As if lifted from within the earth, a formation of clay, sandstone and volcanic ash known today as Courthouse Rock towers above the open prairie. Lesser known than Chimney Rock a few miles to the west, Courthouse Rock and its little brother, Jail Rock, were nonetheless important and identifiable landmarks for settlers in the early pioneer days. Early travelers on the Oregon, Mormon or Pony Express trails called the rock a “castle” or “capitol” for its resemblance to a large building, before settling on “courthouse.” A remaining symbol of days gone by, Courthouse Rock sits in the panhandle of Nebraska south of the town of Bridgeport. Not far from Highway 88 out of town, a small gravel road leads out to the two bluffs, making them very accessible.
Weather At Courthouse Rock
Nebraska is generally hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Courthouse Rock lies in the western part of the state, in a semi-arid climate, which means little rainfall, though this doesn’t exclude the region from powerful storms. On the prairie, the weather can change suddenly, and this tumultuous weather often makes for good images. Regardless of time of year, I recommend long pants as you may run into prickly yucca plants, ticks and the occasional cacti when climbing around Courthouse Rock.
Photo Experience At Courthouse Rock
I spent a warm August morning at Courthouse Rock looking for a view that would capture the feel of this rocky butte on the prairie. For that perspective, I chose to go wide to include the entire scene—sky, flowers and bluff. Additionally, I utilized a polarizing filter, to slightly darken the blue of the sky and add contrast. While I normally espouse the “golden” or “blue” hours for the best times to shoot, this image happened to be captured later in the morning, when the sun was higher. On this day, the clouds cooperated nicely, and the sunflowers were at their peak, an example that a successful landscape image can be made at any hour.
Each season brings a unique nuance to the landscape. Spring features blooming, colorful wildflowers and summer produces amazing storms that frequently reveal a rainbow as the finale. During the autumn, trees and prairie grass transition to warmer hues, and in the winter snow is a nice contrast to any landscape. Besides the occasional buzz of a bug or the sound of a slight breeze across the plains, silence will reign. As such, be prepared for a solitary experience, as this location is off the beaten path. Whenever you visit, be certain to enjoy the time to yourself and explore different angles and compositions of the unique Courthouse Rock rising from the plains.
Contact: National Park Service, nps.gov/nr/travel/scotts_bluff/courthouse_jail_rocks.html.
See more of Derrald Farnsworth-Livingston’s photography at www.journeyoflight.com.