Nebraska: Chimney Rock

An unmistakable sight in the North Platte River Valley. Chimney Rock sits as a famous landmark in Nebraska. A rock formation that was used as a guide on 3 famous trails heading out west by pioneers. The Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail and California Trail.

Where Is It?

Chimney Rock is located at the south end of the North River Platte Valley. Approximately 4 miles south of the present day town that is Bayard. There are two highways that pass by that give a great opportunity to see the rock when passing. These are Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92.

If you are on the Oregon Trail like me then after leaving the impressive Scotts Bluff, for about 20 miles you will come to Chimney Rock and cannot miss it. The pioneers on the trail so often wrote about the landmark too.

BaldHiker Retreats
chimney rock at dawn

In fact way back when the wagons rolled with the first pioneers heading west, Chimney Rock was noted in journals as the most memorable landmark on the route.

close up top of chimney rock

It is easy to see why. The rock stands as if alone with an original unique shape. The name it came by is easy to see too.

I had got there at sunrise to get the changing colours at dawn. It was difficult to get too close though as the grasslands surrounding are notorious for rattle snakes, not a time to go wandering too far through the rough!

The Name Chimney Rock

Long before pioneers and European immigrants crossed this way west, the land of course was inhabited by the Native Americans. They knew this formation by the cheekily named ‘Elk’s Penis’.

Then in the early 1800s came the fur traders and trappers. In 1827 was the first mention of the name Chimney Rock. The shape of the rock is an obvious clue as to why.

rattlesnakes warning sign

How Was It Formed?

To the south of the rock are cliffs from Bluffs that have eroded away over millions of years. Chimney Rock was part of this raised ground. The geological makeup is clay, volcanic ash and sandstone. The cliffs of the bluffs receded over time. The clay and the ashy rocks eroded over millennia. The harder sandstone is what is protruding at the top, the pillar of the chimney. The sandstone is dated over 25 million years old.

nebraska rock landmark

Ever Changing and Eroding

The rock currently stands at about 286 ft (87 metres). However, we know by sketches, early photography and descriptions that when the first pioneers came through it was much higher. The height has been lowered in just the last couple of hundred years by a lot. This could be further erosion or lightning strikes, as this is the highest point around.

chimney rock on oregon trail

One can only imagine how high it must have been a few hundred or thousand years ago. It is a wonderful sight now as it is but.

the top of chimney rock

I have seen many rock formations and have seen many landmarks. Chimney rock, Nebraska at sunrise is one though I will never forget. The changing colours of the stone, the miles from anywhere, the vastness of the skies and landscape surrounding. Quite a remarkable spot to be at. Unique and wonderful.

view from a distance

I understand why this became one of the most recognisable features and marker points for those heading west. It also showed me more about the fact that Nebraska is not only all about flat land and big skies. I visited another great rock landmark not too far away, Courthouse and Jail Rocks.

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