Nebraska Passport 2016: Happy Jack Chalk Mine, Scotia

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View of the Loup River valley.

I’m not sure what my favorite part was during our visit at the Happy Jack Chalk Mine near Scotia. The mine itself offers an interesting tour and some good history. But, the Happy Jack Peak offers an amazing view of the Loup River valley.

The chalk mine – which isn’t actually chalk – is one of two known diatomite mines in the United States. Diatoms were phytoplankton that lived in a lake at the spot millions of years ago. Ancient mammals, including the sabre tooth tiger once called this area home. But, as the world changed, geology changed. The lake’s water level eventually dropped and the diatoms became “chalk.” There are fossils of water creatures that once lived in the lake. Visitors can see some on the mine’s walls.

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The mine is home to fossils and graffiti on the walls.

Happy Jack Peak – as it’s known in the area – eventually became the highest point along the valley. We climbed it. It’s a challenging climb for anyone, as the terrain is rough and the steps (if you call them that) are uneven. I think it adds to the climb. I’m not sure Lisa agrees.

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Nebraska farmland is beautiful.

Once you reach the top, there is a bench you can rest on. But, the view of the Loup River valley is beautiful. You can see miles of farmland and prairie. It’s another reason why Nebraska is the Good Life. The peak and mine got the name Happy Jack from an old trader and hunter who lived on the side of the hill. “Happy Jack” Swearengen greeted people settling the area in 1872.

Before pioneers settled the area, Native Americans were known to use the peak as a lookout over the area.

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The mine has columns between the chambers.

Eventually, someone thought it was a good idea to mine the chalk underground. The chalk was used as stone for buildings. It took on other uses later. Happy Jack was mined from 1877 until the mid-1900s. It sat empty for years, used in the meantime for parties and car racing. It was closed in 1983 and parts of the caverns filled with debris by the state.

Miners used simple tools, as well as dynamite to mine the chalk. The product was shipped to Omaha via train for processing.

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Examples of tools used for mining.

Happy Jack Mine opened for public tours in 1997. It’s open between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

For more information on the attraction, please visit www.happyjackchalkmine.com.