Bluff Fort Historic Site

Bluff Fort   |  Rosie Serago
  • Weather: Sunny, 87F

In 1880, Mormon pioneers went looking to establish a mission on the San Juan River in an area that was known to be a hideout for lawless men. The mission, Mormon leaders believed, would be a tool to establish law and order, maintain friendly relations with the Native Americans, and create a safe haven for settlers of the state.

For visitors on longer journeys through Southern Utah make note: where you stand now is the remote point on a map chosen for settlement by community leaders some 260 miles away. You’ll make the drive in a few hours today, taking a scenic and paved highway over a modern marvel in bridge engineering across Lake Powell.

Back then? Weeks turned into months. There was sandstone blasting. A harsh winter. A rest at Bluff was well-earned.

Here’s the full story: Seventy families consisting of 250 men, women, and children left the community of Escalante to put roots down in Bluff. They endured harsh winter conditions and perilous overland travel, and established the now-famous Hole-in-the-Rock-Trail. The pioneers expected the journey to be 125 miles and last a mere six weeks. Instead, it took them six weeks just to blast an impressive path (Hole-in-the-Rock) into the cliffs to create safe passage through a treacherous 1,200-foot drop and the journey stretched to 260 miles. Between that and Crossing Comb Ridge, this journey was harrowing for these travelers, to say the least.

The pioneers endured, and the perilous expedition led to the creation of a community around Bluff Fort. Life was not easy for these settlers — the nearby San Juan River proved to be wild and unpredictable, and farming was challenging in the arid climate. Eventually, most of the original families moved away to the nearby towns of Monticello and Blanding. But luckily, the town’s rich history remains on display today at the Bluff Fort Historic Site.

When you visit this area, you’ll really get a feeling for what life was like as a pioneer. You can walk around the original Bluff Fort, that has been rebuilt and restored through the efforts of the local organization, the Hole in the Rock Foundation. At the fort, you can learn about the travels and experiences of these hardy pioneers, the astonishing engineering of the trail, and early life in the desert of southeastern Utah.

One of the original cabins does still exist, and replicas of other small cabins, a meeting house, and a co-op offer glimpses into life on the San Juan River in the 1880s. The co-op replica, finished in 2013, now serves as the visitor center and gift shop. Bluff Fort also features a Navajo Hogan and Ute tepee, as well as resources on local history.

Bluff Fort is located on 550 East Black Locust, in Bluff, Utah, and is open year-round, Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission to Bluff Fort is free.

GPS Coordinates: 37.2834751, -109.5531396

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