A few weeks ago Graig Taylor, the treasurer of the Hole in the Rock Foundation, called our office and told us about a cabin raising that would be taking place at the Bluff Fort on April 21st & 22nd. Part of my job is to blog about different types of things that visitors to our area might be interested in, so I told him that I would really like to go down to Bluff while this was going on and take some pictures and take a look around since I had never been there.
I know it probably sounds like I’ve never been ANYWHERE in San Juan County since I keep doing blog entries on places that I’ve never been to, but I’m trying to branch out and cover a variety of places and activities for this blog. If I just kept posting entries on the things I normally do (like hiking and camping), people who aren’t really interested in those things would probably get really bored with this blog, so that’s why I’m trying to write about a wider variety of things.
I arrived at the Bluff Fort at about 2pm and found that the cabin raising was well underway. I was told that when a new cabin goes up members of the family are the ones who do the construction. This cabin raising was for the Bayles Cabin and there were quite a few members of the Bayles family there working on the cabin- from adults to children, everyone was helping!
When I had spoken to Graig on the phone a few weeks prior, he had told me to come find him when I got there and he’d show me around. When I met him he gave me a little bit of an introduction as to what the Hole in the Rock Foundation is all about and told me that their mission is to preserve the history and share the stories of the Hole in the Rock (also called the San Juan Mission) Pioneers.
There are 14 cabins at Bluff Fort, each representing an individual or family who settled in the area. Graig took me through the cabins and told me stories about the people in each of the families. I really enjoyed hearing each family’s story and learning about the history of the area. When I started working at the Welcome Center in Monticello, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the area, not just to be able to answer questions, but I always like to know the history of the place that I’m living in. So on slow days I would read the books and copies of ‘Blue Mountain Shadows‘ we had for sale, so I had a general knowledge of the Hole in the Rock Pioneers, but it wasn’t until I was standing at the Bluff Fort looking at each of the cabins and hearing the stories of each family that I really felt like I could FEEL the difficulty of what the pioneers experienced.
Here’s a little bit of the history of the Hole in the Rock Pioneers…
In 1879 a group of pioneers departed from various towns in southwestern Utah to settle in the remote area east of the Colorado River. In the beginning they followed established routes until they reached Escalante, which was the last community along the way.
It took them about 3 weeks to reach Forty-Mile Spring, which was about half-way to their destination of what would become the town of Bluff. For the next 6 weeks they picked & chiseled and drilled & blasted a path down the crevice into the Colorado River gorge. The road was completed on January 26th, 1880 but was so steep in places that the women and children, unable to walk down, had to hold hands and slide down it together. I had seen pictures of the Hole in the Rock Road before and it’s really amazing to me not only that they constructed it, but that they were able to take their wagons down it- it’s SO steep and narrow!
When they reached the Colorado River, they crossed on a large raft built by Charles Hall, then had to find a way back up to the top on the other side. Their path up Cottonwood Canyon on the other side of the river was so steep that it took 4-7 horse or oxen teams to pull each wagon up the hill.
On April 6th, 1880 they arrived at their destination in the area that they named Bluff. During this extremely difficult 6 month journey, somehow not a single life was lost, and in fact, 2 babies were born!
This is just a very brief overview of the journey of the Hole in the Rock Pioneers, I’m sure that there are a lot of books written about it, I know that the Canyonlands Natural History Association (CNHA) sells some that you can order online. Or if you’re in the area, you can stop by the Bluff Fort, the Blanding Visitor Center, or the Southeast Utah Welcome Center in Monticello to pick one up.
Another great thing about the Bluff Fort? It’s FREE! The visitor center is open 9am-6pm Monday-Saturday from March 1st-October 31st and is staffed by a group of extremely knowledgeable volunteers who are more than happy to answer any questions you may have. At the visitor center you can also watch a short video, ‘The Journey of the San Juan Pioneers’ to give you some of the background history of the pioneers before you walk around the grounds.
I really appreciate Graig taking the time to show me around. Hearing the stories about each family was definitely my favorite part of my experience at the Bluff Fort. Real stories about real people’s experiences are always so much better than anything you could ever make up!
Distance from Bluff to lodging in San Juan County, Utah:
- Bluff: 0 miles/0 km
- Mexican Hat: 26 miles/42 km
- Blanding: 26 miles/ 42 km
- Monticello: 48 miles/77 km
- Monument Valley: 51 miles/82 km
- La Sal: 90 miles/ 145 km