Since 1841, Nebraska's Platte River Valley has been the historic highway of westward migration. In this area, the overland trail divided into two branches, one which followed the North and the other the South Forks of the River. Emigrants bound for Oregon or California crossed the South Platte near here and proceeded up the North Platte Valley past such milestones as Chimney Rock and Scott's Bluffs. After gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains in 1859, an increasing number of travelers followed the South Fork of the Platte to Denver and the mining camps.
Although the South Platte could be forded at several points, most frequently used was the "Old California Crossing," several miles east of present Big Springs. No matter which crossing was chosen, the wide, sandy river proved a formidable obstacle for the emigrants and their heavily laden wagons.
Today, the Platte Valley remains an important thoroughfare across Nebraska and the Nation. A few miles east of here I-80 divides into two major routes, recalling the role of the South Platte Region as a junction for overland travel in the 19th Century.
Department of Roads
Nebraska State Historical Society
Big Springs Rest Area I-80, east bound