105. Bluff, UT

Monday, Oct 5, 2020

Why would they name it ‘Bluff’? I seem to be surrounded by bluffs created over time by the San Juan River and by wind erosion.

One of the first sights entering this small town is the Twin Rocks Cafe and Trading Post. It’s really a spectacular location.

The RV park is nothing fancy but more than adequate. Full hookups, level gravel sites, shade trees on wide and long pull thru lot. My lot at the extreme right and looking down the short access street to the bluffs.
Two miles down the road is a BLM (Federal Bureau of Land Management) area which contains a primitive campground (no services but the sites are designated and marked) and river raft put in. It is also the location of numerous petroglyphs. Some have disappeared as parts of the cliff face has sloughed off. A few areas have been defaced by human critters having no sense of history but many, though faint, are quite visible.

Tuesday, Oct 6, 2020

I had a touring plan for today. There are lots and lots of available choices.

My RV site is located in the upper right corner just above the little white arrow. The plan was to head SW on Rt 163 with a side trip into the Valley of the Gods, a stop at Mexican Hat, another side trip to Goosenecks State Park, a stop at Forest Gump Point and finally a side trip in Monument Valley just south of the AZ border. Probably 40 miles one way without side trips.

Side trip into the Valley of the Gods.

Valley of the Gods, a sandstone playground, offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. There are no designated campgrounds but ‘dispersed camping’ is allowed (no services, no designated sites – if you can drive there or carry your tent there, you can camp there. There are many scenic turnout type areas where you can camp with lots of wide open areas to hike and beautiful scenes.

A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley. It is sandy and bumpy, with steep sections. It provides a fun drive and is a great place to get away from civilization – to get away from everything associated with modern life.

Mexican Hat. Mexican Hat is a small Navaho community (the whole area from Cortez, CO, southern UT and Northern New Mexico and Arizona is basically part of the Navaho Nation) located along the San Juan River. There’s a 7-11, a store of some kind, some dwellings and the bridge across the river. And a couple miles off Rt 163 on a dirt lane…

Wonder how the town got its name.

The bluffs behind the Mexican Hat provide an interesting backdrop which, when viewed from a far distance, look very much like the ^^^^ border one often sees on a sombrero.

Goosenecks State Park.

Since this was a state park and not a National Park or Monument, my old fart (Golden Age) Pass didn’t get me in free. Had to pay a $5.00 tax to UT to gain access. It was totally worth it as I’ve never seen anything remotely close to this.

The San Juan River makes a series of tight turns – goosenecks – below this viewpoint. The river has carved a deep canyon – about 1,000 feet – below the viewpoint. Geologists say this has uncovered a rock record exposing some 300 million years of time. These goosenecks are officially known as an entrenched meander. The San Juan River twists and turns through the meander, flowing a distance of over six miles while advancing only one and half miles west on its way to Lake Powell.  No drinking water is available, no trails and no access to the river. So what do you get for $5?

An amazing and incredible sight!

What had begun as a beautiful clear day was quickly turning thanks to California’s horrible fires. Nearby views were staying clear but the further the distance, the more hazy, smokey. Tall monuments or mountain formations easily visible from 2-3 miles in the morning/early afternoon were now becoming obscured at the same distance.

Forest Gump Point. I must have seen the indomitable Forest Gump movie 4 or 5 times on TV. And when I noticed that one of its seminal scenes was filmed here on Rt 163, I just had to see it. This was ‘the iconic spot’ where Forest ended his cross country run and if you’ve seen the movie, this spot is instantly recognizable. It’s pretty devoid of traffic and it only takes a minute or two to find yourself on an entirely empty highway and safely take your Forest Gump shot from the middle of the highway. Really fun! Too bad the monuments in the distance were being hazed out but it’s OK. 😎

Monument Valley. This turned out to be disappointing for two reasons. This Navaho Nation land one of the most photographed areas in the country. Towering sandstone pinnacles, desert floors, mesas and buttes abound. Some of the ‘good’ areas are off limits unless you purchase a ride with a Navaho guide. All Navaho functions and venues are closed through the end of 2020 and so most/many views would be long distance. This was a known disappointment reason. The previously unknown second disappointment reason was the haze and smoke was getting worse and anything distant mostly appeared as an apparition. What might be visible to the eye became indistinguishable in the camera lens.

The area, for many over the years, epitomized “the West” as it served as the backdrop for many many western films. One area is named John Ford Point inasmuch as the Western movie director filmed so many scenes there.

Though most was off limits due to tribal regs or smoke effects, early on there there were a few photo ops in an area where the smoke failed to penetrate.

I just need to include a stock photo of the views missed

Weds., Oct 7, 2020

Decided on an easy day today and just hang around Bluff. Bluff is a small town of just over 300 people. Bluff’s 20th century economic history is replete with the rise and fall of mining ventures in coal, gold, oil and uranium, together with the challenges of cattle ranching and farming along the erratic San Juan River.

The area, home to the Navaho and Ute, became the focus of the Mormons in 1880 when the church decided to create a settlement to ‘learn the culture’ of the tribes. 85 families were sent to the Escalade area of UT via established routes and trails. From there there was no direct route with untamed mountains, canyons and the mighty CO River (Glen Canyon/Lake Powell) in the way. The settlers planned on 6 weeks to make the trip from Escalade. Instead, via an epic Hole in the Rock expedition, it took them 6 months just to find a way across the river.

Their goal was the 4 corners area but the group was too tired and discouraged to continue when they reached what is now Bluff, UT. Unsure of how they might be welcomed, they first built an outer wall surrounding their wagons and then over time, built a village within the wall. About 10 yrs ago, with the generosity of a patron, a lone remaining structure of the original settlement, was surrounded by a new fort wall and new replicas of each of the early settlement buildings were built. Also built were the teepees of the Utes and Hogans of the Navaho. At each dwelling, there is a keypad to select the language of your choice (6 offered) and pushing the key, you hear a history of that particular building, who lived there and the family history. Extraordinary well done and totally free admission. I visited the Fort and after drove high above the town where on a bluff is located the town cemetery, the current home of many of those settlers.

Thurs., Oct 8, 2020

About 8 miles west of the campground is an interesting geologic feature. It is a monocline named Comb Ridge. I’ve looked up what that means but not sure I understand land folds etc. I do know that the ridge is along side a vast valley or Mesa and rises up very abruptly 1000 or more feet with cliff feature on both sides. In the case of Comb Ridge, the uninterrupted feature runs runs north south for almost 80 miles and is very distinctive as any 100 story or more 80 mile cliff would be.

There is a one lane dirt trail running on the west side and parallel to the ridge. I decided to take the Jeep off road and drive the trail northward for 17 miles till it joined Rt 95. What a drive. Over rocks for a while and then through the equivalent of a foot or so of fine red beach sand with ruts that throw the Jeep in any direction. About a 1.5 hour drive. The trail evades rocks the size of small houses that have over time broken off the cliff and fallen. It’s too bad that the pictures are unable to provide a sense of scale

Along the short drive from the campground to Comb Ridge
A few sights along the 17 mile drive

I was planning on leaving the area Friday morning but have been unable to find a campsite to the north towards Green River, UT, to the northwest towards Hanksville or Salina, to the south towards Tuba City, AZ, Southwest towards Page AZ or west towards Kanab and Carmel Junction (Zion), UT. As I’m finding, campgrounds are filled with people who don’t need to go in to work and have purchased a camper with which they can escape the COVID19 boredom. So I extended my stay here (albeit to a less desirable site) thru the weekend and I’ll try again to figure out my next destination.

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