Mountainous Nebraska and the Oregon Trail at Scotts Bluff

Scotts Bluff National Monument western Nebraska (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Scotts Bluff National Monument in western Nebraska (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

It boggles the mind that when Conestoga wagon trains and other westward-bound Oregon Trail travelers reached this point on their 2,000 mile trek, they were only one-third of the way through their journey.

It also boggles the mind that hundreds of feet of soaring sandstone and siltstone at Scotts Bluff National Monument is located in Nebraska, a state more commonly thought of as flat, full of cornfields and the home of financial guru Warren Buffett, the “Sage of Omaha.”

The slight split you see above the sign is Mitchell Pass, and it wasn’t only used by Oregon Trail pioneers.

Plains Indians hunted bison for thousands of years near this towering landmark by the North Platte River.

For 17 months, the wiry young men of the Pony Express charged through that Pass carrying mail back and forth from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.

After the Mormon Exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois, about 70,000 Mormons (also called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) came through this area on the Mormon Trail enroute their eventual permanent home in Salt Lake City.

Mitchell Pass and Scotts Bluff were also part of the California Trail, including those seeking their fortunes during the California Gold Rush.

The unexpected buttes and rock formations in the western part of Nebraska make you think you’ve stumbled into Utah or Wyoming – as the Platte River Valley around them eroded over thousands of years, the caprock on some of the formations protected them so that they still stand tall today, thrusting up out of the flatter land around them as beacons to locals and travelers alike.

Note: 2008 – 2018 is the U.S. Decade of Trails, celebrating and heightening awareness of historic and scenic trails around the country.

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