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Scotts Bluff National Monument is located in the City of Gering in western Nebraska. This National Park Service site protects over 3,000 acres of historic overland trail remnants, mixed-grass prairie, rugged badlands, towering bluffs and riparian area along the North Platte River. The bluff served as an important landmark for pioneers on the Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Trail and Pony Express Trail. The bluff is named after Hiram Scott, who was a clerk for William Ashley's Rocky Mountain Fur Company and died near the bluff in 1828. Over 250,000 westward emigrants passed by Scotts Bluff between 1843 and 1869. It was the second-most referred to landmark on the Oregon, California and Mormon trails in pioneer journals and diaries. Visitors to Scotts Bluff National Monument can walk in the footsteps of pioneers on remnants of the Oregon Trail, drive to the top of the bluff via the Summit Road, which is the oldest concrete road in the state of Nebraska and stand in awe at the sight of the bluffs raising from the prairie. The park boasts over 100,000 annual visitors.

Scotts Bluff National Monument
Covered Wagon In Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska.jpg
Covered Wagon on the Oregon Trail at Scotts Bluff
Map showing the location of Scotts Bluff National Monument
Map showing the location of Scotts Bluff National Monument
Scotts Bluff
Map showing the location of Scotts Bluff National Monument
Map showing the location of Scotts Bluff National Monument
Scotts Bluff
LocationScotts Bluff County, Nebraska, USA
Nearest cityGering, Nebraska
Coordinates41°50′05″N 103°42′26″W / 41.83472°N 103.70722°W / 41.83472; -103.70722Coordinates: 41°50′05″N 103°42′26″W / 41.83472°N 103.70722°W / 41.83472; -103.70722[1]
Area3,005 acres (12.16 km2)[2]
CreatedDecember 12, 1919 (1919-December-12)
Visitors130,085 (in 2016)[3]
Governing bodyNational Park Service
WebsiteScotts Bluff National Monument

Scotts Bluff County and the city of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, were named after the landmark.[4]



The collection of bluffs was first charted by non-native people in 1812 by the Astorian Expedition of fur traders traveling along the river. The expedition party noted the bluffs as the first large rock formations along the river where the Great Plains started giving way to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Their findings were not widely communicated because of the War of 1812. Explorers rediscovered the route to the Rocky Mountains in 1823, and fur traders in the region relied on the bluffs as a landmark. European Americans named the most prominent bluff after Hiram Scott, a fur trader who died in 1828 near the bluff. The local Native Americans had called it Me-a-pa-te, "the hill that is hard to go around."[5]

Fur traders, missionaries, and military expeditions began regular trips past Scotts Bluff during the 1830s. Beginning in 1841, multitudes of settlers passed by Scotts Bluff on their way west on the Emigrant Trail to Oregon, and later California and Utah. Wagon trains used the bluff as a major landmark for navigation. The trail passed through Mitchell Pass, a gap in the bluffs flanked by two large cliffs. Although the route through Mitchell Pass was tortuous and hazardous, many emigrants preferred this route to following the North Platte river bottom on the north side of the bluff. Passage through Mitchell Pass became a significant milestone for many wagon trains on their way westward.

How Scott’s Bluffs acquired its nameEdit

Around 1825 a fur trapping party was “descending the upper part of the (Nebraska) River in canoes when their frail barks were overturned and all their powder spoiled. Their rifles being thus rendered useless they were unable to procure food by hunting and had to depend upon roots and wild fruits for subsistence. After suffering extremely from hunger, they arrived at Laramie’s Fork, a small tributary of the north branch of the Nebraska, about sixty miles above the cliffs just mentioned. Here, one of their party by the name of Scott was taken ill; and his companions came to a halt, until he should recover health and strength sufficient to proceed. While they were searching round in quest of edible roots they discovered a fresh trail of white men, who had evidently but recently preceded them. What was to be done? By a forced march they might overtake this party, and thus be able to reach the settlements in safety. Should they linger they might all perish of famine and exhaustion. Scott, however, was incapable of moving; they were too feeble to aid him forward, and dreaded that such a clog would prevent them coming up with the advance party. They determined, therefore, to abandon him to his fate. Accordingly, under pretense of seeking food, and such simples as might be efficacious in his malady, they deserted him and hastened forward upon the trail. They succeeded in overtaking the party of which they were in quest, but concealed their faithless desertion of Scott; alleging that he had died of disease.

“On the ensuing summer, these very individuals, visiting these parts in company with others, came suddenly upon the bleached bones and grinning skull of a human skeleton, which by certain signs, they recognized for the remains of Scott. This was sixty long miles from the place where they had abandoned him; and it appeared that the wretched man had crawled that immense distance before death put an end to his miseries. The wild and picturesque bluffs in the neighborhood of his lonely grave have ever since borne his name.”[6]

In one of its first engineering deployments, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a smoother road through Mitchell Pass in the early 1850s. Use of the Emigrant Trail tapered off in 1869 after the trail was superseded by the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

The town of Gering, Nebraska, was founded near the base of the bluff in 1887, and the city of Scottsbluff was founded across the North Platte River from the bluff in 1900.[7] Separated (or joined) by the river, the two cities have since grown together and now form the 6th-largest urban area in Nebraska.

Once permanent settlements had been established nearby, residents and travelers went to the bluff as a destination because of its extensive views of the flat land stretching to the east, the hills and mountains to the west, and the river valley in between. Developers built various trails up the bluff over the years, but most were precarious and dangerous. In the early 20th century, the National Park Service constructed a safer, more modern trail for improved access.

During World War II, the United States built hundreds of T2 oil tanker ships and named many of them after national monuments. The SS Scotts Bluff was built in 1944, served in the war, and then its name was changed when it was sold to France in 1948.[8]

Proper spellingEdit

There has always been some disagreement as to the proper spelling of this geomorphic feature, specifically with regard to the apostrophe. For example, an 1843 map titled Map of an Exploratory Expedition to the Mountains in 1842 by John C. Frémont labeled the feature Scott's Bluff (with an apostrophe). Another early military map of Nebraska and the Dakotas published in 1875 by G.K. Warren dropped the apostrophe and labeled the feature simply as Scotts Bluff. There are numerous other examples in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in which the name has been spelled with or without an apostrophe. In a final decision by the United States Board on Geographical Names rendered on June 11, 1941, the name Scotts Bluff (without an apostrophe) was officially adopted.[9] The nearby town of Scottsbluff is spelled as one word.


Summit Trails
The North Overlook Trail is a 0.5-mile (0.80 km) paved trail that leaves from the summit parking lot and overlooks the North Platte River Valley. Visitors can reach the highest point on the bluff at 4,659 feet (1,420 m) above sea level.
The South Overlook Trail is a 0.4-mile (0.64 km) paved trail that leaves from the summit parking lot towards the south. From the overlook, visitors can see the Visitor Center and Mitchell Pass.
Saddle Rock Trail begins at the Visitor Center and climbs 435 feet (133 m) in 1.6 miles (2.6 km). The first third of the trail is relatively level from the Visitor Center to Scott's Spring. From here, the trail climbs rapidly most of the 435 feet (133 m) in 0.8 miles (1.3 km) to the summit parking lot.
The Oregon Trail Pathway is a short trail ascending 85 feet (26 m) in 0.5 miles (0.80 km). The trail begins at the display of a Murphy and Conestoga wagons and ends in Mitchell Pass.
The Bike Path is the only trail available to users other than hikers. It runs from the Visitor Center to the eastern boundary of the park. It drops 50 feet (15 m) in 1.2 miles (1.9 km).[10]

National MonumentEdit

The Department of Interior designated Scotts Bluff and several nearby bluffs as a National Monument on December 12, 1919; they were placed for management under the National Park Service, created just three years prior.

The Oregon Trail Museum and Visitor Center was built at the base of the bluff which serves as a start for hiking tours of the bluffs. Exhibits focus on the westward expansion and pioneers, the drawings and paintings of William Henry Jackson, and the geology and paleontology of the region.

In the 1930s, a roadway leading to the top of Scotts Bluff was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, organized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration. The road goes through three tunnels on its way to the top and provides easy access to the summit.

All historic sites administered by the National Park Service were listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966, when it was established.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Scotts Bluff National Monument". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  2. ^ "Listing of acreage as of December 31, 2011". Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved March 19, 2012.
  3. ^ "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  4. ^ Fitzpatrick, Lillian L. (1960). Nebraska Place-Names. University of Nebraska Press. pp. 128–130. ISBN 0-8032-5060-6.
  5. ^ "It Happened on the Oregon Trail," pg.6, by Tricia Martineau Wagner
  6. ^ The Adventures of Captain Bonneville by Washington Irving - 1838 - pgs. 41-42
  7. ^ "The Twin Cities: Gering and Scottsbluff". Center for Advanced Land Management Information Technologies. University of Nebraska. Retrieved August 23, 2014.
  8. ^ "T2 TANKERS – Q – R – S". Mariners. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  9. ^ "Decision Card". United States Board on Geographical Names. June 11, 1941. Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  10. ^ "Hiking Trails"; Scotts Bluff National Monument; National Park Service
  11. ^ National Park Service (March 13, 2009). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.

External linksEdit