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About - Independence Rock

Description:

Independence Rock State Historic Site is on the south side of State Route 220 at the Independence Rock Rest Area.

Independence Rock stands 6,028 feet (1,808.3m) above sea level. The tallest point of the rock is 136 feet (40.8m) above the surrounding terrain. If one were to walk around the base of this rock, the distance covered would be more than a mile, or 5,900 feet (1.8km). The mass of Independence Rock is equal to an area of 24.81 acres (9.924 ha). Windblown sand and silt have grooved the rock and polished it to a high gloss in a process called "windfaceting." It is because of this smoother surface that the pioneers were able to easily carve their names into the rock. It was the names carved in stone here that caused Father Peter J. DeSmet to appropriately name this place "The Register of the Desert" in 1840. Register Cliff and Names Hill also contain names left by the pioneers. There is no camping at this site.


History:

This is one of the most noted landmarks along the emigrant trails. Popular legend says that the emigrants needed to reach Independence Rock by July 4, thereby giving it its name. But emigrants arrived at this site throughout the traveling season. Its name actually comes from a party of fur trappers who camped here on July 4, 1824. The large granite outcropping is 1,900 feet long and 700 feet wide and rises 128 feet. J. Goldsborough Bruff said it looked "like a huge whale" from a distance. The site was a popular camping site.

While encamped here, many many emigrants inscribed their names on the sturdy granite. Milo J. Ayers inscription is as early as 1842, fur trapper Rufus B. Sage noted that "the surface is covered with names of travelers, traders, trappers and emigrants, engraved upon it in almost ever practicable part, for the distance of many feet above its base…." The Jesuit missionary, Pierre Jean De Smet, is credited with giving it the name "Great Register of the Desert."

Names were placed on the rock through engraving or by painting them with wagon grease, tar or a combination of buffalo grease and glue. Over Independence Rock many of these names have flaked off or been obscured by lichens. Despite this, thousands of names remain and are a source of delight to those who climb the rock.

 
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Site Status

 

Open year-round

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Hours

 

Site grounds open 24 hours.

Season

  • Grounds and facilities open year-round, weather permitting.