The Western Trails Scenic and Historic Byway has many attractions to share with visitors. The following itinerary is suggested as a sampling of some of the many things to see and do.
Ogallala: On the eastern edge of the byway is the town of Ogallala. Since cowboys generally were buried with their boots on, the first cemetery in the area was aptly named Boot Hill. Another must-see in Ogallala is Front Street, a replica of some typical businesses from Ogallala's heyday. Visitor attractions include a museum, saloon, and evening entertainment complete with cowboys and dance hall girls.
Lake McConaughy: Known as "Big Mac" to the locals, Lake McConaughy, just outside of Ogallala, is Nebraska's largest reservoir. Camping, boating, surfing, and fishing are popular at this recreation area. And the Bald Eagle Viewing Center below Kingsley Dam, along with the surrounding environs of the lake, attracts one of the largest and most varied bird populations documented in America.
Ash Hollow State Historical Park: Just beyond Big Mac is Ash Hollow State Historical Park, a haven for weary travelers for centuries. Prehistoric Native Americans used the area for encampments, and pioneer wagon trains would rest here for a day or two, refreshed by the sweet springwater. Wagon wheel ruts are still visible on the bluffs of Windlass Hill overlooking Ash Hollow. A visitor center and abundant exhibits help visitors learn about the geology, prehistoric animals, ancient Native American nations, and the pioneer trek west at this prairie oasis.
Courthouse and Jail Rocks: In the absence of modern road signs to guide their way, early travelers used the natural terrain as guideposts. Courthouse and Jail Rocks, located five miles south of Bridgeport on Highway 88, are two remarkable geological formations, which became landmarks along the Oregon and Mormon Trails. They are composed mainly of Brule clay and Gering sandstone, and are the easternmost extension of the Rocky Mountains.
Chimney Rock National Historic Site: Outside of the town of Bayard, 1-1/2 miles south of Highway 92 on Chimney Rock Road is Chimney Rock National Historic Site. Once the most recognized landmark on the Oregon Trail, today the visitor center features original maps made from Captain John C. Frémont's exploration of the Oregon Trail in 1842-43.
Gering: Gering has several sites and activities for travelers. North Platte Valley Museum has an authentic sod house, log house, and military exhibits. Robidoux Trading Post has been faithfully reconstructed using historical information and 100-year-old hand-hewn logs. Farm and Ranch Museum preserves and interprets the agricultural heritage of the Great Plains.
Scotts Bluff National Monument: Continuing west on Highway 92, three miles west of Gering is Scotts Bluff National Monument. Dedicated to preserving the legacy of America's westward movement, this site consists of 3,000 acres of prairie, scenic sandstone bluffs, and the Oregon Trail Museum. Drive or walk to the summit of the majestic natural landmark that was used by countless thousands of Native Americans, fur trappers, and pioneers. The view of the North Platte Valley is truly stunning. Chimney Rock, 25 miles away, is visible in the distance.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument: A scenic drive beyond Scotts Bluff National Monument, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is an internationally recognized fossil site and was once a part of Captain James Cook's Agate Springs Ranch. The nearby beds are a valuable source for 19.2-million-year-old mammal fossils. Cook entertained Chief Red Cloud and other Sioux Indians, and the monument's Cook Collection reflects years of gifts brought by the Native Americans during visits.
Whether ruffians of the Old West capturing their ill-gotten gains or hopeful pioneers on the way to capturing their version of the American dream, their story and more is told on the Western Trails Scenic and Historic Byway.
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