Northwest Nebraska is full of surprises
Travels with Deb
Scotts Bluff National Monument preserves 3,000 acres of unique land formations that are in contrast to the otherwise flat prairie landscape. These geological features are comprised of sandstone, siltstone, volcanic ash and limestone, and have been weathered over time. Like Chimney Rock, they are slowly disappearing as a result of the forces of wind and water.
If you want to hike to the top of the bluff, take the three-mile out and back Saddle Rock Trail, which begins from the Visitor Center. As you walk, you’ll pass through different layers of the formation. When you reach the summit, there are a couple short spur paths, which provide picturesque views of the surrounding area. You can just imagine the covered wagons coming across the plains and the pioneers catching their first glimpse of this looming tower.
It’s also possible to drive the Summit Road up to the top if you prefer not to hike the trail. The road winds around and goes through a few tunnels before arriving at the Summit parking lot.
To learn more about the history of the North Platte Valley, as well as the area’s Native Americans and the country’s westward expansion, visit the nearby Legacy of the Plains Museum. Among the displays are pioneer artifacts, antique tractors and farm implements, an 80-acre working farm and historic farmstead.
About an hour away near Harrison, Nebraska, is Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, one of the most
prolific bone beds of the Great Age of Mammals. The area was set aside to preserve the unique paleontology of the area, as well as provide a venue to display and care for a noted collection of Native American artifacts.
Millions of years ago, when the land was a grassy savanna, prehistoric creatures such as the Dinohyus (a giant pig-like animal), Stenomylus (small gazelle-camel) and Menoceras (short rhino) ranged. They died during a period of climate change, which caused a massive drought. Hoofprints from these animals, as well as layers of fossilized bones can be found throughout the area.
There are two main excavation sites, Carnegie Hill and University Hill. The Fossil Hills Trail takes you to Carnegie Hill, where most of the digging took place in the early 1900s. Further down the road, the Devil’s Corkscrew Trail leads to the fossilized burrows of the small beaver Palaeocastor.
Unfortunately, with the Visitor Center closed, it’s impossible to view the collection of Native American artifacts.
And then there’s Carhenge. Though not an historic site nor a geologic formation, this roadside attraction is of interest simply because it’s so bizarre. This replica of England’s Stonehenge is located near Alliance, Nebraska. Instead of being constructed of large stones, as in the case of Stonehenge, it’s built from vintage American cars, covered with gray spray paint.
Carhenge was the brainchild of Jim Reinders and meant to be a memorial to his father. Reinders, a local man, had lived in England and was familiar with Stonehenge’s proportions and structure. When he returned home, he set about making his vision a reality. It involved rescuing 38 cars from nearby farms and dumps. The cars date from the 50s and 60s because their dimensions equaled those of the stones at Stonehenge.