bottle of water.  The first trail I walked was on the actual Oregon Trail!  History is very much alive here, as I experienced the same things people more than a hundred years ago saw, heard, and felt.  The sun was bright in the sky and the sounds of bugs surrounded me. A slight breeze touched my face occasionally.  The imagined sounds of oxen, horses, and creaking wagons are ever present amongst the real birds and whining cicadas.  The trails proceed through Mitchell Pass, on the south side of Eagle Rock. Then the Oregon Trail, returns to the North Platte River, travels on to Fort Mitchell, and then to Fort Laramie in Wyoming.  My trail ended at a bench where I ate lunch with a spectacular view west to keep me company. 


View West from Mitchell Pass
View East through Mitchell Pass with Eagle Rock

Today, there are two ways to the top of Scotts Bluff.  Though one can easily imagine settler children scrambling up any way they could when their parents looked away.  Now, one can easily drive to the top of the hill and see the wonderful views that include the towns of Gering, Scottsbluff, the Wildcat Hills, and in the distance Chimney Rock.  Looking at Chimney Rock is a reminder that the people that traveled to trail used landmarks to guide them.  I could feel my eyes looking through the years and seeing the same sight that countless people have seen.  It must have been a great comfort to have these landmarks guiding travelers as they picked their way across the country in otherwise unfamiliar surroundings.

Saddle Rock Trail

Instead of driving to the top of the bluff I chose to walk the Saddle Rock Trail to the top.  The trail is paved and comfortable to walk on, it winds around the east side of the bluff 1.6 miles to the summit[5247].  The trail's approach to the hill is through a delightful prairie meadow that soon begins climbing the side of the bluff.  I began walking up the trail about midday and the lack of shade  was a little uncomfortable; I was glad I had my water bottle.  When the trail finally meets the bear rock of the bluff there is a short tunnel underneath Saddle Rock.  The tunnel is welcomely cooler than the sunshine.  It is carved in an arch through the sandstone.  There are countless handprints and divots in the walls where people have clawed out some sand.  When I touched the wall sand came away easily enough to be worrisome with such a great weight above.  The ceiling of the tunnel appeared to be made of studier rock and I continued through. I was drawn through the tunnels 20 feet or so by the bright beautiful view northeast of the town of Scottsbluff and the prairie.  This was also the only shady part of the trail.  The trail rises back into the sun, passing Saddle Rock, onto the southwest face again.  From there the trail headed to the summit and the south and North overlooks.  The views are spectacular and if you don't feel like walking, remember, you can drive up so don't miss it.  I backtracked down to the visitor's center although I almost asked some fellows driving down if I could ride with them, as it seemed a little daunting in the heat.  I made it back to my car after a wonderful diversion for a few hours on a long trip.