Two Broads Abroad on The Oregon Trail – Stop 15, Scotts Bluff, Nebraska
By Judy Rickard, author, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, 2011, Findhorn Press
Eagle Rock here dwarfed Chimney Rock in volume, though it was shorter. From the high overlook we saw the flat, seemingly unending land all westward migrants had to travel from a different perspective. We left the vast flatlands we had been on for days for land ahead with the promise of more rise to it as we went west. When my Everest ancestors moved west, this part of the globe was called The Great American Desert. It was not familiar to those who crossed it, and it was not always hospitable. Many who started the trek never made it through this portion. The more time we spent on the road, the more we understood how it must have been in the 1840’s.
The national monument Web site for Scotts Bluff says Astorians, as they were called, were the first white men to see Scotts Bluff. Seven men from the Robert Stuart Party came through this area on Christmas Day 1812, on their way from Astoria, Oregon to St. Louis, Missouri.
Following them a few decades later, westward travelers wrote in their diaries and shared the journey’s challenges. You can see some of this at the Scotts Bluff visitor center. It also provides interesting displays and books to buy about The Oregon Trail and what day-to-day life was for emigrants. We went whole hog and got bonnets to wear – like pioneer women – only probably more colorful. I so wish my Everest ancestors had kept a diary that I might have seen quoted at a display center like this.
Scotts Bluff was a marker for the cross country travelers. When they reached this place they could feel grateful. No matter how many misfortunes they had endured since they left home two months prior, the first third of their journey to Oregon Territory was completed. They must have felt satisfied and relieved at that point.
Towering 800 feet above the North Platte River, Scotts Bluff has been a natural landmark for many peoples, and it served as the path marker for those on the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express Trails. Today, Scotts Bluff National Monument preserves 3,000 acres of unusual land formations which rise over the otherwise flat prairieland below. We enjoyed both the flat lowlands and the views from the height from the Summit Trail. What a difference each perspective provided!
The national monument site explains that Scotts Bluff is a topographic feature rising to 4,659 feet above sea level and 800 feet above the North Platte River. The geology of Scotts Bluff is significant from a natural resource standpoint because it affords a view of 740 feet of continuous geologic strata that spans a time period extending from 33 to 22 million years before present. This north face of Scotts Bluff has exposed the most geologic history of any location in the state of Nebraska. Visitors can easily view this resource while walking the Saddle Rock Trail, which we did.
The clay and sandstone highlands tower over the landscape. Through the 1840’s, when my Everest ancestors went through this area, they would have been forced to bypass this immediate spot because deep ravines crossed the area. In 1851, when later pioneers went west, the Army Corps of Engineers opened a wagon route to help settlers. The highway we rode on through Mitchell Pass, the flat area between Eagle Rock and Dome Rock, follows that wagon route. In those early days, travelers had to cross via Roubadeau Pass, 8 miles west of Scotts Bluff.
Traces of the real Oregon Trail are at Scotts Bluff. You can walk on the trail, like I did, in the footsteps of today’s tourists, sure, but in the older footsteps of those who settled Oregon Territory, California and Utah as well as goldseekers, soldiers, Pony Express riders and cavalry troops.
We enjoyed hearing about what the emigrants did from a re-enacter, who explained the differences between the Oregon Trail wagon replica and the heavier Conestoga wagon replica, used by the traders traveling the Santa Fe Trail. The highlight had to be walking on the real trail – something we had not been able to do prior to Scotts Bluff. Wow!
This place, designated a national monument in December, 1919, was a highlight of our trip. The natural beauty and the informative center made a great combination.
For more information on Scotts Bluff National Monument, go to:
Or go to:
For information on The Oregon National Historic Trail, go to:
For information on finding people or documents related to The Oregon Trail, try the new Emigrant Name Search site at:
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