Famous Western Nebraska landmarks – Platte River Valley

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.

Platte River Valley
A long train filled with coal from Wyoming looks tiny when viewed from the top of Scotts Bluff

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.

North Platte River
The Mormon emigrants stayed on the north side of the river to avoid conflicts with emigrants going to Oregon and California on the southern trails

Stories of the monuments…

Two towering landmarks showed those pioneers the way.  Scotts Bluff National Monument and Chimney Rock stand silent guard over the Westward Migration Trails, just as they did those many years ago.

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.

Chimney Rock
Can you see the pointed Chimney Rock in the distance?  This is how it looks 22 miles away from the top of Scotts Bluff

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.

Chimney Rock
Rising 470 feet above the plains, Chimney Rock served as a beacon for early travelers

The Oregon Trail stretches 2,000 miles, and most of the pioneers walked it!

Oregon Trail
The emigrants pushing on for a better life out west

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.

Scotts Bluff
A replica of a wagon train is located where the pioneers pushed on here at Mitchell Pass, between Eagle Rock and Sentinel Rock

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 😉

Saddle Rock Trail
An area with active rock falls – that dust shows the path of a rock fall that just happened

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.

Mitchell Pass, Scotts Bluff National Monument
Mitchell Pass between Sentinel Rock and Eagle Rock, where emigrants pressed on westward
Scotts Bluff
The view of Scotts Bluff the Mormons would see as they followed the trail north of the river


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!

Carhenge in Alliance, NE
Steve’s figuring out which ones are Fords, GM’s and Chryslers
The Fourd Seasons
The “Fourd Seasons” (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) represents the four stages of wheat grown in the area

…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.

Old West Balloon Fest
I couldn’t resist, I was in the perfect spot to be goofy!
Getting the hot air in there…
Fortunately, this Humpty Dumpty didn’t have a great fall!
Old West Balloon Fest
Scotts Bluff in the background

Old West Balloon Fest

Old West Balloon Fest
The balloons rise into a cool Nebraska morning sky

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!




  1. Looks like you had some great weather in the Scotts Bluff area, beautiful photos! I always worry about rocks falling…that must have been heart stopping to realize how close that rock fell! Those pioneers were the hardiest people!

    Carhenge looks neat and the balloon festival was a lucky catch…and sounds much more manageable than ABQ festival!

  2. This was a great stop, wasn’t it! I can’t believe we were so close to catching up and the park was full so we couldn’t stay:( And we really loved our site. I read the sign about rocks falling from the bluff. So glad it fell behind you. Sounds like you found the area as much fun as we did. That is the coolest photo with you “touching” the balloon:)

  3. We were in Scotts Bluff for a short time, so didn’t get to experience near as much as you did MonaLiza. I would have loved to see Carhenge; it looks so cool. Glad that rock didn’t come any closer. Great photo of you touching the balloon.

  4. Haha…I enjoyed the “goofy” shot! I would love to go up in a hot air balloon but I must admit I’m also a little nervous. Loved the interesting collection of shots.

  5. How lucky to catch a balloon festival. I never tire seeing colorful balloons dot the skies. We enjoyed our trek through western Nebraska much to our surprise. Nice post 🙂

  6. You seem to be retracing our 2011 route. It’s great seeing all the places we were. I LOVE your header panorama. Really great, as is the coal train shot and all the pictures from Scott’s Bluff. Love the angles you chose. The colors are bright and crisp. Looks like you had beautiful weather. We really loved it and the county park campground but we didn’t get a hot air balloon festival. You guys have all the luck.

  7. I always say that traveling is the best way ever to learn history and geography (I think of our RV travels as The Mother of All Field Trips). That boulder falling on the trail so near to you guys is really scary. I look up sometimes when we’re hiking and think, hmmmm…….and hurry past certain sketchy looking areas. Speaking from experience, I’d rather run over a boulder than have one fall on us, hehe! Thanks for the great ideas on another interesting place to visit. Your balloon photo is so cute!

  8. There is a replica of Stonehenge on the Washington side of the Columbia River south of Goldendale on WA 14. The Maryhill Museum is also well worth visiting. Stonehenge, Rodin sculptures, Chinoiserie, Theatre de la Mode, and much more–all with a winery next door; Add RV parks close and if you’d ask for more you’d just be greedy. I haven’t been there since we got our motorhome, so I can’t speak to the quality of the parks, but to enjoy the other attractions, I’d be willing to stay at Walmart.

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