Chimney Rock – Bayard, Nebraska - Atlas Obscura
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Bayard, Nebraska

Chimney Rock

This erect geological spire was not always named so domestically since the native inhabitants of the area thought it looked more like a penis. 

Chimney Rock stands tall over the Oregon Trail in Nebraska, and many settlers passed it on their way to the American West. However, it wouldn’t be proper telling folks back east that they passed “Elk Penis” on their journey.

Standing an estimated 325 feet over the North Platte River valley in western Nebraska, with a 120-foot spire, Chimney Rock was a landmark on America’s migration westward. The rock is composed of layers of volcanic ash, clay, and tough sandstone that protects the spire. It is so iconic that it was put on the reverse of the Nebraska state quarter along with a covered wagon.  Visitors are welcome to the Rock at the Ethel and Christopher J. Abbot Visitor Center, with a museum detailing the history of the Rock and the western Nebraska area, along with a great glass window to view the Rock.

The name Chimney Rock was first recorded by Joshua Pilcher, a trader and Indian Agent in the area. The Lakota Sioux of the area didn’t use chimneys, so they didn’t use that name. Even the gruff local fur traders would use euphemisms to delicately dance around the Siouan name that meant “Elk Penis,” such as “Elk Peak,” “Elk Brick,” and later, Pilcher’s name of “Chimney Rock” that survives today.