National Monument: Nebraska’s Scotts Bluff

190276 Old Oregon Trail, Gering, Nebraska This bluff takes its name from a trapper who met his end somewhere nearby

Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska
The pinnacle mountain known as Eagle Rock was a navigation point for the hardy wagoneers headed west on the Oregon Trail.

190276 Old Oregon Trail, Gering, Nebraska

This bluff takes its name from a trapper who met his end somewhere nearby about 1828. But long before that, the prominent landmark was known as “the hill that is hard to go around” by the Plains tribe and was a key guidepost for travelers heading west.

Much of the history here centers around Mitchell Pass, which proved to be a good route through these steep, eroded bluffs and became part of the Oregon Trail. Thousands of westward-bound travelers passed through here, resulting in a well-developed swale, an eroded remnant of the trail that can still be seen.

At the visitors center, exhibits and a slide show about the Oregon Trail tell the story of overland migration. In summer, living-history demonstrations bring the story alive.

The bluff’s summit is accessible by vehicles (oversize vehicles are restricted due to tunnels with limited clearance), a free shuttle service, or by a 11/2-mile hike gaining 400 feet in elevation. From the north overlook there’s a spectacular view of the North Platte valley, with Chimney Rock on the horizon to the east and Laramie Peak to the west. Part of the legendary Oregon Trail can be seen from the south overlook.

Even more compelling than the view is the stark evidence of the power of erosion. By standing on the bluff’s highest point and extending an imaginary line to the tops of the surrounding hills, you can establish the approximate level of the original nearly mile-high grassy plains that were once here.

Everything from where you stand down to the rugged land below has been slowly eroded and washed away to distant deltas, seas, and shorelines.

Open year-round except major holidays. Admission charged.

www.nps.gov/scbl

(308) 436-9700

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest