Towering over the prairie, Scotts Bluff National Monument is a big drawn in northwest Nebraska. The city’s name is one word – Scottsbluff. I recently spoke at the Nebraska Tourism Conference in Gering. The two cities are only a couple of miles apart. Gering was founded in 1887 and Scottsbluff in 1899. Both have deep roots in indigenous, pioneer, ranching, and railroad histories. Here’s how I spent one night in Gering and Scottsbluff.
Scotts Bluff National Monument
This was my second visit to Scotts Bluff National Monument, but my friend Adeina hadn’t been to it before. After our 3 hour drive from Denver we made it our first stop. Pioneers collectively called it and others like it in the area Scotts Bluff. After a quick stop in the visitor center, we did the 5 minute drive to the top. We only had 30 minutes to explore and drive back down because this time of year the road closes at 4:30 p.m. Even if the road is closed you can still hike or bike between sunrise and sunset. Since I had been there before I suggested we do the South Overlook Trail. It’s the shorter of the two trails at the top. It’s typically windy at the top and it was that afternoon. While taking in the view from two spots I admired the geology. 22 million years ago the surface of the surrounding plains was as high as Scotts Bluff. About 3 million years ago, the Platte River and its tributaries started eroding the high plains. Today Scotts Bluff, Wildcat Hills, and other erosion resistant remnants in the area are the only remains of the high plains.
We spent the night in Gering staying at Monument Inn & Suites. The clean and affordable hotel is only 5 minutes from Scotts Bluff National Monument. We went to dinner with a couple of conference friends at Flyover Brewing Company in downtown Scottsbluff. The margarita pizza drizzled with balsamic vinegar and the local cider were delicious.
Early Morning Walk in Gering
The next morning we went for an early walk to explore Gering. We grabbed a latte at Emporium Express Bean & Bottle. It’s a coffeeshop with a wine bar vibe. As we were walking back to the hotel, we decided to pop in the Gering Bakery because we noticed a steady stream of people patroning the shop. Since they’re known for their donuts, I tried two donut holes. Part of research right? Last stop was to check out mural on the side of a tavern in a cool old building. The Huskers love for Univeristy of Nebraska is statewide.
Chimney Rock National Historic Site
It’s about a 20-minute drive from Gering to Chimney Rock National Historic Site. You see the sandstone spire rising 350 feet high from the North Platte River Valley for miles before you get to it. The hiking trails are free but there is a charge for the museum in the visitor center. It’s $8 for adult. Because there was a school group already in the museum, Adeina and I decided to do the Walk to the Rock first. From the visitor center, we started on Trail D (The Community Trail). At the intersection with Trail C, we went to the left. It was windy and chilly, but otherwise a beautiful morning. I was actually thankful for the chilly temperatures because there are “Warning Rattlesnakes” sign and I know snakes don’t like the cold.
A staggering statistic is over half a million people passed chimney rock on the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails from the early 1840s to the late 1860s as part of America’s westward expansion. Chimney Rock was a key stop on the Oregon Trail and was written about by pioneers more than any other place on the trails. There was a Pony Express station between the Platte River and Chimney Rock, but it only operated for 18 months. I found it fascinating to learn an estimated 95-97% of immigrants who kept trail diaries wrote about Chimney Rock. The telegraph, and railroads also followed the same Platte River Valley route.
When Trail C intersected Trail A, we continued left to do the loop that is slightly over a mile long including the Dillon Bridge and a short hill to take the last stretch of Trail A back to Trail C and retrace our steps back to the visitor center. Our walk was right at 1.75 miles. On the way back, you get an expansive view of cornfields and other farmland. As we were walking, I kept thinking about what pioneers must’ve thought when they were coming this way and Chimney Rock was a beacon on the Plains.
Back at the visitor center, the bathroom has interesting signs of information on the stall doors. I went into the stall that had information on the alarming animals of the Overland Trails including the mountain lion and gray wolf. On the bathroom mirror, there are average heights listed from the 1860s so you can see how you compare. At 5’6”, I discovered I’m the height of an average male in the 1860s!
People have lived in the valley for at least 13,000 years and there are some artifacts in the small museum. There are a couple of interactive exhibits, including a Load the Wagon where you choose your supplies and load them into the wagon. My favorite is the Wheel of Fate. You can spend the wheel to see what your fate on the trail would be. We laughed as we spun a couple of times. Adeina got wagon overloaded on her first spin. My first fate was to have a baby on the trail. On my second spin I got a broken leg. My third spin was the most fun getting to mail a letter home to Fort Laramie for a free spin then getting a busted wagon.
Back in Gering, we grabbed brunch at The Mixing Bowl. Several locals had recommended the place and it lived up to the hype. I went for the burrito with hash browns, egg, avocado, and cheddar cheese served with homemade salsa.
After speaking at the Nebraska Tourism Conference, we hit the road heading east toward Valentine for an adventure along the Niobrara River.
Author Jennifer Broome has visited Nebraska multiple times including her first visit to Scotts Bluff National Monument. For other cool adventures in Nebraska, check out posts Carhenge is America’s Stonehenge, World’s Largest Sandhill Crane Migration, and Visiting Homestead National Historical Park. For road trips in Nebraska and beyond in the Heartland, check out post Places You Need to Visit on The Plains for Outdoor Adventure.