The Five Rocks of Scotts Bluff

Sandstone bluffs, with prominent features labeled as Sentinel Rock, Crown Rock, Eagle Rock, Dome Rock, and Saddle Rock.
Each of the Five Rocks of Scotts Bluff are labeled.


Scotts Bluff

Scotts Bluff, historically referred to as Scotts Bluffs, refers to the range of hills which parallels the river, and is the largest isolated land mass in Nebraska. Although Scotts Bluff was named for Hiram Scott, an employee of the American Fur Company who died here in 1828, it was referred to by many names throughout history such as: Capital Hills, Convent Rock, Gibraltar, Scott’s Rock or Scotts Bluff Mountain to name a few.
  • In 1852, G. A. Smith said, “These bluffs are 2 in number, situated on either side of the road”.
  • In 1853, Leonetto Cipriani described Scotts Bluff as “a semi-circle valley resembling an amphitheater with five enormous, almost regular steps of calcareous blocks”.
  • In the same year, S. H. Taylor said the bluff “is nearly divided but encloses a fine green area like a court, around which, except on the east, rises what seems like an imposing pile of regal buildings in the style of the earlier days of monarchy. It appears as if two immense structures had been raised . . . . East . . . . is a beautiful tower, apparently as perfect in its form as the hand of man could make it . . . . In the center . . . . rises a noble perfect dome”.
  • In 1860, Richard Burton stated that “Scotts Bluffs . . . . are divided into three distinct masses, the largest 800 feet high . . . on the right and next to the river” [Scotts Bluff], then a “second castle” [South Bluff], and “an outwork, a huge detached cylinder” [Dome Rock].
  • Edward Bryant, a future Governor of California, and J. Quinn Thornton both wrote descriptions of Scotts Bluff and nearby hills. They imagined “the ruins of some ancient vast city,” complete with domes, towers, temples, minarets, amphitheaters, frowning parapets, and even “a royal bath”.
A large, cylindrical, sandstone formation rises above farmlands below.


Dome Rock

Dome Rock reaches to 4,396 feet (1,339.90 meters) above sea level. It's summit towers 180 feet (50 meters) above the valley floor. According to early diaries, Dome Rock reminded pioneers of the capitol dome, hence the name. It appears from a distance more like a grain elevator. The name “Dome Rock” was officially adopted by the U.S.G.S. on June 11, 1941, after being submitted by the National Park Service on April 3rd of that same year. Dome Rock has been referred to by many names down through history, such as a: tower, spire, lighthouse, castle, church and cathedral. At one time, Charles Gering owned half of Dome Rock and the National Park Service owned the other half. The Oregon Trail Museum Association (OTMA) purchased Gering’s half and later sold it to the National Park Service.
A sandstone bluff is topped with a sandstone knob.


Crown Rock

This promontory rises 4,557 feet (1,388.97 meters) above sea level. The top of Crown Rock sits 333 feet (101 meters) above the valley floor. Early pioneer diary accounts mention that men would climb up here and roll rocks down on wolves in the trees below to see them run. The crown is the knob of rock on top of the summit.

A sandstone knob rises above the green prairie below.


Sentinel Rock

The squat column sitting on the end of South Bluff rises 4,390 feet (1,338 meters) above sea level. The top of Sentinel Rock sits 166 feet (51 meters) above the valley floor. Sentinel Rock forms the south abutment of Mitchell Pass. The rock is named for the comparatively small block which stands like a watchtower against the sky that formed as the capping layers of strata eroded away. Sentinel Rock was originally referred to as Sentinel Hill. There is a tradition that this pinnacle, as well as that portion of Scotts Bluff which adjoins Mitchell Pass on the north, was used as an observation tower.

A distinctive sandstone formation.
Eagle Rock is one of the most photographed landmarks at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

NPS/Eric Grunwald

Eagle Rock

Looking like a halved dome, Eagle Rock rises 4,482 feet (1,366.11 meters) above sea level. The summit of Eagle Rock lies 258 feet (79 meters) above the valley floor. In 1853, Mariett Foster Cummings stated, “There is a pass through that is guarded on one side by Sugar Loaf Rock [Eagle Rock], on the other by one that resembles a square house with an observatory [Sentinel Rock]. There is one (nearest the river) that is certainly the most magnificent thing I ever saw.” Eagle Rock forms the north side of Mitchell Pass through which thousands of emigrants drove their covered wagons single file and Pony Express riders galloped to deliver mail.

A sandstone formation extends out onto the prairie.
The Saddle Rock Trail traverses portions of its namesake on its way to the summit of Scotts Bluff.


Saddle Rock

This narrow buttress of rock rises 4,659 feet (1,366.11 meters) above sea level, 780 feet (238 meters) above the North Platte River, and 435 feet (133 meters) above the valley floor. Saddle Rock was named for the indention between two thin spires on the bluff’s edge. Saddle Rock has also been referred to as “Motorcycle Rock”, “Grandpa’s Toes”, and “Steamboat Rock” among other names. The Saddle Rock Trail runs from the Visitor Center to the summit of Scotts Bluff and has its own tunnel to walk through.

Last updated: May 18, 2023

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