One of the perks of this rolling lifestyle is learning history while at the same time enjoying the scenery. Most of our 2013 stops along the “history belt” back east served well in educating and enriching us. Our current stop at the Platte River Valley in western Nebraska did the same.
Although our stay and hikes would have been further enhanced had we been able to catch up with friends John and Pam, it didn’t quite work out as they had to move on from the same campground we were entering – and on the same day! They have a great 2-part blog about this area, so check them out as well.
The Platte River Valley has many historical places to explore. This area was a focal point more than a century ago, during the height of the greatest voluntary migrations in U.S. history. The Platte River was a reference point that led travelers west as they pushed through the prairie grass. Although the overland trails to Oregon, California and Utah had different beginning and end points, they all followed the Platte and North Platte Rivers. The waters of those rivers sustained the pioneers and the oxen that pulled their heavily-laden wagons through the area.
Stories of the monuments…
The most notable landmark along the Oregon Trail was Chimney Rock. The sentinel was visible from several days away and gave the emigrants a good spot to rest and ponder their situation.
For emigrants to Oregon and California, Chimney Rock meant completion of their travel across the plains and approximately one-third of their journey west. It also meant the beginning of the rugged mountain portion of their trek.
For the Mormon pioneers, the sentinel was the halfway point to their destination in the Salt Lake City area of Utah.
The Oregon Trail stretches 2,000 miles, and most of the pioneers walked it!
A few miles further along the emigrants were confronted by a massive promontory rising some 800 ft. above the valley floor, now known as Scotts Bluff National Monument. During that time folks didn’t have the luxury of exploring the bluff, for they had to keep moving in order to get over the Rocky Mountains before winter storms hit.
We hiked several trails during our stay. The Saddle Rock Trail took us to the summit of Scotts Bluff and passed through a very active rock fall area. We learned how active, as a large boulder broke off the rim above and rolled over the trail about 30 ft. behind me! Of course, I immediately checked to make sure Steve wasn’t anywhere up there 😉
On another day we followed the Prairie View Trail, which took us through the area of the Five Rocks of Scotts Bluff. From the lowlands we could take in the enormity of the bluff, and see why it gave the pioneers lasting memories.
While here we also drove to a man-made landmark, a full-scale replica of England’s famous Stonehenge using antique cars instead of stones. Built using 38 cars painted gray and with some half buried, it was designed by Jim Reinders as a memorial to his father. Other vehicles are welded on top, and some jut out of the ground at odd angles. A bit strange, but it’s the closest thing to Stonehenge we’ll see until we make it to England!
…and a balloon festival!
Since we know we’ll miss the Albuqueque Balloon Festival this year, we were excited to learn that the (much smaller) Old West Balloon Festival…Re-inflated was happening in the Scottsbluff-Gering area during our stay. Getting up at 4:00am wasn’t much fun, but it’s how we avoided a multi-hour traffic jam at the event’s single entry road (it was not at all well organized).
The balloons were scheduled to launch around 7am, but it was delayed due to high winds aloft. Waiting out the delay was worth it, as the sights and sounds of the colorful hot air balloons being inflated and taking off one by one was very exciting.
Seeing the historical landmarks in western Nebraska put us about halfway through our southward migration, so onward we go to avoid the Rocky Mountain winter ourselves!
Next Up: Rocky Mountain National Park