Our long travel day on July 9, 2010 included a visit to Scotts Bluff National Monument, an important 19th-century landmark on the Oregon Trail and Mormon Trail. It was our second visit there, our first many years earlier with our kids when they were still living at home.
The park includes a drive, with a free shuttle bus, that goes to the top of the bluff, passing through three tunnels on the way. We opted to ride the shuttle up instead of unhooking our car from the motorhome.
Saddle Rock Trail, 1.6 miles in length, also goes to the top of the bluff. A shorter trail leads from the visitor center to remnants of the old emigrant road that passed by Scotts Bluff. The passage of thousands of wagons through Mitchell Pass left deep cuts in the soil – overgrown with vegetation in the image below.
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. In 1823 explorers rediscovered the route to the Rocky Mountains, 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.
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.
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 Use of the Emigrant Trail tapered off in 1869 after the trail was superseded by the completion of the transcontinental railroad. (Wikipedia)