Chimney Rock – Bayard, Nebraska - Atlas Obscura

Chimney Rock

Bayard, Nebraska

This erect, phallic geological spire wasn't always named so domestically. 


Chimney Rock stands tall over the Oregon Trail in Nebraska, and many settlers passed it on their way to the American West. Over time, it gained a new name, as 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 European settlers’ migrations 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. 

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.

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.

If the visitor center does not happen to be open, there are also clear views of the spire from the approaching roadways.  

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