I recently took a quick wander along Highway 26, where a blanket of pristine snow covered some of Nebraska’s most iconic landscapes. It was quite a sight to catch Chimney Rock on the horizon as I followed a bend in the road. The monument that I know so well somehow looked totally different against a stark white backdrop, providing some perspective in an otherwise depth-less, snowy, range. Those of you who are part of the “Oregon Trail Generation” (and by that I don’t mean folks who travelled the actual Trail, but kids who grew up playing the classic 80’s and 90’s computer game, “Oregon Trail”) already know that Chimney Rock was a major part of that historic journey, serving as an important marker along the way.
Chimney Rock was probably the most-popular geological formation mentioned by the early pioneers–there are 97 individual references to the monument made in pioneer diaries (that we know of). Spying the monument in the distance told pioneers that the easiest part of their journey west was now behind them, as the long climb over the mountains was about to begin. I can imagine that spotting the rock on the horizon–standing 300 feet above the North Platte River Valley–filled children with wonder, and their parents with dread. It’s hard not to sense the awesomeness of God, however, when you get close to the strange geology of this part of Nebraska. I hope that the pioneers felt that, too: how near God was to them on their journey, even when it must have felt so lonely. One of my favorite books, of course, is the classic Federal Writer’s Project guide to Nebraska. Here’s a little description of Chimney Rock, penned by one of its excellent contributors, in 1939:
Standing 350 feet above the river bed, the landmark affords a good view of the valley and the rugged spur of hills leading up from the Wildcat Hills to the southeast. Franklin B. Bryant, an artist who travelled overland in 1849, likened the formation to the Acropolis, a Mexican pyramid, the crumbling remains of an Egyptian temple, and miscellaneous castles and palaces…
I’d like to add “cathedral” to that list. Happy wanderings, friends! Beware of rattlesnakes and dysentery!