Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Gibraltar of Nebraska

Scotts Bluff, named for the unfortunate Hiram Scott, a Rocky Mountain Fur Company clerk whose companions abandoned him to his fate near the bluff, is also nicknamed the Gibralter of Nebraska.  

This photo of Scotts Bluff (right) was shot through a bug-splattered windshield.

That’s not surprising since the bluffs tower 800 feet over the North Platte River Valley, the “highway” that pioneers bound for Oregon traveled.  

After walking almost the length of Nebraska, the pioneers, many of whom were barefoot by this point, were undoubtedly thankful that they had made it to this milestone, a landmark that a USA Today article, published June 25, 2013, called a pioneers' version of GPS.

Knowing that we had several stops to make during this day’s segment of the Oregon Trail, Tim and I arrived at Scotts Bluff National Monument soon after the park opened at 8:00 a.m.  

We watched the National Park Service video in a room lined with watercolors painted by William Henry Jackson, the notable photographer and American West artist.  

Scotts Bluff by William Henry Jackson

In fact, the Scotts Bluff National Monument houses the largest collection of Jackson's works in the world.  

William Henry Jackson 

In 1866, after serving in the Union Army and following a lover's spat with his fiancee, Jackson headed west.  He signed on as a bullwhacker with a wagon train bound for California.  His artistic ability as a watercolorist and his knowledge of photography picked up while tinting photos in a studio in Troy, NY led him to other employment, first as a photographer for the Union Pacific Railroad and later for the United States Geological Survey.  Towards the end of his life, he turned to painting watercolors and by doing so, he documented the settlement of the West.  He died at age 99.

Tim and I hopped aboard the park's first shuttle to the top of the bluffs.

Tim in the rearview mirror
Cindy in the interior mirror
One of the tunnels straight ahead

Our shuttle driver was a loquacious, gentlemanly volunteer with a wealth of knowledge about the area which he imparted to us on the climb through three tunnels built by the Civilian Conservation Corps to the summit.

Although Chimney Rock, visible 23 miles to the east, is made of the same layers as Scotts Bluff, it lacks the limestone that serves as a cap stone for these bluffs.  But that limestone cap will not save these bluffs forever.  Just like Chimney Rock, wind and weather are chipping away at these bluffs, too.
Geodetic Marker 

Our driver could testify to that; he told us to look for the geodetic survey marker at the summit.  The marker was once flush with the surface.  Since its placement, it has eroded more than a foot.

So who knows how much longer these bluffs will last.  I'm only glad that I, like the pioneers, could visit this place.

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