It is time…you are now ready to finish your journey through the plains and move on to more rugged country. The journey through the plains, while hot and challenging, was also a comparatively enjoyable time for the overland travelers. They were just starting their journey, full of hope for a new day and the new life that lay ahead. The gentle rolling of the wagons was soothing, and other than Windlass Hill, there was a rhythm to their long days. In the evenings, they would gather together and sing to entertain themselves and enjoy each other’s company. They followed along the Platte and then the North Platte Rivers and as the water flowed eastward, they still felt a tie to what they had left behind, probably never to behold again.
Facing forward to what lay ahead, the travelers were about to enter the second phase in their journey. There were hints along the trailside to the changes in terrain coming. After so many weeks of prairie flatland, they now began to see rocky bluffs jutting from the earth in all shapes and sizes. These non-conforming objects bursting forth from the plain were very intriguing. Looking at overland traveler diaries, we can get a sense of what these new discoveries inspired in the hearts of those on the trail:
“Descending we viewed the surrounding scenery which looks more like the ruins of an ancient city with its castles, towers, fortifications, etc. on all sides…Dr. Richards named these bluffs “Bluff Ruins”…” -William Clayton April 29, 1847
“The Bluffs on our rout to day have presented the most singular natural senery that I ever beheld in my travels on the earth. It has the greatest appearance of the old walls & ruins of the castles of Europe…” -Wilford Woodruff May 22, 1847
You can get a taste of these scenes from Rte. 26, which follows the Oregon Trail route to Scottsbluff. Most of this area today is cattle ranches.
Soon, we come to what may be the most mentioned landmark from diaries…Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock has eroded over time and may be slightly underwhelming in comparison to sketches by 1800s travelers, but it is an important part of the trails and a welcoming beacon to our personal favorite bluffs that are yet to come.