Before the midwest became known as the “flyover states”, it was known as the territory you had to travel through to go west. Wagon train upon wagon train traveled through this vast land at 10 to 20 miles a day as they attempted to find their family’s fortune during the “Great Emigration.” They traveled using trails blazed before them by explorers, and made their way using natural landmarks. Travelers on the Oregon, Mormon, and California Trails as well as riders on the short lived Pony Express used Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska to guide their ways.
Actually, we could go back even further than that and look at the Native Americans who used Scotts Bluff as well. There are over 50 communities that have been found in the shadow of Scotts Bluff. Unfortunately they didn’t leave a lot of artifacts that tell how they used Scotts Bluff (or we have yet to find it), but they undoubtedly used it as a landmark as well.
In a bit of a sketchy story that has had quite a few of the details lost to time, Hiram Scott (a fur trader) met his demise in some way near the rock outcropping that bears his name.
When all is considered, the geology of the Scotts Bluff region is historically significant for at least five reasons:
- The bluff was a landmark to travelers
- The North Platte River created a broad valley that facilitated westward migration
- The badlands formation forced the immigrants out of the river valley
- The bluff formation presented another barrier to travel
- Mitchell Pass and Robidoux Pass allowed passage through the bluff formations.
There are a few hikes to take advantage of here. As you most likely are visiting Scotts Bluff National Monument on a road trip, this will allow you to get out and have some physical activity. Check on the trail conditions before you go as there is the possibility of rock slides that may shut down specific areas. There is also a Junior Ranger program that your children can participate in. Grab the booklet from the visitors center!
I enjoyed spending time learning about the westward migration at the visitor center, as well as examining the exposed rock strata. It is definitely a place to study geography, geology, and history.
Here’s a great video of severe weather you sometimes encounter in the plains from which Scotts Bluff rises!