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Chimney Rock National Historic Site

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This article is about the landmark in Nebraska along the historic Oregon Trail and Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail; for other uses, see Chimney Rock (disambiguation).

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Chimney Rock is a famous, prominent geological formation in Morrill County in western Nebraska. Rising nearly 300 feet (91 m) above the surrounding North Platte River valley, the peak of Chimney Rock is 4,226 feet (1,288 m) above sea level. During the middle 19th century it served as a landmark along the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail, which ran along the north side of the rock. It is visible for many miles from the east along U.S. Route 26.

History of Chimney Rock

The first recorded mention of 'Chimney Rock' was in 1827 by Joshua Pilcher. Pilcher had journeyed up the Platte River valley to the Salt Lake rendezvous of the Rocky Mountain fur trappers. The first non-natives to see the pillar were probably the Astorians of Robert Stuart in their eastern journey from the Pacific Ocean in 1813. This marker of the plains was recorded in many journals after this time.[1]

Based on sketches, paintings, written accounts, and the 1897 photograph by Darton (shown above), Chimney Rock was taller when it was first seen by settlers, but has been reduced in height since then by erosion and lightning. In the 1990s, a lightning strike that caused rock to tumble off of the spire was recorded by a tourist's video camera.


The pillar consists primarily of Brule clay interlayered with volcanic ash and Arikaree sandstone. The harder sandstone layers near the top have protected the pillar since it broke away from the retreating cliff line to the south.[3]


Chimney Rock has been designated a National Historic Site and is today administered as an "affiliated area" by the National Park Service in cooperation with the Nebraska State Historical Society. Chimney Rock and Independence Rock further west are probably the most famous features along the Oregon Trail.

The Visitor Center features museum exhibits and a video about pioneers and the migrations in the West, as well as a gift shop.

On March 1, 2006, the Nebraska State Quarter was released. The quarter features a covered wagon headed west past Chimney Rock, memorializing Nebraska's role in westward migration.

Nebraska quarter, reverse side, 2006

Chimney Rock as depicted on Nebraska's State Quarter (2006)

See also


  1. Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Nebraska, National Park Service, 1964
  2. Darton, N.H. 1903. Preliminary report on the geology and water resources of Nebraska west of the one hundred and third meridian. United States Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 17, 69 p. (Plate 24 B) (Photo date: 1897)
  3. Chimney Rock National Historic Site; Nebraska State Historical Society, and the National Park Service; 2007

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