Scotts Bluff National Monument is Actually in Gering
Facts are scarce when it comes to knowing anything about Hiram Scott. Legends abound about the fur trapper who died in 1828 near the bluff that came to bear his name, and historians argue over the real story of his demise. And though Scotts Bluff National Monument is in Scotts Bluff County, it is closer to the city of Gering than it is to Scottsbluff. No matter. To simplify things, folks living around here call it “The Monument,” a name as matter-of-fact as its wise Native American moniker, Ma-a-pa-te, which translated means “hill that is hard to go around.” Wagon trains from the Missouri River reached Scotts Bluff only after two months of hard travel across what is now the state of Nebraska. More than 350,000 pioneers are estimated to have passed by here between 1841 and 1869. The ruts and swales left by their many possession-laden wagons still can be seen here carved into clay and stone.
Rising 800 feet above the floor of the Platte River Valley, Scotts Bluff is sometimes taken for a small mountain, which it is not. Mountains are pushed up from below; Scotts Bluff is what remains of the ancient High Plains that were eroded by rivers over millions of years. The uniquely Nebraskan formation is part of the scenic Wildcat Hills.
The Scotts Bluff National Monument is near the North Platte River encompasses nearly 3,000 acres. Among its badlands of sandstone and siltstone the fossilized remains of ancient oreodonts, tortoises, rhinoceroses, horses, camels and other prehistoric creatures have been discovered.
From atop Scotts Bluff on a clear day, visitors can see Chimney Rock to the southeast. Wyoming’s Laramie Range of the Rocky Mountains can sometimes be viewed to the west. From the bluff, a two-mile-long Union Pacific train looks like a tiny toy chugging along toward Mitchell.
You can drive to the top from the Visitor Center and Oregon Trail Museum by way of Summit Road, Nebraska’s oldest concrete road. The route provides a stunning view and takes vehicles through three tunnels carved through the bluff. If you have the stamina, hiking the Saddle Rock Trail from the visitor center to the top is more of an adventure. Rock slides occasionally cause trail closures here. Check in at the visitor center for current information. Seeing the bluff’s walls up close is spectacular, and at one point the trail passes through a narrow, rocky tunnel carved through part of the bluff itself. The less strenuous Oregon Trail Pathway allows visitors to walk the same ground where pioneers and their wagons passed long ago. The visitor center/museum displays the remains of ancient creatures that once lived here, the paintings of William Henry Jackson, and artifacts from the pioneer era. The Monument is three miles west of Gering on the Old Oregon Trail. It is open daily 8 a.m.-7 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day and closes at 5 p.m. the rest of the year. Admission is $5 per vehicle, and rangers give interpretive programs on many weekends throughout the year. (308) 436-9700.
For more information on Gering, contact the Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 245-0717 or www.visitgering.com.
Listen and Discover more about Scotts Bluff National Monument
Find out about the history and geology at Scotts Bluff National Monument in western Nebraska. Listen to NPR’s Tom Wilmer as he shares segments of his show “Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer," in cooperation with Nebraska Tourism Commission and Geiger and Associates.