Scotts Bluff National Monument is a bit misnamed. In my opinion, it should be Scotts Bluffs National Monument. There are 2 of them, and they are both part of the wonderfully named Wildcat Hills.
Pioneers heading west on three trails saw them. They were considered a bit of an obstacle, so much so that their original route went south and bypassed them. But after the California Gold Rush and a dramatic increase in traffic, it was discovered that an easy trail could be made between them. Mitchell Pass shortened everyone’s route by 8 miles. Now all travelers had to contend with were wind, quicksand, floods, disease, buffalo stampedes, winter, etc.
The excellent visitor center at Scotts Bluff is on top of the old Oregon Trail and tells well the story of their journey west. It has been part of the landscape since 1919. It’s especially good at explaining the Mormon Trail in accurate and interesting detail. Using an odometer to note the distance travelled, 47,000 Saints passed through here. Many folks on the Oregon and California trails nicknamed it the Nebraska Gibraltar. The natives called it Me-a-pa-te, or “hill that is hard to go around”. After West Coast bound pioneers shared this trail with Pony Express riders for a brief time, wagon trains waned. Railroads replaced them.
There is no road to the top of South Bluff. There is. however, one to the very summit of Scotts Bluff and I highly recommend it if you’re in a passenger car. The road is short but twisty and there are 3 tunnels. the view of the town of Scotts Bluff and the surrounding land is lovely from 800 feet above it all. Keep a lookout for rattlesnakes on all area trails. Today, they, not the road, present the greater danger to visitors.
Tomorrow I’ll tell about some really dangerous roads.