Chimney Rock, Nebraska

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Long before you reach Nebraska’s most iconic landmark, you’ve figured out exactly how important it is to the state’s image.  The fragile sandstone spire appears everywhere, from Nebraska’s state welcome signs, to its state quarter.  It’s with good reason that Chimney Rock is so prominent: early settlers were using it as a landmark on their journey, 200 years ago.

Chimney Rock is located 20 miles southeast of Scotts Bluff National Monument, on Nebraska Route 92.  The turnoff for the visitor’s center comes just before you hit the junction with US Hwy. 26.
After staring at Chimney Rock for several miles, I finally came to the turnoff that leads to its visitor’s center.  Actually, I drove past the poorly marked, tiny farm road, then had to make a u-turn.  The road to the visitor’s center comes about as close to Chimney Rock as you can get, so park along the road and hop out, to take your pictures.

Nearly a half-million people passed by Chimney Rock on their journey west along the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails.

With great expectations, I stopped in at the nice, modern visitor’s center, located slightly less than a mile east of the spire.   I paid my $3 admission, and promptly walked out the back door, expecting to have been granted access to some sort of extra-special viewpoint, or perhaps a trail that would take me closer to Chimney Rock.  Instead, the door led to a patio, and a fence.  There was no trail, and the view was no more spectacular than the one from the road.

So, I went back inside and walked around, wondering exactly what I had spent my $3 on.  The visitor’s center is quite nice — it has a film and some displays showing early drawings and pictures of Chimney Rock, as well as an interactive area for children.

I don’t fault the Nebraska State Historical Society for seeking money to fund their projects.  If you’re a history buff that enjoys spending time in museums and visitor’s centers, I strongly urge you to pay the money and have a great time.  But if you’re like me, on a strict budget of time and money, there’s almost no benefit to visiting the visitor’s center (other than buying a souvenir, and why should you have to pay an admission fee to do that?)  Be happy with the view from the road, then move on.

Native Americans had a different name for Chimney Rock: they called it “Elk Penis”.  White settlers weren’t crazy about that name, and quickly changed it.

Continue east on Route 92/US 26, until you reach Bridgeport.  Then, turn south on Route 88, for the short trip to the next set of rocky landmarks, Courthouse and Jail Rocks.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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