Honaker Trail- Bears Ears National Monument

Honaker Trail, San Juan County, Utah
Honaker Trail- Bears Ears National Monument- San Juan County, Utah

Almost exactly 11 years ago my husband and I started hiking the Honaker Trail. I say, ‘started’ because I was pregnant at the time and just didn’t have the energy to complete the full 5 mile round trip hike, which descends about 1,200 feet down to the San Juan River. (Going down wouldn’t have been a problem- it was the coming back up that I was worried about!) We hiked about 1/2- 1/3 of the trail then we turned around, and it’s hung over my head and bothered me ever since. For the past 3 years or so since I’ve felt like my son was able to do a 5+ mile hike, I’ve been suggesting the Honaker Trail whenever we’re trying to figure out where to hike on the weekends, but for one reason or another we just never made it back.

First attempt at the Honaker Trail- February 2012

The annual Bluff International Balloon Festival was held just a couple weekends ago, and we were headed down to Bluff that Saturday for both the Art Market during the day and the Glow-in in the evening, so we decided to do a hike in between the two. Of course I took that opportunity to plead my case to my husband that it would be the perfect opportunity to do the Honaker Trail. He had been resisting for the past couple years thinking that the trail was a little too sketchy to take our son on, but he finally gave in.

After a quick stop at the Art Market at the Bluff Balloon Festival, we continued down to the Honaker trailhead, which is about 40 minutes south of Bluff and 20-25 minutes northwest of Mexican Hat, UT. The Honaker Trail is located on the very southern tip of Bears Ears National Monument, and the trailhead is accessed off Hwy 316, which is the road that leads to Goosenecks State Park. The trailhead is only about 15-20 minutes from Goosenecks, so if you’re planning to hike the Honaker Trail, be sure to stop at Goosenecks State Park- the view is spectacular! (Think Horseshoe Bend times 3!!)

We knew we were pushing it time-wise since we were starting the hike at about 2:00pm, and the Glow-in at the Bluff Balloon Festival started at 5:00pm, but we figured we’d at least be able to catch the end of the Glow-in if we didn’t take too many breaks on our hike.

Honaker Trailhead- Bears Ears National Monument- San Juan County, Utah

Even though I’d been there before and had hiked part of the trail, as we were walking up to the rim of the canyon I couldn’t see where the trail started. I remembered that there was a large pile of rocks marking the trailhead, but as you approach the canyon rim, you really can’t see the trail at all. Once you are standing at the pile of rocks, you can see a narrow trail that begins the descent down into the canyon just to the left of the rocks.

Horn Point- Honaker Bears Ears National Monument- San Juan County, UT

A significant feature along the trail is a rock called, ‘Horn Point’, that juts out from the rest of the canyon wall. I think it’s pretty much a halfway point, and after you pass it the trail definitely gets a little more rough. If you’re hiking with very young children, or just looking for a shorter hike, this would be a good place to turn around.

Honaker Trail- Bears Ears National Monument- San Juan County, UT

The Honaker Trail was built in the late 1800s by Augustus Chapman Honaker and his brother Henry, with the intent to serve as a supply route for gold mining on the San Juan River. Before building the trail, Honaker and the other placer miners working on that part of the San Juan River, would lower their supplies over the rim of the canyon with ropes and would descend and ascend with ropes as well. Honaker and his crew used powder and tools to cut parts of the trail with the hope of bringing gold mining machinery down to the river.

The gold boom in San Juan County reached its peak in 1892 & 1893, but was short-lived due to the fact that the gold found in the area was extremely fine ‘flour gold’, which had eroded from the San Juan Mountains in Colorado and had been ground down to the consistency of flour as it moved downstream. If you’re familiar with the San Juan River, you know that it has one of the highest sediment loads in the Western US, so it must have been an incredibly painstaking process to try to separate the gold powder from the silt and sediment.

At its peak, there were said to be 2,000 to 3,000 placer miners working along the banks of the San Juan River, with miners both arriving and leaving daily. Historic accounts mention the difficulty of some of the larger mining companies faced with retaining workers. The January 19, 1893 Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Gable Company which employed more than 250 men, would often see employees quit after a few days of work because ‘everybody with a few dollars is out staking off claims.’

Since the San Juan River ‘Gold Rush’ was relatively short lived, the Honaker Trail was never really utilized for its original intent. Now it serves as a popular hiking trail, both from the top down for hikers, and from the bottom up for river runners on the San Juan River. It’s one of the few trails that boaters can hike out of the lower San Juan River Canyon below Mexican Hat.

Top of the Honaker Trail 1909- San Juan County, UT
Photo: University of Utah
Honaker Trail 1894- San Juan County, UT
Photo: University of Utah
Mining on the San Juan River- Honaker Trail 1894- Photo: University of Utah

In researching the history of the Honaker Trail for this post, I found several historic photos from the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the photos above you can see my photo from our hike last weekend next to a photo of the same switchback taken in 1909.

Honaker Trail- Bears Ears National Monument- San Juan County, UT

When I choose a hike, I normally prefer to do the hard part of the hike first. This works great when hiking in the mountains, but when it comes to canyon hikes it’s often the opposite. The Honaker Trail starts at about 5,150 ft and descends to about 3,960 ft at the river. Since we were hiking in the winter, the weather was cold and windy when we started, but luckily as soon as we descended below the rim of the canyon, we were out of the wind and were able to enjoy a really nice hike.

Personally, I would not want to do this hike in the summer. The only thing that would be nice about going in the summer would be getting to cool off in the river when you reach the bottom, but depending on the time of day you’re hiking, this trail could be in full sun with out any shade at all, which would be brutal in the summer.

Honaker Trail- Bears Ears National Monument- San Juan County, UT
San Juan River at the bottom of the Honaker Trail- Bears Ears National Monument- San Juan County, UT

We made it down to the San Juan River, and both my son and dog enjoyed playing on the beach for a little while. This stretch of the river has nice, wide, sandy beaches, and during peak river-running season the campsites located in this area are popular with boaters. I wish we’d had more time to spend at the river, but since we were trying to make it back to Bluff in time for the Glow-in, we couldn’t stay very long before we turned around and headed back up the trail.

Honaker Trail- Bears Ears National Monument- San Juan County, UT

I have to say, when you are at the river getting ready to start hiking back to the top, it’s a little daunting to look up at the 1,200+ ft canyon walls knowing you have to climb all the way back to the top. But with the Glow-in on our minds, we had some extra motivation!

I don’t mind heights at all, but for anyone who does, this would not be a trail that I’d recommend for them. While the hike wasn’t super steep for the most part, there were a few places where there were pretty extreme drop-offs on the side of the trail. I definitely stressed a little during those sections while watching my son hike along not seeming to be thinking about what a trip or slip could result in. I’m sure by the end of the hike he was probably sick of hearing me tell him to be careful and to take his hands out of his pockets while he was hiking, but we completed the hike safely, and that’s all that matters!

Honaker Trail- Bears Ears National Monument- San Juan County, UT
Honaker Trail- Bears Ears National Monument- San Juan County, UT

For anyone interested in geology, I’m sure this hike would be fascinating. The rocks forming the sides of the gorge are shale and limestone from the Paradox Formation and the Honaker Trail Formation, and are up to 300 million years old! Also, be on the lookout for fossilized crinoids and brachiopods along the trail!

The Honaker Trail is definitely a feat of engineering! Not only does it scale what appears at first glance to be a sheer canyon wall, but there are also a couple sections of the trail where rocks were meticulously stacked creating a smooth trail after passing through solid rock ledges. And it’s pretty amazing to know that the trail was build by hand almost 130 years ago!

We made it back to the trailhead at about 5:15pm, so the full hike took us just barely over 3 hours. If I do this hike again I’ll plan for 4 hours to have some have more time to explore down at the river. My 10 yr old son and my dog both did great on this hike, but I don’t think I would have been comfortable taking a younger child due to the extreme drop offs on the lower half of the trail. There was one place where my husband had to lift our dog up a big step on our way back up the trail, but other than that I’d say this is an extremely dog-friendly hike, especially with the water at the bottom.

It took us almost 11 years, but I’m happy to say that I can finally mark the Honaker Trail off my list! I really loved this hike, and will definitely add it to my list of hikes to take our friends and family on when they visit. (But I’ll be sure to check first to make sure they don’t have a fear of heights before we go!)

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

Posted in Bears Ears National Monument, Dog-friendly, Geology, Hiking, History, Mexican Hat, National Monuments, National Parks & Monuments, Off the Beaten Path, San Juan River, Social Distancing-friendly, State Parks, Things to do for FREE!, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is Monument Valley in Utah or Arizona?

Monument Valley Mitten Shadow

This post has been a long time coming. For the 12+ years that I’ve been managing our office’s social media, rarely a post about Monument Valley goes by where someone doesn’t comment that Monument Valley is in Arizona, not Utah.

Sometimes the comments seem to be by people who are genuinely trying to be helpful by letting us know that we’re posting about something that (they think) is not in Utah, but often the comments lean toward being rude, (if they’re not outright rude!) sometimes resorting to calling us names for our alleged mistake.

Well, today’s the day I am finally addressing it! Where is Monument Valley located? Arizona? Utah? Both? If you answered ‘both’, you are correct! But there’s one more layer to this that we became aware that people were confused about during the beginning of COVID- Many people only think of Monument Valley as a park, and they’re unaware that there’s also the community of Monument Valley.

Map showing the borders of Monument Valley Tribal Park produced by the Navajo Nation’s Tourism Department- Discover Navajo

When people from all around the world think of Monument Valley, most likely they’re thinking about Monument Valley Tribal Park- the area managed by Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation with the free-standing rock features that have become synonymous with the American west thanks in large part to the many John Wayne/John Ford westerns that were filmed there. For those who think that Monument Valley Tribal Park is in Arizona, it is true that the majority of the park is in AZ, but a portion of it is in Utah as well.

Here’s a list of the named rock formations in Monument Valley that are located in Utah: Eagle Rock, Setting Hen, Brigham’s Tomb, King on His Throne, Stagecoach, Bear & Rabbit, Castle Butte, Big Indian, and Sentinel Mesa.

In the spring of 2020 when COVID hit the US, the Navajo Nation was hit particularly hard with COVID cases and deaths, and the Navajo Nation implemented tight restrictions on travel, both for its residents and for visitors, and even put curfews in place for their residents in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID. During this time the Navajo Nation closed all of their parks and monuments, and asked for visitors to please not come.

It was during this time that we started receiving what ended up being hundreds of phone calls from confused travelers stating that they had heard that Monument Valley was closed, and they were trying to figure out if they could pass through the area on Hwy 163. Although Monument Valley Tribal Park was closed, Hwy 163 which passes through the community of Monument Valley, does not enter the park and remained open. I can’t even tell you how many times I repeated this on the phone over the next 16 months while Monument Valley Tribal Park was closed.

Now let’s address the second part to the confusion- the community of Monument Valley. In addition to Monument Valley Tribal Park, there’s also the community of Monument Valley which is listed on the United States Postal Service’s website as a community & zip code associated with Utah. If you look up, ‘Monument Valley, AZ’ on this website, nothing comes up. (See images below)

In addition, if you look on unitedstateszipcodes.org, you’ll see that the majority of the area covered by the zip code associated with Monument Valley is also in Utah. For many years, Goulding’s Lodge which is located on the Utah side of the border, was not only the only hotel located in Monument Valley, but it also had the only RV park and restaurant. Goulding’s still runs the community’s only grocery store, gas station, laundromat, and a number of other services, all of which are located on the Utah side of the border.

Every so often someone who leaves one of the comments I mentioned previously, will state that they’re aware that a small part of the park is in Utah, but will point out that a majority of the park is in AZ, and question why Utah is promoting something that’s mostly in another state.

The reason our office, San Juan County Economic Development & Visitor Services, as well as the Utah Office of Tourism, promotes Monument Valley is because there are many Utah residents who are operating their businesses from the UT side of the border so we promote those businesses, and we promote Monument Valley Tribal Park since visitors to the park bring money to the Utah businesses located in the community of Monument Valley. Also, the park itself and many of the businesses providing services for visitors to Monument Valley provide jobs for residents of the area, both those on the Utah and Arizona side of the border.

The sole reason any Destination Marketing Organization (which is what the Visitor Services department of our office is), Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, or Chamber of Commerce promote pretty much anything, is to bring more business and money to the businesses in the areas they cover, and that is why we promote Monument Valley Tribal Park.

John Ford’s Point- Monument Valley

I hope that helps shed some light on the fact that Monument Valley is more than just a park- it’s also a community, and also on why we continue to promote visitation to the area. Please know that we’re well aware that a majority of Monument Valley Tribal Park is in Arizona, and for the reasons listed above, we will continue to share photos of Monument Valley since visitation to that area, both the park and the community, benefits our southern San Juan County, UT residents.

Posted in Travel | 2 Comments

Experience the 2023 Annular Solar Eclipse in San Juan County- Utah’s Canyon Country!

Did you know that San Juan County, Utah will be in the direct path of the Annular Solar Eclipse on Saturday, October 14, 2023?

Although it’s still a year away, we’ve been hearing from our local lodging property owners that visitors have been booking rooms for the weekend of the eclipse for over a year already! Currently, as of the beginning of November 2022, local lodging properties are reporting between 50%- 100% occupancy for the weekend of the eclipse, so if you’re just hearing about the eclipse now and you think you want to come experience it from Southeastern Utah, don’t wait- book your room as soon as possible!

LINK TO LODGING & CAMPING IN SOUTHEASTERN SOUTHEASTERN UTAH


What’s the difference between an Annular Solar Eclipse and a Total Solar Eclipse?

As we’ve been telling people about the eclipse for the past several months, we’re often asked how an Annular Solar Eclipse differs from a Total Solar Eclipse. A Total Solar Eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth and completely blocks out the sun. An Annular Solar Eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Sun and Earth, and blocks out all but an outer ring of the Sun, leaving the Sun’s visible outer edges to form a “ring of fire” or annulus around the Moon.


Where is the best place to watch the eclipse from?

Depending on where you watch the eclipse from, the duration of maximum eclipse can differ significantly. Here are the towns/locations in San Juan County that are in the path of annularity, and the duration of maximum eclipse at each location:

  • Mexican Hat, UT: 4 min 47 sec
  • Bluff, UT: 4 min 42 sec
  • Monument Valley, UT/AZ: 4 min 26 sec
  • Blanding, UT: 4 min 5 sec
  • Monticello, UT: 2 min 43 sec

If you look at the map of the eclipse path above, you can see that in nearby towns, such as Moab, the full eclipse will not be visible. Be sure to do your research before booking your lodging. We are expecting large crowds and it will be much easier to fully experience the eclipse if you stay in a nearby town, rather than trying to drive to an area in the direct path the morning of the eclipse.

Since the town of Mexican Hat is in the most direct path of annularity in San Juan County and will have the longest maximum eclipse time, Utah’s Canyon Country and Edge of the Cedars/Goosenecks State Park are working together to plan an eclipse event at Goosenecks State Park. Please be sure to continue to check back on the 2023 Annular Eclipse page on our website for updates!

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at:

800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

Posted in Events, Fall, Mexican Hat, State Parks, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOATreks- Hiking with Pack Goats in Southeastern Utah

Hiking with pack goats with GOATreks- San Juan County, UT

About a month ago I had the opportunity to go hiking with GOATreks, a new guiding company in San Juan County. I have to admit, I had never given much thought to goats in the past, and my experience with them had been limited to feeding Pygmy goats at petting zoos. (Which was about 50/50 for good/bad experiences!) But it turns out that hiking with goats is a thing! If you search Airbnb Experiences, you will find goat hiking experiences everywhere from New York, California, Texas, and now, thanks to GOATreks, San Juan County, Utah!

Safety talk before our hike with GOATreks- San Juan County, UT

GOATreks is listed on Airbnb Experiences, so we signed up for our hike there, which makes it very easy if you’re already an Airbnb user. We received instructions for where to meet up, and everything went very smoothly meeting up with Kathleen, and caravanning a few miles to the location we’d be hiking that day.

Kathleen started by introducing us to two of her pack goats, Echo and Hamish, and going over some safety information, which I really appreciated since I have spent very little time around goats, and had never been around goats of this size before. Pretty much as soon as we met Echo & Hamish, we could tell that they were very similar to dogs- they seem to like to interact with people, they’re curious and playful, and they each have their own unique personality. Within minutes of meeting the goats, I knew we were in for a fun experience!

Hiking with pack goats with GOATreks

I think one of the most important pieces of information Kathleen went over, was that you should never touch the goats’ horns. These goats will be between 185-215 lbs when they’re full grown, and the last thing you’d want from a goat that size is for them to use their horns on people. Goats use their horns on each other for both play and for establishing dominance within their herd, so touching their horns could make a goat think that you’re either challenging them, or playing with them. Either way you don’t want a 200+ lb goat to push back on a human with their horns, whether they’re just trying to play or establish dominance.

Hiking with pack goats with GOATreks- San Juan County, UT

We had signed up for a 3 mile hike through a beautiful area right on the edge of the Manti- La Sal National Forest about halfway between Monticello and Blanding. It’s a unique area that I have always loved located where the forest meets the desert, with tall Ponderosa Pine trees, but also cactus and yucca. We were actually walking on an unpaved road, rather than a designated hiking trail, which is something that my family does a lot around here.

If there’s one thing that San Juan County does an amazing job on, it’s the roads! There are thousands of miles of unpaved roads in San Juan County, and for the most part, pretty much any road you drive on seems to have been grated pretty recently. And since there are thousands of miles of roads, it’s pretty easy to find a road to walk on where you can be away from other people.

Hiking with pack goats with GOATreks- San Juan County, UT
Hiking with pack goats with GOATreks- San Juan County, UT

As we headed down the road, I definitely felt like part of the ‘herd’. Kathleen led the way, and Echo and Hamish would sometimes walk in front of the rest of the human herd, but they’d often stop to take a bite from the scrub oak or anything else that caught their eye along the road. Sometimes they’d even stand on their hind legs to reach the higher leaves, which we all enjoyed watching!

Hiking with pack goats with GOATreks- San Juan County, UT

I quickly realized that goats make awesome hiking companions! I’m sure the dog-owners out there will find this hard to believe, but I think pack goats might actually make slightly better hiking companions than dogs. (Yes, I said it!) Pack goats not only carry your stuff, but also since they will snack on the foliage you pass while you’re hiking, you don’t need to worry about bringing anything for them! And most important- they stay with you! My dog is awesome about staying with us when we take her for walks in areas where leashes aren’t required, but she does occasionally stray a little farther than we’d like, and we have to call her back. But as herd animals, goats instinctively stay together for protection. I don’t think Echo and Hamish were more than a few feet away from a human at any point during our hike.

Hiking with pack goats with GOATreks- San Juan County, UT

As we hiked, Kathleen talked about the area, and pointed out plants and different things along the trail. Since we were all from the area, I think most of our questions were more about the goats than anything else. Like I mentioned earlier, I had really never given much thought to goats before. To me they were just another farm animal at the petting zoo, but I began to realize that they also make awesome companions. Echo and Hamish were curious, playful, and intelligent. I raised pigs in FFA in high school, and I’ve always compared them to dogs- they are so smart, but also silly and playful, and goats seem very similar to them.

We got to a point in the road where there was a rock outcropping off to the side, and Kathleen gave us the option of taking our break at the base of it, or hiking a little ways up to a flat spot, which is what we opted for. Echo and Hamish had no trouble climbing up the slope, of course, and they took the opportunity to impress all of us with their balance and sure-footedness, by walking up a log that was on the slope.

Hiking with pack goats with GOATreks- San Juan County, UT

Although Echo and Hamish aren’t full grown yet, and are not yet able to carry the full amount of weight that they’ll eventually be able to carry, Hamish was able to carry snacks and drinks for us! When we got to the flat spot up the slope, Kathleen distributed the goodies, and also snacks for the goats, which we were able to feed to them out of our hands. They loved the snacks, and in fact when I ran out, Echo started nibbling on my earrings, which had round blue stones, which I’m sure looked like blueberries or something else delicious to a goat!

Hiking with pack goats with GOATreks- San Juan County, UT

When it was time to start heading back, we branched off the path we took on the way out, and connected to another road which had a nice view of a cliff dwelling high up in the rock wall above us. That’s how it is in San Juan County… you can pretty much be in any canyon, in most any part of the county and you will see some kind of trace of the previous inhabitants of this area, whether it’s pottery sherds, arrowheads or other lithics, corn cobs, petroglyphs or pictographs, or archaeological structures.

The excitement of seeing these remnants of the past never wears off, but it’s important to note that all artifacts should be left where you find them. Look at them, enjoy them, take a photo of them if you’d like, but leave them where you find them so that others can ‘discover’ and enjoy them too.

Here’s a helpful and informative video from Friends of Cedar Mesa that discusses some of the many reasons why you should leave artifacts where you find them. (Besides the fact that it’s illegal to take them!)

VWR Tip: Leave All Artifacts from Friends of Cedar Mesa on Vimeo.

Hiking with pack goats with GOATreks- San Juan County, UT

My son thoroughly enjoyed hiking with Echo & Hamish and has asked me several times since if we can go for another hike with Kathleen and her goats! Who knew that all it took was a couple of pack goats to get a kid to happily hike without complaining or whining?! Plus, Kathleen is amazing with kids, and has a knack for talking to them like she’s talking to another adult, but yet explaining things in a way that they can understand. (Please note that children must be 12 or older to participate in this tour.)

Kathleen is a wonderful ambassador for Southeastern Utah and Bears Ears National Monument and the surrounding area. In just the few short hours we spent with her, her passion and excitement for what she does and where she lives is obvious. You can’t help but get exited when you’re with someone who is so passionate and knowledgeable!

GOATreks offers everything from a short 1 hour goat experience, all the way up to a 6 hour hike, so there’s sure to be something that will fit any schedule and activity level. Hiking with Kathleen and her goats was such a fun and unique experience, I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is visiting the area and looking for a way to get a little more in depth and learn about the area from a local.

For more information or to request a San Juan County travel guide, please visit our website or call:

800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

Posted in Bears Ears National Monument, Hiking, Off the Beaten Path, Social Distancing-friendly, Tours, Tours/Guided Trips, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

San Juan River & Hummer Cliff Dwelling Tour with Wild Expeditions

River & Hummer Tour with Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been about 11 years since I last floated the San Juan River with Wild Rivers Expeditions back in 2011, and a lot has changed since then. Jared & Spring Berrett, who were already running Four Corners Adventures, bought Wild Rivers Expeditions in 2013 and merged the two guiding companies and became ‘Wild Expeditions‘, offering both land-based tours throughout Southeastern Utah, and river trips on the San Juan River.

When I last went out on the river with them, their shortest river trip was a full-day Upper Canyon trip, which covered 26 miles from Sand Island to Mexican Hat. (You can read my blog entry on that trip HERE.) I’m not sure when they began offering their 1/2 day river & hummer trip, but I know that I have been sending Familiarization (FAM) Tours (journalists, travel trade members, influencers, etc) out on that specific tour for at least several years now, and we’ve heard nothing but great feedback from everyone. So I feel like it’s long overdue that I get out there and experience the tour I’m sending so many people on!

Bluff Dwellings Resort & Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT

We started the day by checking in at the front desk of Bluff Dwellings Resort, which is one of the newest hotels in Bluff, UT Jared & Spring Berrett own both Wild Expeditions and Bluff Dwellings Resort, so it’s very convenient for visitors who are staying at Bluff Dwellings Resort to book tours with Wild Expeditions, since the tours all meet and depart in front of the lobby.

Our guides Kayleb and Nanibaa’, greeted us right after we checked in and let us know that Kayleb would be our guide on the river, and Nanibaa’ would be picking us up in the hummer when we got off the river, and taking us to River House Ruin. We loaded up in the van and headed out for Sand Island, which was our starting point for the day, (about 4 miles/5 minutes SW of Bluff) and Kayleb and Nanibaa’ got everything ready and brought us life jackets and did a quick safety talk before it was time to get in the raft.

On this particular trip, you have the option of a raft or solo or tandem inflatable kayaks. We had opted for the raft since we had varying levels of experience/comfort in our group. As soon as we walked down to the river, I was surprised at how high the water was! Kayleb told us that the flow had increased drastically since the week before due to recent rain in the area, and that it was at about 1,100 cfs. (The last time I floated this section was last July and the water level was at about 475 cfs, so I was thrilled with 1,100!)

The 1/2 day trip covers about 8 miles on the river, which is about 1/3 of the distance of the full-day trip, so it’s a nice intro to the river for people who might be trying it for the first time, or maybe don’t have enough time in their itinerary to commit to the full-day trip. Plus, in addition to the river experience, the 1/2 day tour gives you a taste of a 4×4 hummer tour as well, which I was really looking forward to since I’d never done a hummer tour before.

Moki Steps- River & Hummer Tour with Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT

As soon as we pushed away from the boat ramp, it was completely quiet and peaceful with only the sounds of the river, our paddles, and the birds. The San Juan River is regulated by a lottery system, so there are a limit to the number of people/groups who can launch each day for the sections between Sand Island, Mexican Hat, and Clay Hills. Due to this limit, you don’t encounter many other groups while you’re floating, which I think is a good thing- it really allows boaters to have a peaceful, relaxed experience and helps prevent the negative effects of overuse.

Another huge change since my first guided trip on the San Juan River that I definitely need to mention, is that this area is now part of Bears Ears National Monument. There has been a lot of controversy and many changes to the monument over the past 5+ years since it was first designated as a national monument in December 2016 by President Obama, but the current boundaries include the north side of the river from the area close to Sand Island, to just past the Goosenecks. So for visitors who are interested in exploring the monument, a river trip is a great option!

It wasn’t long before we came to the first archaeological site along the river- several sets of Moki steps on the north side of the river. Usually when you see Moki Steps, you can look above them and see some kind of archaeological site, like a granary. But at this site, from the river you aren’t able to see what the Moki steps are leading to. But these Moki Steps are very deep and defined, and they’re a great example if you’ve never seen Moki Steps 

River & Hummer Tour with Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT
River & Hummer Tour with Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT

In my opinion, one of the biggest highlights of any San Juan River trip departing from Sand Island, is the opportunity to view at the Butler Petroglyph Panel. It has to be one of the single most extensive and impressive panels in the southeastern part of the state, if not Utah itself. As many times as I’ve stopped there, I feel like I see new figures each time I stop. We took our time viewing this panel, while Kayleb shared some interpretive information on the panel, such as what some of the figures might represent.

As we were departing, the multi-day group had just caught up to us, and we waited for them to unload from their rafts and kayaks before we all got back in ours. We got back on the river and enjoyed watching the blue herons, ravens, ducks, and Canadian geese as we continued down the river.  

Lunch on the River & Hummer Tour with Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT

Since the river was high that day, we reached our take-out location about an hour quicker than usual, according to Kayleb. When we got there Nanibaa’ was there to greet us and she had lunch ready for us complete with a camping sink to wash our hands in, chairs for each of us, and even a table with a cute tablecloth! 

Lunch on the River & Hummer Tour with Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT

The lunch was great- I remember being really impressed with the lunch the first time I went out with Wild Rivers Expeditions too. When I do private river trips with my family and friends, I’m the laziest cook ever. I have lots of friends who like to do elaborate meals on the river, but that’s not me. When I’m on the river, I’m on vacation… and the last thing I want to do while I’m on vacation is cooking and washing dishes! I pack dehydrated meals and very few things that require cutting/slicing. So I think the fact that that’s how I’m used to eating on the river, made Wild Expeditions’ lunch all the more impressive to me!! Fresh fruit salad, a variety of veggies for our sandwiches and to snack on, assorted cookies… Wild Expeditions definitely know how to do lunch!! Not that I needed to be won over, but if I hadn’t already been having a great day, they would have won me over with their lunch set-up!

River & Hummer Tour with Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT

After we finished lunch Kayleb and Nanibaa’ packed everything up and we loaded into the hummer and began making our way to River House Ruin. One of my coworkers and I opted to sit in the high, covered seats in the back of the hummer, and our other coworker sat down in one of the regular seats. I will tell you, riding up in the back was an adventure!! My coworker pointed out the juxtaposition of the calm float on the river, and the wild ride in the back up the hummer! But we wanted the full experience, so we were happy with our choice!

River & Hummer Tour with Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT

We pulled up to River House and we were the only ones there, which is always nice when visiting an archaeological site. Nanibaa’ took over and started telling us about the site, and she mentioned that it’s also known as Snake House, which I don’t think I’d ever heard before. But it makes sense on why it would be called that- there’s a huge pictograph just above the structure that looks like it could be a snake.

River & Hummer Tour with Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT

We climbed the steps up to get a closer look at the site, and enjoyed the shade in the alcove. When you take a second to turn around and look back out towards the river, I always feel a connection to the people who once lived there. Looking out at the river, I can’t help but think about the fact that I’m standing in the same place, and looking at the same view (Well, pretty much the same view minus the Tamarisk and Russian Olive that have taken over in more recent years.) that the Ancestral Puebloans did over a thousand years ago, which is a really cool, unique experience.

River & Hummer Tour with Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT

While we were at River House, we realized that it was the summer solstice, and Nanibaa’ mentioned that there’s a solstice site located near there. We walked over to take a look at it, but it was a random time, so unfortunately there wasn’t anything noticeable happening, (no shadow cutting through the center of the petroglyph, or anything similar that you hear about seeing at noon at solstice sites.) but it was still cool to be there on that day knowing that it had special significance for the solstice.

River & Hummer Tour with Wild Expeditions- Bluff, UT

After we finished looking at River House and the surrounding area, it was time to head back to Bluff, so we all loaded back into the hummer and made our way down the rough dirt road back toward Hwy 95. Along the way we passed a marker for the Hole in the Rock Trail, which is the path that the San Juan Expedition (also known as the Hole in the Rock Expedition) traveled from the western side of the state, over to the Four Corners area, and ended up settling in Bluff in the spring of 1880.

Not far from the marker, there’s an interpretive sign marking San Juan Hill, which was the last major obstacle that the pioneers had to cross before reaching Bluff. It’s a pretty incredible story, and I’d highly recommend stopping by the Bluff Fort to learn about the expedition and the families who came across and settled in Bluff. (You can read my previous blog post on the Bluff Fort & Hole in the Rock Expedition HERE.)

While you’re heading back to the main road, you’re pretty much right at the base of Comb Ridge, which is a monocline that stretches over 80 miles from the Abajo Mountains to near Kayenta, AZ, which is just south of Monument Valley. The view of Comb Ridge is absolutely stunning along this road!

Before we knew it, and all too soon, we were back at Bluff Dwellings Resort and our tour was over. We thanked Kayleb and Nanibaa’ as they dropped us off in front of the lobby, and we decided to hit the Cedar Shack Cafe for a cold drink before heading back to Monticello. (I highly recommend their Lime Rickeys! I rarely pass through Bluff without stopping by and grabbing one to go!)

After years of sending others on Wild Expeditions’ River and Hummer Cliff Dwelling tour, I’m happy to finally be able to speak about it from first-hand experience! We had a wonderful day, and I think this tour is the perfect introduction to the river not just for first-timers, but also a great way for anyone who wants to delve a little deeper into the area and experience it in a different way than from a car or by hiking. There really is no better way to experience this area- on the River & Hummer Cliff Dwelling Tour, you get a taste of everything that makes San Juan County unique; geology, archaeology, Native American history and culture, wildlife… Not to mention you have the river to help you stay cool on even the hottest summer days!

Posted in Bears Ears National Monument, Bluff, Rock Art, Ruins, San Juan River, Things to do with kids, Tours, Tours/Guided Trips, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments