Nebraska covers the first third of the Oregon Trail, which got a lot of traffic in the 19th century when Conestoga wagons full of hopeful Easterners left places like Omaha and Lincoln in pursuit of a golden dream that took them straight across the state. One big landmark they passed was Scotts Bluff, a huge rocky mound on Nebraska’s western edge. Scotts Bluff – named after a fur trapper who died nearby – is a stunning reminder of how a great inland sea once deposited mountains of sediment that were then covered by a rain of volcanic ash before everything hardened into place, only to be battered by fast moving rivers and winds that sculpted the landscape. At Scotts Bluff, with many miles to go on this 2,000 mile journey, some weary travelers “saw the elephant” and turned tail. Now, a well-appointed interpretive center provides some insight into the history made at Scotts Bluff, not only by the forces of nature but by the force of belief in America’s Manifest Destiny that drove so many to seek a new life west of the Rockies. You can hike around the Scotts Bluff National Monument, now managed by the National Park Service, where historical re-enactors will sometimes offer you fresh-made hardtack, prepared in the welcome shade of their wagons. Biting into these tough biscuits, similar to those carried along the trail by many of those headed west, you’ll get a taste of just how hard life was for the brave men and women who dared this overland journey.