Chimney Rock, Register Cliff and Wagon Ruts Historic Sites
We left Cheyenne and drove about 60 miles east on I-80, then we headed north on Nebraska Route 71 to Gering, NE. Margery found reviews on rvparkreviews.com of a nice city park campground in Gering called Robidoux RV Park. We thought it would be a good place to slow the pace a little, so we made reservations for a week. When we say we wanted to slow the pace a little, that doesn't mean there was nothing to do around Gering. The Oregon, California and Mormon Pioneer Trails all passed through that area, so we also had a number of things to choose from; but our plan was for the sightseeing to be less hectic than it has been recently.
Robidoux RV Park has paved roads, pads and patios. They also have full hookups with 30/50-amp electric, cable and free Wi-Fi. The sites are large with well-manicured grass between the sites. There are back-in sites, pull-throughs and head-in sites. You have to pull into the head-in sites frontwards so they are best suited for motor homes, but we saw a few trailers in them, too. The tow vehicle just has to drive through the grass after unhooking.
A few of the pull-throughs are double sites, which is great if you're traveling with someone, but which kind of negates the advantages of a pull-through if you're by yourselves. We had the rear site of a double pull-through, which meant we had to back out when it came time to leave. No big deal, but we couldn't hook up the toad the night before we left. The good news is they seem to give the regular pull-throughs to people who are only staying one or two nights who may not want to unhook. Some of the double pull-throughs were a little short, so you pull in nose to tail. Fortunately, ours was one of the longer doubles.
The next photo shows the view up the road from our site.
Although there is a little local traffic noise (which all but disappears at night), and you can sometimes hear some distant trains (as we said, trains are everywhere in this part of the country), the campground is generally very quiet.
The daily rate at the campground is reasonable at $25 considering what you get, but the weekly rate of $110 is a real bargain.
The reason so many pioneer trails passed through this area is that is it is a wide valley along the North Platte River. The valley is relatively level, and the river provided a good source of water. In this area of western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming there are a number of things to see relating to the pioneer trails of the 1840s to the 1860s. Although we visited several of these landmarks over a period of several days, we'll group three of them into this post.
About 20 miles to the east of Gering is Chimney Rock National Historic Site. Although it is a national historic site, it is operated by the Nebraska State Historical Society so our America the Beautiful Pass was only good for a $1 per person discount instead of free admission the way it usually is at a national site. However, the admission is only $2 a person after the discount, so it was still very reasonable.
Chimney Rock is a 325-foot tall rock formation with the shape of an inverted funnel that served as a landmark for thousands of early pioneers. The photo below is a view of Chimney Rock from the east.
The visitor center had an excellent movie about the pioneers. Chimney Rock was probably the most recognizable natural landmark along the entire route. From all the pioneers' diaries and journals that survive today, Chimney Rock is mentioned mere than any other natural feature.
The museum also has reproductions of several detailed maps of the pioneer routes from back in the day. It was interesting to read notes about Indians, terrain and water availability along the way. There was also a good time line that helped put things into historical perspective.
Margery was interested in the photographs and stories of individuals who made the journey. In the photo below, she is reading about a man from Wayne County, Ohio who crossed the plains in 1850. The man gives advice to others who are making the trek to California.
There are views of the east side of Chimney Rock from the visitor center, and there is also a dirt road that goes from behind the visitor center where you can get a little closer and get a view from the southeast. Notice how the spire appears to be more blunt from this angle.
The bees were busy around the sunflowers that surrounded the parking area. Check out the one in mid-air on the far left.
Chimney Rock is made up of layers of sedimentary rock and clay that came from an inland sea that covered the area and from volcanic ash from the west. The layers were worn away by water and wind leaving Chimney Rock standing alone as the adjacent bluff retreated. Harder sandstone at the top helps protect the formation from erosion. The next photo is a more distant shot that shows Chimney Rock and the bluff on the left of which it was once a part.
More than 90 miles to the west of Chimney Rock and about 70 miles west of where we were staying in Gering, NE, is another landmark called Register Cliff. Register Cliff is near Guernsey, WY. Register Cliff is a 100-foot high, soft sandstone cliff adjacent to an emigrant campground where more than 700 pioneers carved their names to mark their presence...
...like the one from 1855.
Names were also left here after the decline of the pioneer trails. Soldiers from nearby Fort Laramie occasionally carved their names as well as ranchers and cowboys. Unfortunately, there are many modern names here, too, many of them carved right over the historic names from the past. At least there's a fence to protect some of the older names.
Less than 2 miles farther down the trail from Register Cliff is Wagon Ruts State Historic Site. Here, the passage of thousands of wagons have cut ruts deep into the soft sandstone.
Most of the time, the wagons would have spread out during their travel and would not have directly followed other wagons to minimize their exposure to dust. However, there were a limited number of good paths over these rocks, so thay had no choice but to follow one another.
The next photo is looking back toward the east. At the deepest point, the ruts are cut 4 or 5 feet deep into the rock.
Between Chimney Rock to the east of where we were staying and Wagon Ruts Historic Site to the west, we visited a couple of other places related to the pioneer trails. We'll have more info in the next couple of posts.