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Chimney Rock

Landmark of the Western Trails

Chimney Rock

The geologic formation known as "Chimney Rock" is one of the most famous landmarks along the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails. Located in the valley of the North Platte River, the monument has been known to humans for centuries.

Chimney Rock served as a guide for the trappers and traders on their yearly journeys between the Rocky Mountains and trading posts along the Missouri River. The first white men to view the formation were probably Robert Stuart and his group of traders on their way east from Astoria in the Oregon Country in 1813. The name "Chimney Rock" was first used in Joshua Pilcher's report on his trip up the Platte Valley to rendezvous with fur trappers in the area.

Many men whose names are associated with westward expansion recorded comments, drawings or photographs of the landmark in their journals. Most notable of these men were Captain Benjamin Bonneville, William Sublette, missionary Samuel Parker, artist Alfred J. Miller, Father Pierre DeSmet, historian Francis Parkman, and pioneer artist and photographer William Henry Jackson.

The importance of Chimney Rock to pioneers headed west is most evident in the hundreds of journals left by those passing through this area. To these emigrants it was less of a geologic oddity and more of a milepost on the trails headed west. Coming in site of the sandstone formation, travelers knew that the most difficult part of their journey, the mountain passage, was about to begin. The rock also offered weary travelers a break from their journey in order to camp and water livestock due to the dependable spring found nearby.

During the years of westward migration, some of those passing Chimney Rock made drawings of the unique formation. Others described it with colorful and poetic descriptions. Some compared it to the Bunker Hill Monument or the soon-to-be-built Washington Monument. Others saw in the formation an Egyptian obelisk or the spire of a cathedral. Less flattering descriptions compared it to a "potatoe-hole" or "a haystack with a pole through its top."

 Chimney Rock Sign Chimney Rock


Famous Comments About Chimney Rock
"This is the most remarkable object that I ever saw, and if situated in the states would be visited by persons from all parts of the world."  - Joseph Hackney

"No conception can be formed of the magnitude of this grand work of nature til you stand at its base and look up. If a man does not feel like and insect, then I don't know when he would." - Elisha Perkins

"This afternoon we sight at a distance, the so-called Chimney Rock. Nothing new otherwise. Oh, if there were a tavern here! Toward evening we reached Chimney Rock and camped opposite it." - Charles Preuss

" this place was a singular phenomenon, which is among the curiosities of the country. It is called the Chimney. The lower part is a conical mound rising out of the naked plain; from the summit shoots up a shaft or column, about one hundred and twenty feet in height, from which it derives its name. The height of the a hundred and seventy five yards...and may be seen at the distance of upwards of thirty miles." - Capt. Benjamin Bonneville, 1832

Measuring Chimney Rock

Those who view Chimney Rock inevitably ask "how high is it?" or "how big around is it?" Early attempts to measure the formation found much disagreement about both measurements. In 1830, Warren Angus Ferris estimated Chimney Rock's height as "...half a mile in circumference at the base and rises to the height of three hundred feet."

Captain Eugene Ware in 1864 wrote that he believed the formation had decreased in height from earlier estimates. "We estimated the height of the chimney itself to be eighty-five feet. Elston said that it was the belief of the trappers that during the last fifteen years it had crumbled down from the top about thirty-five feet."

In 1895, the US Geological Survey used scientific instruments, and calculated the elevation of Chimney Rock as 4, 225 feet above sea level. Earlier a forty-niner named David Cosad used a tried-and-true method of measuring his shadow against the rock's, and came up with a figure of 360 feet from base to top. This measurement proved to be within 10 percent of today's measurement.

Today's estimate for the height of Chimney Rock is 325 feet from top to base and 120 feet for the column.


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