Monday, September 22, 2014

Chimney Rock and Scott's Bluff National Monument

Last time I posted, I was all packed and ready to go.  I've now been back home for almost a month.  Time to start talking a bit about my trip!

I road-tripped to the Rockies from my home in the northern Midwest.  One advantage to this was that I could see things on the way.  I stopped for the first night of driving in mid-Nebraska.  It occurred to me that if I got off the interstate, I wasn't really going very far out of my way to see Scott's Bluff; a location I'd always wanted to see both because it's kinda fun and scenic, and because it's historical, as a pivotal location on three pioneer trails; the Oregon Trail, the California Trail and the Mormon Pioneer Trail.  Not only did I stop at a few historical markers in Hwy 92 (namely Ancient Bluff Ruins and the Brigham Young North Platte River crossing site) but what I really stopped for and got out and walked a bit were at Chimney Rock and the National Monument itself.  Chimney Rock doesn't have any maintained trails, but there is a small visitor center.  If you continue past the visitor center to the small dirt road to the right, you can go to a small turnaround, where there is a use trail (i.e., not maintained, but developed by persistent use) that heads to the base of the monument.

I didn't follow this trail all the way to its conclusion.  Not expecting it to be there, I wasn't really dressed for it, namely I was wearing shorts and the trail is thin and marches through unmowed thick prairie grass.  I did walk far enough to take some pretty decent pictures of the rock itself, and it looks like it continued all the way to the base of the rock were there is a small marker or some sort.  I'd really like to get back to the spot again (maybe with my family; showing them some history as well as some scenery to boot is always a worthwhile activity, right?) and walk all the way up to the marker, at least.  Just need to remember to wear long pants!
Chimney Rock approach.  I didn't have any camera batteries, sadly, at the time, so I had to take pictures with digital zoom on my phone, which are poor quality.  Sorry!

The scenery behind the rock.

More scenery behind Chimney Rock.  If you panned your view about a quarter turn to the right, Chimney Rock would be more or less centered directly in front of you.

Chimney Rock while approaching it on foot.

Closer up view.  You can just see the small marker at the base of the rock.  Unfortunately, as I said above, I didn't get much closer to it than this.
My stop at Chimney Rock and Scott's Bluff National Monument was a bit constrained; although I started the morning pretty early, I had to finish this part of the trip and get back on the interstate before it got too late, because I was due at my sister-in-law's house later in the evening on the eastern end of the Uinta Mountains.  If I'd had long pants, I would have walked at least as far as the small marker you can see in the image above, but I didn't, so I turned around and came back quickly to I could proceed a few more miles into Gering, NE and from there to the Monument.

Scott's Bluff National Monument is relatively small.  There's a road that runs straight through it, and a small visitors' center.  From there, you can park your car and hike up to the top of the bluff itself, where there are a few smaller loop trails.  Or, if you're in a rush, you can drive up to a parking area near the top of the bluff and take the loop trails from there.  Because I was concerned about time, I drove to the top, but as it turned out, I hiked almost all of the way down the trail and back up again.  Next time around, I'll probably not even bother with driving to the top.

The entrance.
Either way, you can see most of what there is to see in just a couple of hours or so.  Scott's Bluff is not a pristine wilderness, it's a few hiking trails on a large rock formation next to two small but attractive little towns, surrounded by a vast sea of prairie.  From the top, you can easily see Gering and Scottsbluff, the two towns, as well as the North Platte River, a few other more distant rock formations (including Chimney Rock), and on extremely clear days, some of the distant mountains of Wyoming across the border.
Mormon handcart replica.

Famous view of Eagle Rock and the wagon replica.
Eagle Rock and a different wagon.

The wagon, but instead of Eagle Rock the slightly more distant Scott's Bluff itself...

The hike up the side of the monument is a scenic one, you get to see the saddle from up close, and you get to walk along a trail that hugs the sheer sides of the bluff too.  There is a small pedestrian tunnel that bores through the monument.  The early part of the hike is thus on the south side, but it finishes up on the north side.  It doesn't end at the parking lot, but rather at a far extremity of the north loop hike on the top.

At the Visitor Center looking at Mitchell Pass

Climbing the bluff on the hiking trail, you can see views like this.

Approaching the saddle on the trail.

The rocks of the saddle.  This is as close as you can get to these rocks without ignoring the signs and the rangers and pressing on across the top of the rocks.  I didn't elect to do that.  :)
On the north side of the bluff trail.

South side summit views. with a clear view of the tunnel that bores through the bluff for the hiking trail.

Visitors center from the south summit loop.

North side summit loop.  I tried to catch a hawk in flight here, but I missed.  Still, a nice view.

Further north side summit view.

The actual summit marker.

 After this, I drove to Vernal, UT, which was pretty fun too.  I was on the interstate most of the time, but got off to drive through Flaming Gorge to get to Vernal.  You can't go to Vernal and not look at some dinosaurs.  I didn't go to Dinosaur National Monument (although I'd love to on another trip sometime!) but I did see the dinosaur museum in Vernal itself.

The national monument straddles the Utah/Colorado border and is actually better known as a scenic destination than one that's really all about the dinosaurs.  It was uplifted in the same orogeny that created the Uintas (although the origin of the rock itself is different, it's usually considered the far eastern vanguard of the Uinta Mountains).

Although in spite of that, of course, a number of very productive fossil beds have been found in the area.
My niece in front of a Stegosaurus skeleton.

Allosaurus fragilis.  Always one of my favorites.  And part of my niece's head...

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