Update: In Pursuit of a Better Life

The highlight of the past two weeks was getting to spend two days on a site visit to Scotts Bluff National Monument. As a cultural landscape historian, it is very important for me to see the places I am researching and writing about to give me perspective, comprehend the site better, and discover new questions to ask and new ways of formulating my research. Having the opportunity to see Scotts Bluff was very useful for thinking about conceptualizing the landscape, the geography encountered by emigrants, and the geologic change over time.

I was particularly struck by the uniqueness of the monument in contrast to the flat agricultural land all around it. Being able to visually discover how much of a landmark Scotts Bluff would have been to the overland emigrants was very powerful. I have much more of an appreciation for the sights and landmarks identified by emigrants now that I have had the opportunity to see the monument from their perspective.

The geology of the monument stood out to me as quite unique compared to the rest of the landscape. I look forward to working on the geology essay and incorporating themes such as erosion and change over time. I would love to incorporate historic photographs and drawings into my research showing how erosion has changed the shape and size of promontories at the monument in the past two hundred years. Being able to observe the stratigraphy of the rock and how the Brule clay erodes faster than the limestone was a very tangible object lesson that helps make geology a more approachable subject to the layperson. Tangible and visual observations like these are exactly the kinds of things I now know I want to incorporate into the geology essay.

The site visit also made me aware of new potential subjects to explore in the monument/community relationship, especially in terms of water use/irrigation, land management, and viewshed. Several conversations we had with staff revealed the tension in the monument’s relationship with the three ditch companies whose canals cross monument land. This will be a very important story to incorporate into my essay on the monument/community relationship. I was also struck by the proximity of development to the monument land. It was beautiful to be able to stand at the monument summit and see across both Gering and Scottsbluff and the surrounding agricultural land, but at the same time it underscored the fact that this is in many ways an urban site. A compromised viewshed and encroaching development are issues that a number of other NPS sites also deal with, and these are issues that I also want to touch on in the essays.

The trip was also a wonderful opportunity for myself and the rest of the project team to meet the monument staff and seasonal employees and talk to them about our project and work at the monument. I was very encouraged by their excitement and interest in the project, appreciated their insights, ideas, and feedback, and look forward to being able to work collaboratively with them in the months to come. We also had the special treat of getting to meet Jason Kenworthy from the National Park Service’s Geologic Resources Division in Denver. He too was very interested in our project and offered his assistance. He will prove to be an invaluable contact for us, particularly when I begin work on the geology chapter for the project.

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