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Chimney Rock

April 7, 2010

Probably my first introduction to the state of Nebraska came from a childhood game? (book? puzzle?) that included illustrations of each state’s commodities. I recall that Nebraska was represented by beef cattle and corn. My next acquaintance with the state was an I-80 drive-through on my way from Illinois to Colorado for spring break. It was interesting to watch how farms and towns got more and more sparse the further west I got, until I was in unfamiliar grassy terrain that I could imagine a herd of bison thundering over. Perhaps the next time I thought of Nebraska was when the U.S. Postal Service came out with “vintage postcard” stamps of all 50 states. I noticed the pioneer wagon on Nebraska’s stamp, but at the time didn’t pay much attention to Scotts Bluff in the background.

Then the state quarters started coming out. It was like a little treasure hunt every time I got change. Which states would I get this time? I found it fascinating to see what was chosen to represent each state, and to hear about the controversies surrounding the selection process. I don’t know if there was controversy in the Nebraska state quarter design selection, but I find it interesting that one of the contenders was an image of Chief Standing Bear and the phrase “equality before the law”. Wow. Painful irony. But very interesting history that more Americans should know about.

Soooo, the point of all this intro was to get to the fact that Nebraska chose another visually interesting western landmark to represent the state: Chimney Rock. Upon seeing the Nebraska quarter, I recall thinking “wow, Nebraska’s not all flat?” No, it is not all flat. And a women’s t-shirt available at Mike’s Husker Stuff plays on this fact, with the phrase “not everything in Nebraska is flat”. Ahem . . .

OK, back to Chimney Rock, which, if you have read anything about local history, you will know was not originally named Chimney Rock. The Rock is an interesting and distinctive landmark that has caught people’s attention for centuries. The first people around these parts did not live in buildings with chimneys, but they did know a lot about the local fauna. Think elk. Male elk.

Perhaps we should have kept that original name, or one of the others suggested in a display at the Chimney Rock National Historic Site, since when one Googles “chimney rock”, the first couple of hits are for a Chimney Rock in North Carolina. Whaaa? I know. My new-forged Nebraska panhandle pride is just bubbling with indignation right now. WE have the coolest Chimney Rock! (Okay, so you get to climb on the North Carolina Chimney Rock, but theirs is all hidden in forest rather than being outstanding on the plains. Ours is way more photogenic!)

O, Chimney Rock, thou photogenic phallus

You might think, enh, I’ve seen so many pictures of Chimney Rock, why do I need to go there in person? Well, for one, the pictures don’t allow you to hear the western meadowlarks (Nebraska’s state bird) calling out their territories. The best birdie seat in the house appears to be the peak of the visitor center; the metal roof amplifies the singer’s call. For two, you’d miss the displays at the Ethel and Christopher J. Abbott Visitor Center. I was tempted to attend several of the educational presentations at the center in February and March, “Sunday Afternoon at the Rock“, but I managed to miss all of them this year. I finally visited in early April, and there are three things I love about this visitor center:

  1. The displays are peppered with numerous quotations from personal accounts. I am a sucker for autobiography and the eyewitness account, but there is so much material written by pioneers and soldiers and hunters and explorers who visited the area over the years that I really appreciate the museum selecting some of the gems for me.
  2. The gift shop is full of books (which the staff person on duty when we visited last week noted was a blessing for her in the slow off-season). I love books!! And many of those books contain personal, eyewitness accounts! I had to restrain my credit-card arm. I kept telling myself “the library probably has all these books, too.”
  3. Humans have a habit of recording their presence on local landmarks, and over the years, Chimney Rock was scarred by hundreds of names carved into the sandstone. People are no longer allowed to walk up to The Rock and make their mark. However, visitors are encouraged to draw or write about their impressions of Chimney Rock on a postcard, and the museum includes a display of these renderings. This was my favorite part of the museum! Below are some choice selections. Why not visit and contribute your own view and see if your postcard winds up on display?

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2010 5:43 pm

    Did they give you any stats as to how quickly the sandstone is deteriorating from wind erosion?

    • Katie Bradshaw permalink*
      April 7, 2010 6:13 pm

      No, they aren’t able to predict erosion rate, since it’s “episodic”.

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