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!

This entry was posted in Bears Ears National Monument, Bluff, Rock Art, Ruins, San Juan River, Things to do with kids, Tours, Tours/Guided Trips, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to San Juan River & Hummer Cliff Dwelling Tour with Wild Expeditions

  1. girlonahike says:

    My friend Kevin is a river guide for them! I need to get down to float the San Juan at some point.

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