Back to Utah – Pioneers and Ruins

Bluff, UT

We have now left Arizona after wandering around the state for a couple of months and have moved on to the four corners section of Utah, one of our favorite places.  We are now tucked nicely into site 12 at Cadillac RV Park in downtown Bluff, UT (pop. 320).

Our friends from Florida, David and Karen (oh yes, Cody too!),  followed from Sedona a couple of days later and are parked next to us.  Together we are going to enjoy some of the great hiking in this area.

Our first activity was to walk across the street for a visit to Bluff Fort Visitor Center.  Bluff Fort was the original group of homes built by Mormon pioneers who arrived in Bluff in 1878 after an unbelievably difficult six month journey across southern Utah.  We watched a video and talked to two docents about the last difficult part of their journey, the climb over Comb Ridge just south of Bluff.  After learning about the pioneers, we got into the Jeep and headed out to visit the site.

Views along the way were quite colorful

To get to the site we drove seven miles to the south on Rte. 163.  At the bottom of a cut through Comb Ridge we left the highway and drove about four miles east on a dusty, one lane, dirt road.  The road has many areas of deep sand that required the use of four wheel drive.  In other areas the path was very rocky  requiring a high clearance vehicle.

After a bumpy, dusty four miles we came to our destination.  The pioneers who made the almost impossible climb up this hill named it San Juan Hill.  Looking at the photo below, the pioneers drove their wagons on to the rocks right where the sign is today.  They first moved up the rocks to the left, then turned right and went diagonally up to the arrow.  You can just see a faint line of the trail they hand dug into the hillside.

Hiking up the “trail” of San Juan Hill

There are many spots where you can see cuts in the rocks left by the iron rim on the wheels of the wagons.

Wagon wheel ruts in the rocks

Near the top someone in the group etched “We thank thee O God” into the rock.

Standing at the top it is difficult to imagine how 250 Mormon pioneers, after six months of struggling through some of the harshest terrain in North America, could drive 27 wooden wagons up that hill!

The arrow points back to the Jeep parked below

Little Cody has turned out to be quite the energetic hiker.  He climbed up the steep rocks and back down with no problem.  But he is a pretty intelligent fellow and hustled back to the Jeep ahead of us.  Once there he found a shady spot to rest and wait for our return.

Once back at the Jeep we continued on the dirt road another mile or so for a visit to the River House Ruins.  The stone dwellings were occupied by Ancestral Puebloans between 900 and the late 1200s.

After a long day of exploring we worked up quite an appetite, so we stopped at what seems to be the best restaurant in Bluff, the Twin Rocks Cafe.  The food is very good here, especially the soup and Indian Fry Bread!

We will be in Bluff for about a week and have a number of great adventures planned.  More on that later . . .

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36 Responses to Back to Utah – Pioneers and Ruins

  1. What can I say, we have never been to Utah and I can’t wait to see all your adventures. So far we are just taking it all in. When our time comes we will follow your footsteps for sure.
    Cody by now is getting spoiled with all the attention he is getting from four adults especially from the nimble hiker 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      Oh, MonaLiza, when you do finally get to Utah, makes sure you plan at least three to four months just for southern Utah. Two years ago we were here for three months just to visit southern Utah and it wasn’t enough time. It is an amazing area with endless places to hike and beautiful scenery all around. You and Steve are in for a treat:)

      Cody is very spoiled! Especially because I always have several little bags of treats:) But it is tough not to spoil him. He has so much personality.

  2. Mary says:

    I have been in Utah a good portion of my life and never been to Bluff. All around there, but not the town. I love that part of the state and the red rock desert.

  3. Becky says:

    Bluff is a fantastic place for visiting some many great rock formations. We have pictures of the Twin Rocks also. Is the old rusted car still across the street? The San Juan Hills looks like a fantastic drive. Will Valley of the Gods or National Bridge Monument be on your itinerary?

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, Becky. the old rusted car is still there. As a matter of fact, Karen pointed it out as we were returning the other day:) Neither place is on our agenda this trip because we visited them two years ago. We did the eight mile hike down in Natural Bridges. What fun!! Karen and David will visit each place.

  4. Laurel says:

    We LOVE that area of Utah! We were there a couple of years ago for a few days and realized that we need at least a couple of weeks to really do it justice. Glad we don’t have to explore it by wagon! Looking forward to your adventures.

  5. We love that area too. And Cody made me laugh sitting there happily in the shade. He’s no fool!
    As we traveled the west I often spared a thought for the pioneers. It’s hard to imagine the tough determination of those people!

    • placestheygo says:

      The Morman’s certainly were an amazing group to continue with the obstacles that were in their path as they moved to Bluff. We struggled to walk up the ridge. We couldn’t imagine wagons making the journey.

      Any stop finds Cody sitting under shade somewhere. He’s one smart little dog:)

  6. jimandbarb says:

    The stone dwellings are absolutely amazing!

  7. We passed through Bluff several years ago but as it was Sunday most places were closed, looks like we need to return. River House looks very interesting. Have fun..

    • placestheygo says:

      Yes, you need to stop if you come this way again. Bluff is just our home base for visiting the many places in this large area filled with rock formations, Indian ruins, petroglyphs, and pictographs.

  8. Fantastic day! Those pioneers were seriously hardy people!

    That is an area we have yet to explore, thanks for the preview!

    • placestheygo says:

      Lisa, you and Hans really have to visit this area. The hiking is amazing with so much to find and discover with each outing. There are very few people around so we are almost always alone. You two will just love it here. And your truck will get you to all the trailheads.

  9. Janna says:

    We are right behind you, still in Arizona though but when we do leave, Bluff will be our first stop.

  10. Sherry says:

    It really is amazing that they drove 12 wagons up there. How cool to be able to hike the same path. I love Pueblo ruins. Thanks for those wonderful pictures. And thanks for the kayak rack link. Sadly you kayaks have to be 12′ or under and ours are 12.5 and 13.5 and we love them so I’m now wondering which jeep you have. Looks like I might be able to put two kayaks on there and 2 bikes on the back. Then I could go to all the great places you go that I’m so envious of. LOL!

  11. Jodee Gravel says:

    We often say, as we crest a new hill, “Wow, can you imagine seeing this for the first time in a wagon?” That cut trail is a great testament to the will of the pioneers who risked everything for freedom and land. Thanks so much for sharing the details. Love the pics of Pam and David and Karen among the dwellings. Native ruins and fry bread – really, there can’t be a stronger draw than that combination!!

  12. Gay says:

    Thanks to you and an extra week, we are off to Prescott in the morning! Looks like we will have to add Bluff to the list…maybe in between Sedona and Moab! Thanks Pam for being a great travel guide!

  13. pmbweaver says:

    I love all the colors in the rocks!

    How could those pioneers drive their wagons up San Juan Hill? All their bones had to be rattling. It looks like you can barely walk up it. What a nice saying at the top.

    River House Ruins look amazing. I just admire how these people were able to survive.

    Paul LOVE Indian Fry Bread. What a gorgeous setting for a restaurant!

    • placestheygo says:

      We are even more amazed at the will of these people after hiking up the route. And this was after they had to blast a path through earlier called Hole in the Rock. This is definitely an area for survivors:)

  14. Erin says:

    Lovely red rock country. I can’t imagine how the pioneers made it up that hill — persistence pays.

  15. Pam Leonard says:

    SO jealous right now, can’t wait to see all your adventures! I love Utah and can’t wait to get back there for some in depth exploring.

    • placestheygo says:

      Utah is my favorite place for sure. We were here two years ago for three months just to visit southern Utah and it wasn’t enough. This area has unending places to visit.

  16. LuAnn says:

    When we finally carve out a large swath of time to explore Utah, I know just the blog to visit for planned activities. 😉 Looks like you guys are having a fabulous time. Cody is one lucky little boy to have the nimble hiker as a friend.

    • placestheygo says:

      Oh, yes, LuAnn, we can keep you busy for many months in this area once you get here:) Yes, Cody gets well taken care of with me along. I bring several little bags of treats, energy bars, and a little chicken:) Gotta keep him fueled for those nine milers!! His dad carries is collapsible water dish. Too bad he isn’t spoiled:)

  17. Bob Hazlett says:

    Could I get you to put the GPS coordinates at the beginning of the post? How’s that for being brash?

  18. Bob Hazlett says:

    Maybe here: 37.283536, -109.553234

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