Arches National Park
Bluff is a small town located in the San Juan River Valley in the southeastern corner of Utah.
Bluff is located along U.S. Highway 191, bordered on the south by the San Juan River and the Navajo Nation, and farmland to the east. Red sandstone bluffs which soar to 300 feet high lie to the north of town and gives Bluff it's name.
Native Americans have contributed to the religion, arts and folklore of the region.Yearly activities in Bluff include the winter Balloon Festival, the Navajo Fair & Rodeo, and the Bluff Arts Festival. For Bluff's calendar of events, visit; Bluff.Org
In prehistoric times until about 1300 A.D., the area around Bluff
was home to two distinct desert cultures, the Basket Makers and the
Cliff Dwellers, also generally known as the Anasazi culture. Abandoned
dwellings, farms, roads, burial sites, petroglyphs, and pottery remain
behind today, telling the stories of ancient inhabitants who were
well adapted to the country many centuries ago.
Following these prehistoric cultures, nomadic tribes of Paiutes, Utes,
and Navajos were well established in the San Juan country area by
the late 1500's. San Juan Band Paiutes hunted rabbits, deer and mountain
sheep; foraged for seeds and roots, and irrigated corn, squash and
melons along the river bottoms. Utes took full advantage of the introduction
of the horse and lived a life similar to the Plains Indian cultures.
Spanish explorers in the 1700's may have traversed this area, but no white settlers called the Bluff valley home until 1878. Historic Bluff City was founded in 1880 by the famous "Hole in the Rock" expedition of Mormon (Latter-Day Saint) pioneers, whose mission was to establish an agrarian community on the San Juan River. The original fort and historic village of log homes was laid out with the church, school, and co-op store in the center, and was surrounded by agricultural fields and orchards. Farming along the San Juan River proved uncertain, for the river either flooded or went dry too often for dependable irrigation.
During the livestock boom period, 1886-1905, Bluff's original rough log cabins were replaced by substantial hand-hewn red sandstone houses in the Victorian Eclectic style, some quite large and elegant, others built of wood frame lumber. A number of these homes are now listed on the National Historic Register. A virtual tour has been assembled for those of you interested in the early architecture of Bluff.
Bluff's 20th century economic history is replete with the rise and fall of mining ventures in coal, oil and uranium, together with the challenges of cattle ranching and farming along the erratic San Juan River.
Today, Bluff is an active center for artists and crafts people as well as others involved in oil exploration, farming and ranching. Within this area of national parks, prehistoric sites, diverse cultures, wild canyons and river recreation, tourism has become a strong component in the local economy.
The town of Bluff is located in a unique area of the country offering access to just about any type of backcountry adventure imaginable.
Take off from Bluff to the west to discover the incomparable Cedar Mesa. Driving the exciting Mokee Dugway on Highway 261 or coming in from the north on Scenic Byway Highway 95, leads to some of the most beautiful canyons to be found anywhere!
The trailheads for these canyons are accessed by dirt roads, some of which may require four-wheel-drive. Exploring the canyons can be as short as a day hike or, for the more adventurous, provides opportunities of up to a week or more of hiking through spectacular scenery while investigating the ruins of the Anasazi culture of a thousand years ago. Some of the canyons offer arches and bridges carved by millions of years of erosion and slickrock trails for smooth walking. There are many dramatically different canyons offering opportunities for return visits to see them all.
A word of caution is in order: The archaeological sites are VERY FRAGILE. Climbing and pulling on the walls is forbidden as is taking ANYTHING from the site including artifacts and other remains. Please take the time to learn about the Anasazi and the proper protocol for visiting these sites.
Surrounding Bluff are still more canyons and mesa-tops to explore. These areas can be easy day hikes from roads just outside of town and offer more rock art panels, ruins and just great views of the amazing desert.
One of Bluff's most popular spots is the BLM Sand Island Camping Area. It is the put-in for the famous San Juan River trips in the region. Even if not taking off on a river trip, be sure to stop to see some of the most telling examples of many ages of rock art. From ancient times many cultures have left their mark and told their stories on the painted walls along the San Juan corridor. Then spend one day or many traveling the river know for the steepest gradient in North America!
A fast moving river without technical whitewater, it is a challenging trip with opportunities to view layers of geological formations and to visit fascinating rock art and ruins on short hikes along the way. Whether traveling all 84 miles to Clay Hills take-out for a multi-day trip or just doing the 26 miles to Mexican hat - in one day or a few - the San Juan features a trip that is enjoyable for the entire family. From senior citizens to kids with water-fight buckets, everyone enjoys trips through the scenic canyons of the San Juan.
Mountain bike enthusiasts will find a pleasant diversion from slickrock trails here in Bluff. There are many dirt roads taking off just outside of town that lead to wonderful views, interesting archaeology and just great rides.
Only 25 miles north of Bluff are the Abajo Mountains offering a cool break for the summer visitor and even backcountry skiing in the winter. The 10,000 feet of elevation showcases lakes for fishing and easy access by paved and unpaved roads for spectacular vistas and shady picnics.
Remember to contact the appropriate agency to obtain permits for camping, hikes or river trips. If possible, hire a guide to lead those trips. Bluff has experienced, knowledgeable and enthusiastic backcountry guides and river outfitters trained to help find exciting places, better understand what is being examined and explain ways to help preserve the sites for future visits and archaeological interpretation.
Come to Bluff for adventure because as the saying goes: There IS something for everyone.