Bayard, NE to Bridgeport, NE.
Two of the most famous landmarks of the mid 1800's westward migration are Jail Rock and Courthouse Rock. These were the some of the first spectacular rock formations the early settlers would see, vanguards of the scenic wonders and impressive landmarks they would encounter farther west along the trail in western Nebraska, including Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff.
These first pictures were shot from the car. I'm getting good at leaning out of the car, snapping away, at 70 miles an hour.
Imagine traveling across the plains and seeing these behemoths looming in the distance MILES and MILES away.
Beginning of the Wild Cat Range. And entering the road up to Jail Rock and Courthouse Rock. Of course, Rosie must play now and give you Jail House Rock. Did you expect any less? And I hope you dance to it. Like I did. Dance like nobody's watching. And love. Like everybody needs you. But Mr. Hawthorne was watching me dance and he just shaked his head. Bustin' my bubble. And I think I will now pronounce bubble as booblay. That is my wont.
I lack the words to describe what I see. I've found this happens a lot out west. The landscape is overpowering. It is other-worldly. It is grand. It is overwhelming. And words fail me.
Courthouse Rock was first noted in 1812 by Robert Stuart and it quickly became one of the guiding landmarks for fur traders and emigrants. It is a massive monolith of Brule clay and Gering sandstone which was variously likened to a courthouse or a castle.
Hundreds of emigrants mentioned Courthouse Rock in their diaries. The name, "Courthouse," was first used in 1837. It was often called a "castle" or "solitary tower." In 1845, one traveler described the rock as "resembling the ruins of an old castle [which] arises abruptly from the plain.... It is difficult to look upon it and not believe that art had something to to with its construction. the voyagers have called it the Courthouse, but it looks infinitely more like the Capitol."
Rising some 400 feet above the North Platte Valley, Courthouse and Jail Rocks are erosional remnants composed of clay, sandstone, and volcanic ash. According to historians, many pioneers were so enraptured by these bizarre geologic features, that after traveling hundreds of miles, they became sightseers, walking 2 - 3- 4- 5 miles on foot, off the trail, just to get a closer look. Can you imagine that? After everything they'd endured?
Emigrant Joel Palmer: Viewed from the road, the beholder might easily imagine he was gazing upon some ancient structure of the old world. A nearer approach dispels this illusion, and it looks, as it is, rough and unseemly.
Emigrant Walter Pigman: "We spent about an hour on the summit writing. Our heads became dizzy, we began to hunt the base and had a hard time to overtake our wagons. Being nearly 15 miles off, we traveled hard but did not overtake them. We had left camp without a gun, pistol or knife, which we ought to have had as the wolves and bears became unusually thick."
Emigrant David Jackson Staples: "We made our noon halt opposite Court House bluff; after noon, several of our party went over to take a look at it. I climbed to the top and engraved my name and such a view man seldom sees."
Rufus B. Sage, November, 1841: A singular natural formation, known as the Court House, or McFarlan's Castle ... rises in an abrupt quadrilangular form, to a height of three or four hundred feet, and covers an area of two hundred yards in length by one hundred and fifty broad. Occupying a perfectly level site in an open prairie, it stands as the proud palace of Solitude, amid here boundless domains. Its position commanmds a view of the country for forty miles around and meets the eye of the travel for several successive days, in journeying up the Platte.