We arrived at Scotts Bluff National Monument late Sunday afternoon. The bluff stands out on the landscape along the North Platte River in western Nebraska.
Scotts Bluff is a remnant of the ancestral high plains that were hundreds of feet higher than today’s Great Plains. The layers are like a 10-million-year-timeline showing how the ancient plains developed. Caprock has protected Scotts Bluff from the same fate as adjacent badlands.
We drove to the top and walked along the South and North Overlooks.
Settlers learned the benefits of prairie grasses. In spring, they were used as grazing for livestock. Blue grama and buffalo grass have dense roots that created thick, sturdy sod used to build homes. Grasses hold soil and feed and shelter prairie animals such as black-tailed prairie dogs, mule deer, and the prairie rattlesnake.
The North Platte River Valley has been a prairie pathway for 10,000 years for everyone from American Indians to bison herds. It was called “Me-a-pa-te” by Native Americans, meaning “hill that is hard to go around.”
Through this area passed hunters from the early 1800s. Trappers came in search of “soft gold” – the pelts of fur-bearing animals inhabiting mountains and valleys. Clerk Hiram Scott from the Rocky Mountain Fur Company died near Me-a-pa-te in 1828, thus the name Scotts Bluff.
Fur traders blazed a trail through the mountains to the far west. Their old caravan route became the Oregon Trail, a 2,000 mile roadway to the Pacific Northwest.
From 1841-1869, some 350,000 people joined wagon trains at jumping off points along the Missouri River and set out westward on the California and Oregon trails. Each mile was hard-won in the face of unpredictable weather, violent winds, quicksand, floods, disease, buffalo stampedes, and rarely, Indian attacks.
Once emigrants saw the strange landscape around Scotts Bluff, they knew for sure they were in western lands. Large formations loomed in the distance for days before the wagon trains reached them. Scotts Bluff was one such sight, as was Chimney Rock. Travelers called the large fortress-like vision on the horizon “a Nebraska Gibraltar.” Not many emigrants lingered here, however, as they were wary of an approaching winter. They moved on, grateful to have completed at least a third of their journey.
In the early 1860s, emigrants shared the Oregon Trail with mail and freight carriers, military expeditions, stagecoaches and Pony Express riders.
By 1867, emigrant traffic waned and the coast-to-coast telegraph replaced overland mail routes.
In 1869, when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads linked up at Promontory, Utah, the Oregon Trail fell into disuse.
We also walked along the bottom toward the Oregon National Historic Trail, where we saw wagon trains and good views of Eagle Rock.
In the town of Scotts Bluff we found that the Western Sugar Cooperative is the lifeblood of the town. It is made up of 850 sugar beet growers and shareholders. Products include regular granulated and brown sugar and powdered sugar. Sugar beets are grown in a “temperate zone,” which encompasses 11 states including Minnesota, North Dakota and Idaho. Sugar beets provide 55% of the sugar in the U.S. Sugar cane, which makes up the other 45%, is tropical and is grown in four states.
We had dinner at the Flyover Brewing Company. Mike had flights of beer. I had a Festbier, a pale German lager with strong malt flavors and “incredible drinkability.” I had a wild mushroom pizza with olive oil, roasted wild mushrooms, shredded cheese, red onion, fresh herbs and shaved Parmesan. We also had a Burrata Caprese: “You’ve never had it like this: a whole ball of creamy burrata, tomatoes, basil and balsamic reduction.”
*Sunday, September 22, 2019* (The earlier part of this day is here: on journey: rapid city, s.d. to toadstool geologic park to fort robinson state park)
Overnight in Scotts Bluff, I had a dream that a woman in our neighborhood who had just lost her twenty-six year-old son to a prion disease, a rare kind of encephalitis, had somehow turned into actress Kerry Washington (who played Olivia Hope in Scandal). She was grieving and crying over losing her son. She drove past us crying, and Mike was acting very strange. When I confronted him, he said he was having an affair with her and was going to leave me, but I would be well-provided for. I was walking atop cliffs like Scotts Bluff and thought I might just throw myself off but then I decided I’d just enjoy being free.
A very strange dream!
On Monday morning, Mike had to run to Fat Boys Tire to replace the rear driver’s side tire, which had sprung a leak during our rough drive on the gravel road to Toadstool Geologic Park. Fat Boys had instead patched the tire and it would have to last the rest of my trip.
When we finally got going, we went first to Chimney Rock, which I’ll write about in another post.
After Chimney Rock, we returned to Scotts Bluff as we had felt rushed the evening before and wanted to explore it more.
We drove again to the top and wandered around.
Mike wanted to take the Saddle Rock Trail, which gradually descended from the steep slopes of Scotts Bluff to Scotts Spring and the Visitor Center. We agreed I would drive the car down to meet him, otherwise he’d have to climb back up. He could see eroding layers of sandstone, siltstone and volcanic ash exposed along the way, along with intriguing geological features at close range.
Meanwhile I continued to walk around the top of the bluff taking pictures of the interesting rock formations, the plains and the town below.
Below is my National Parks Passport with cancellation stamps for Scotts Bluff for September 22 and 23, 2019.
After leaving Scotts Bluff close to 2:00, we drove nearly two hours to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where we would stay two nights.
*Steps: 9,014, or 3.82 miles*
*Monday, September 23, 2019*