Ogallala, NE to Scottsbluff, NE
Along the North Platte River in western Nebraska, Scotts Bluff stands out on the landscape - a landmark for the early settlers traveling the Oregon Trail.
Scotts Bluff Monument actually contains five rock formations - Crown Rock, Dome Rock, Eagle Rock, Saddle Rock, and Sentinel Rock, but Scotts Bluff is the most prominent bluff. It was named after Hiram Scott, a fur trader, who died near the bluff in 1828.
The 3000 acre Scotts Bluff National Monument, 5 miles southwest of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, encompasses the escarpment that rise 800 feet above the North Platte River, 4659 feet above sea level, and was a prominent landmark on the Oregon and California Trails. Pioneers abandoned the riverbank and cut through Mitchell Pass to avoid the rough terrain. The wind-sculpted bluff, an extension of the wildcat range, is composed of Arikaree sandstone, siltstone, and volcanic ash. It is the hard caprock that has prevented erosion from leveling the bluff to the height of the surrounding plain.
for navigation. The Oregon Trail itself passed through Mitchell Pass, a gap in the bluffs flanked by two large cliffs. The North Platte River Valley, chiseled through the grassy plains of Nebraska and Wyoming, had been a prairie pathway for at least 10,000 years. This corridor led Indians to places on the river where wandering buffalo herds stopped to drink. At one spot along the way, a huge bluff towered 800 feet above the valley floor. Its imposing size and adjacent badlands inspired the Indian name Me-a-pa-te, or "hill that is hard to go around." The first whites to reach Ma-a-pa-te were John Jacob Astor's men, fur traders, on their way back east from the Pacific. They reached the bluff on Christmas Day 1812. By the next decade, the bluff was a familiar sight to traders in caravans heading toward the Rockies, where they exchanged supplies for furs for substantial profits. According to legend, Hiram Scott, a fur company clerk, died near Ma-a-pa-te in 1828 and from then on, the bluff had a new name. Besides supplying fashionable consumers with furs, the traders blazed a trail through the mountains to the far West. Their old caravan route became the Oregon Trail, a 2000-mile roadway to the Pacific Northwest. In the early 1860's, emigrants shared the Oregon Trail with freight and mail carriers, military expeditions, stage coaches, and Pony Express riders.
Between 250,000 and 500,000 people made their way west from approximately 1841 until 1869 and the covered wagon was one of the main methods of transportation. Wagons utilized by the emigrants in the 19th century varied depending on what purpose they were used for. The wagon on the right is a Murphy wagon, produced by Joseph Murphy for traders headed west from Missouri to Santa Fe and later for overland emigration. Murphy's wagons became some of the best known on the western trails. The wagon consisted of wheels, running gear, a box, and a cover. Usually they were nine feet high with a twelve foot long bed. The bed had a straight box. The Murphy could comfortably haul between 1800 and 2200 pounds. Mules and oxen were most often used for pulling this type of wagon. It usually required two yoke of oxen, a yoke consisting of 2 oxen. A spare yoke often trailed behind so the livestock could be rotated and rested. Horses were rarely if ever used. They lacked the strength and endurance needed to pull a wagon 2000 miles, plus they required costly supplemental feed. The Conestoga Wagon on the left is probably the most familiar pioneer wagons to us as it is often used in films. This wagon was the primary choice for freight companies to ship goods to the western frontier. The name Conestoga came from the Conestoga River Valley in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The average size was 17 feet long and 11 feet high, reflecting the freighter's need for space in hauling. In addition to a longer bed, it had a curved box much like that on a boat. This kept the freight from shifting and moving around, keeping the cargo in the center during transit. The Conestoga wagon required a double cover. Usually made of canvas, cotton sailcloth, or homespun hemp. It cantilevered out slightly more than that of a typical emigrant wagon to help protect the cargo from weather. The front and rear gates angled up higher to prevent freight from sliding out on steep inclines. A Conestoga could likely haul a load of 3 tons. A load this size may have required as many as eight yoke or more of oxen. The wagon on the right is a Studebaker Wagon. The Studebaker name was a recognizable as Murphy on the trail. The Studebaker brothers began their enterprise in South Bend, Indiana. As blacksmiths, they provided the hardware for many of the early wagon manufacturers. Nearly every wagon making the journey westward had their components and spare parts. Later on, they expanded into manufacturing ring wagons for emigrants and freighting companies. The influence of the family and their adaptive skills would extend into the modern era with the design and production of the Studebaker automobile.
Scotts Bluff is a remnant of the ancestral high plains - hundreds of feet higher than the present Great Plains - that formed in the continent's interior after uplifting of the Rocky Mountains. Examining the 10-million-year timeline of Eagle Rock, geologists have determined the origin of the various materials deposited on the ancient plains by wind, water, and the occasional volcanic eruptions, as well as the approximate age of each layer. Scientists have also studied the disappearance of the high plains. Four or five million years ago, the land began to erode faster than new strata were deposited. Some limestone concretions in isolated patches near the surface happened to be more durable than the surrounding material. Known as cap rock, this stone roof has protected Scotts Bluff so far from the same fate as the adjacent badlands. The caprock (22 million years ago) is at the very top. Sandstone is beneath the caprock. The horizontal bands are volcanic ash. The bottom is siltstone (31 million years ago).
Now, we start our ascent. You can drive right up to the top.
A 1.6 mile long paved road passes from the visitor center headquarters through 3 tunnels to the summit of Scotts Bluff.
Overlooks on the summit offer a panoramic view of the North Platte Valley and distant Chimney Rock and Laramie Peak.
From left to right: Dome Rock Behind that Wildcat Hills Crown Rock in the center South Bluff (Souther section of Scotts Bluff) Sentinel Rock Eagle Rock At the base, the Route of the Oregon Trail (1851 - 1869)