Biannual Monument Valley Mitten Shadow Event

Monument Valley Mitten Shadow

In the past several years it seems that popularity and awareness of the biannual Monument Valley Mitten Shadow event has been steadily increasing.  I can’t remember when I first heard of it, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I lived in San Juan County, UT over 9 years before I finally made it down to witness it for myself last September!

The Monument Valley Mitten Shadow happens twice each year, first in late March peaking around the 30th, then again in September peaking around the 13th.  On these days, and for a day or two before and after, West Mitten Butte casts a perfect shadow upon East Mitten Butte at sunset creating what’s come to be known as the ‘Monument Valley Mitten Shadow’.  Adding to the short window that the shadow is visible each year, is the fact that the sky must be clear enough for direct sunlight to be hitting the mittens.  If it’s overcast at sunset, the shadow doesn’t happen, so plan accordingly if you’re traveling to the area specifically to witness this event!

When I finally made it down to see the mitten shadow last September, it was only because I had a childhood friend visiting me from Seattle for about 5 days, and her visit just happened to coincide with the event.  When I realized this, I knew I had to take her down to see it, so we planned our schedule for the week around it making sure to go the day before the peak, so that if the weather wasn’t good and the shadow wasn’t visible, we’d still be able to try again the next night if we were feeling up to doing the the 3 hr 20 minute round trip drive from Monticello again!

Monument Valley Mitten Shadow Crowd

Monument Valley Mitten Shadow Crowd

Although Monument Valley is busy pretty much year-round, and there are always quite a few people at the main viewpoint next to the Visitor Center, when we arrived it was obvious that it wasn’t just a normal day in Monument Valley.  There were probably 20-30 photographers (not just people with cameras, but professional/semi-professional photographers with lots of equipment!) with their cameras set up on tripods, many of which had multiple cameras to catch a time lapse, as well as other shots of the shadow.  I spoke to one of the photographers and he told me that he was part of a photography tour group that was traveling around the Utah & Arizona, and we also saw that Goulding’s Lodge had a special Mitten Shadow photography tour there.

I’m happy to report that the mitten shadow did not disappoint!  It was pretty amazing to watch the shadow of West Mitten Butte creep across the valley floor and climb up the side of East Mitten Butte as the sun got lower and lower in the sky.

Monument Valley is already amazing any day and in any weather, so to witness the mitten shadow in person is nothing short of an absolutely spectacular sight to see!

Navajo Taco at Goulding’s Stagecoach Restaurant- Monument Valley

After all that Mitten Shadow viewing, you’re sure to have worked up an appetite!  Do yourself a favor and stop by the Stagecoach Restaurant at Goulding’s Lodge and get yourself one of THE BEST Navajo Tacos around!  I promise, you’ll be glad you did!

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

Or e-mail us at:

Distance from Monument Valley to lodging in San Juan County, Utah:

Posted in Dog-friendly, Events, Fall, Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Parks, Spring, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Five Places to Visit Instead of Canyonlands During the Government Shutdown

Chesler Park- Canyonlands National Park- Needles District

The partial government shutdown may have spoiled a few plans to visit Canyonlands National Park, but Utah’s Canyon Country has plenty of other awe-inspiring sites to make sure your trip isn’t ruined.

While the gates remain open unlike during the government shutdown of October 2013, the absence of personnel to provide snow removal may render the park inaccessible.  In case you aren’t able to visit due to weather, here are some alternatives to try.

John Ford’s Point- Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

If you want to experience the iconic American West of Canyonlands then you will love Monument Valley.

Featured as the location in numerous classic westerns and Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, Monument Valley is more than a symbol of the Wild Wild West. It is stunningly beautiful and evocative. Actor John Wayne mused, “So this is where God put the West” when he witnessed the area for the first time.

Newspaper Rock, Indian Creek Unit of Bears Ears National Monument

If you wanted to go back in time at Horseshoe Canyon, then head to Newspaper Rock.

The original “all the news that is fit to print” is Newspaper Rock. The living museum is located in the Indian Creek Unit of Bears Ears National Monument, just a short distance from the Needles District of Canyonlands.  The sandstone panel is covered with hundreds of petroglyphs. Find the recurring headline of snakes and broad-shouldered, animal-headed men to guess what the ancient people were communicating.

Hot air balloons take to the skies in Valley of the Gods at the Bluff International Balloon Festival               Photo: David Allen

If you wanted the visually stunning landscape of the Maze, don’t miss the Bluff Balloon Festival over Valley of the Gods.

What started over two decades ago as a one-balloon show has grown to a southern Utah event that sees balloonists come from all over the country to participate. An epic sense of giddy fascination may wash over you when you view multiple hot air balloons fly over the Valley of the Gods desert landscape.

Rainbow Bridge National Monument Photo: Aramark

If you like the majestic Mesa Arch, then consider Rainbow Bridge, the tallest natural bridge in the world.

The Navajo people considered the bridge a symbol of life in the desert. Located on Lake Powell, visitors can visit by boat or obtain a permit from Navajo Parks and Recreation to take the two-day hike from the small community of Navajo Mountain.

Moki Dugway- San Juan County, UT

If you wanted the far-reaching views of Island in the Sky, then the Moki Dugway overlook will amaze.

The Moki Dugway is literally carved from the cliff face and talus slope on the edge of Cedar Mesa. The route connects Utah Highway 95 with US Highway 163 by crossing Cedar Mesa and plunging down the dugway at an 11% grade, revealing sweeping views of Valley of the Gods, stripes of color in the rocks of the San Juan River Canyon known as the Navajo Tapestry, and distant Monument Valley.

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

Or e-mail us at:

Posted in Bears Ears National Monument, Dog-friendly, Events, Monument Valley, National Monuments, National Parks, National Parks & Monuments, Navajo Tribal Parks, Rock Art, Scenic Drives, Things to do for FREE!, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2017 Bluff Solstice Celebration- Dancing Bears Sculpture

2017 Bluff Solstice Celebration- Dancing Bears Sculpture

After missing the past two Solstice Celebrations in Bluff, my husband, 5 yr-old son, and I braved the 17 degree weather and several inches of fresh snow in Monticello, and made our way down to Bluff for one of the most unique events in southeast Utah!

After the snow we received last Wednesday night and during the day on Thursday, it took some convincing to get my husband to agree to go, but we were glad we did- by the time we arrived in Bluff the temperature was up to 29 degrees, and the ground was dry- perfect conditions to celebrate the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year!

2017 Bluff Solstice Celebration- Dancing Bears Sculpture

With the snowy roads leaving Monticello, we ended up getting to Bluff a little later than we’d planned, and barely had time to get a photo of the sculpture before the celebration began.

As always, the celebration started with a few words from Joe Pachak- the artist who oversaw the creation of the sculpture with help from volunteers.  While I couldn’t hear everything he was saying due to the size of the crowd gathered around the sculpture, I also read a Salt Lake Tribune article that came out the day before the Solstice Celebration where Joe discussed his reasoning for sculpting the two dancing bears this year.

While I’m sure many people immediately assumed it had to do with the designation, and subsequent shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument, that wasn’t the only reason he chose bears for his annual sculpture.

If you live in the area, you know that we had a very late frost this year, which resulted in our fruit trees in Monticello producing absolutely no fruit this summer.  So if we had no fruit in town, you can imagine that the berries, acorns, and other regular foods that bears eat in the Abajos, were also affected.  Here in Monticello we had bears wandering into town and ending up in trees in people’s front yards, and on the San Juan River there were reports of bear sightings at camps along the banks of the river.  The bears definitely had a hard year, so the sculpture was constructed partially to acknowledge that.

So if this sculpture was constructed to acknowledge the bears’ hard summer, why the ‘dancing’ bears, you ask?   Pachak said that he consulted local Ute flute maker, Aldean Ketchum and his wife, and they persuaded him to to change his bear sculpture into a dancing pair in a posture from the Ute Bear Dance.  Pachak liked the idea, feeling that this would make the celebration much more meaningful, and went with it!

If you’ve been to previous Solstice Celebrations in Bluff, you may remember flaming atlatls being thrown at the sculpture to light it on fire.  To light the sculpture this year, a basket of nuts and berries was placed on hot coals at the bears’ feet, symbolically feeding them and hoping that 2018 will be a better year for bears in the area.

After Joe spoke about the making of the sculpture and the meaning behind it, Aldean Ketchum played a song on his flute, followed by a couple dance performances, then it was time to light the sculpture!

2017 Bluff Solstice Celebration- Lighting the Sculpture

2017 Bluff Solstice Celebration- The sparks were the best part!

2017 Bluff Solstice Celebration

As always, it’s quite a sight to see a 15 foot sculpture go up in flames!  And while it’s an awesome thing to get to experience, it also makes me a little bit sad to see these beautiful sculptures burn.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good bonfire!  But knowing how much time and work is put into these sculptures does weigh on my mind as I’m watching them burn.

We stayed about an hour until the flames and the nice, warm, heat of the fire started to die down a little and we remembered how cold it was out there!  Another great Bluff Solstice Celebration is in the books and winter is officially here!  (Although you’d never know it with the dry and unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having!)

Mark your calendars for the 2018 Bluff Solstice Celebration!  (It’s on a Friday- yay!) Can’t wait to see what they’ll construct next year!

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

Or e-mail us at:


Posted in Bluff, Dog-friendly, Events, Things to do for FREE!, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Annual Bluff Solstice Celebration

Dancing Bears Sculpture by Joe Pachak- 2017 Bluff Solstice Celebration

Bluff’s Annual Solstice Celebration is only a day away, so we thought we’d take a look back at some of the previous solstice sculptures from one of southeast Utah’s most unique events!

This year, local artist Joe Pachak has constructed two 15 foot- tall dancing bears in a posture from the Ute Bear Dance with guidance from local Ute flute musician, Aldean Ketchum.  As always, Joe’s solstice sculpture is impermanent, and is scheduled to be set on fire on the night of Thursday, December 21st in celebration of the Winter Solstice.  Anyone who has been to one of Bluff’s previous Solstice Celebrations can tell you that it’s an event unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and is definitely worth the drive!

Mammoth Sculpture- 2012 Bluff Solstice Celebration- photo: Wayne Ranney

Mammoth Sculpture- 2012 Bluff Solstice Celebration- photo: Wayne Ranney

Mammoth Sculpture- 2012 Bluff Solstice Celebration- photo: Wayne Ranney

Paleo Bison Sculpture – 2014 Bluff Solstice Celebration

Paleo Bison Sculpture – 2014 Bluff Solstice Celebration

My favorite solstice sculpture was definitely the Paleo Bison constructed in 2014.  Look at the detail in the bison’s face!  These sculptures are works of art, and as much as I love the Solstice Celebrations, it does make me a little sad to see them go up in flames!

2014 Bluff Solstice Celebration

Paleo Bison Sculpture – 2014 Bluff Solstice Celebration

Paleo Bison Sculpture – 2014 Bluff Solstice Celebration

2016 Bluff Solstice Celebration- Herons

2016 Bluff Solstice Celebration- Herons

If you’re considering making the drive to Bluff for the Solstice Celebration tomorrow night- DO IT!  It’s sure to be the most memorable Winter Solstice you’ll ever experience!

Bluff Solstice Celebration- Thursday, December 21st @ 7:00pm- On Hwy 191 across the street from Recapture Lodge

Posted in Bluff, Events, Things to do for FREE!, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

13 Family-Friendly Activities in Southeastern Utah

Planning to visit Utah’s Canyon Country with your family this fall and looking for things to do?  This list of family-friendly activities is for you!

1. Go Back in Time at the Bluff Fort


No trip to Bluff is complete without a visit to the Bluff Fort, where kids can don period clothing while trying their hand at roping wooden cows, pulling handcarts, and panning for gold.  Stroll the grounds and visit each cabin to hear stories of the families who were part of the Hole in the Rock expedition, and who settled in Bluff in 1880.  Enjoy some soft-serve ice cream in the Co-op Store, or buy some fresh baked cookies and Bluff Fort Root Beer to take with you on your way to your next adventure!  (*Also, while you’re there, find out how Camp Stickie-ta-tudy got its name!)

Bluff Fort: 550 Black Locust Ave, Bluff, UT 84512, 435-672-9995

San Juan County Patch

**If you’re a geocaher, don’t miss the cache hidden on the grounds at the fort- one of five official San Juan County caches included in the Visit Utah Geocache Program.  If you find at least 3 of the 5 caches in any county in the state, you’ll receive a custom made county patch!  Read more about the program and the San Juan County geocaches HERE!

2.  Float the San Juan River with Wild Rivers Expeditions


There’s no better way to enjoy the summer in southeast Utah, than a float trip on the San Juan River!  Book a trip with Wild Rivers Expeditions and sit back and enjoy the scenery and Class II & III rapids while your guide expertly navigates the river.  Highlights including stops at archaeological sites such as River House Ruin and the Butler Petroglyph Panel, as well as viewing 300 million year old fossils, and desert bighorn sheep are sure to keep your kids entertained!

3. Goosenecks State Park

Goosenecks State Park

Often mistaken for Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River, at Goosenecks State Park the San Juan River twists and turns through sinuous ‘goosenecks’ as it flows toward Lake Powell traveling over 6 miles, while it advances to the west only 1 mile.  The Great Goosenecks of the San Juan River is the largest entrenched river meander in North America- it’s Horseshoe Bend times three!

**Visit Utah Geocache Location**

4. Take a Tour of Monument Valley


Monument Valley, spread across the Utah/Arizona border at the southern edge of San Juan County, is one of the most photographed places on earth!  It’s been featured in films, as the eye-catcher for ads, and on television, and the best way to see it in person is on a guided tour with one of the many tour companies in the valley, where guides will teach you about the Navajo history & culture of the area, as well as the Hollywood film history.  Open air vehicle tours, horseback riding tours, ATV tours, take your pick- just make sure to go with a guide to get the most out of your visit!

While in Monument Valley, be sure to stop by the Stagecoach Restaurant at Goulding’s Lodge for one of their delicious Navajo Tacos.  Based on the sheer number I’ve consumed over the years, I consider myself to be a Navajo Taco connoisseur, and these are THE BEST Navajo Tacos around!

Goulding’s Lodge & Stagecoach Restaurant: 1000 Main St, Monument Valley, UT 84536, 435-727-3231

5. Natural Bridges National Monument


Geared toward kids ages 4 yrs and up, the Jr. Ranger booklet at Natural Bridges National Monument is one of the best in Utah!  (trust me- I’ve done a lot of these booklets around the state with my son!) And your kids will have no problem completing it in this small 7,636 acre monument.

With a short 8 mile loop road taking you through the heart of the monument,  it’s easy to get up close and personal with all 3 bridges- Owachomo, Kachina, and Sipapu.  Whether you check out the bridges from the overlooks, or take the short hikes down to each, Natural Bridges may very well be the highlight of your family’s trip to Utah’s Canyon Country!

6. Hike to House on Fire Ruin


Thanks to its extreme photogenic nature and proximity to the highway, House on Fire has become one of the most popular archaeological ruins in southeast Utah.  The round trip hike of less than a 3 miles with no noticeable elevation gain, is the perfect length for kids. Upon arrival, visitors can witness the phenomenon that this ruin is named for- the colorations on the rock above the ruin that give the appearance of smoke and flames coming out of the roof, which is enhanced by the lighting early in the day.  A photographers dream- this ruin won’t disappoint!  Just don’t forget your camera!

7. Butler Wash Ruins

Butler Wash Ruins, San Juan County, UT

Located approximately 15 miles west of Blanding on Hwy 95, Butler Wash Ruins is a great, quick stop to check out an amazingly preserved cliff dwelling site.  Built by the Ancestral Puebloans in approximately 1200AD, this site includes habitation, storage, and ceremonial structures including four kivas.  While parts of this site have been stabilized and reconstructed, the majority of the site remains as it was found in the late 1880s.  Round trip hiking distance to the overlook is approximately 1 mile.

**Visit Utah Geocache Location**

8. The Dinosaur Museum



The Dinosaur Museum in Blanding is my 5 year old son’s absolute favorite place EVER!  We’ve been to quite a few dinosaur museums in the area including Moab Giants and the Prehistoric Museum at USU Eastern in Price, and The Dinosaur Museum in Blanding is still our favorite!

Open mid-April through mid-October each year, The Dinosaur Museum features exhibits including ; skeletons, fossilized skin, eggs, footprints, and sculptures of dinosaurs from the Four Corners region and throughout the world.  The highlight of the museum is the 14 ft tall Therizinosaurus, a towering feathered dinosaur with a 20 foot wingspan, that dominates the special exhibits room.  One of my favorite parts of the museum, which seems very unexpected in a small town in southeast Utah, is their huge collection of dinosaur movie posters from around the world. (Makes sense once you learn that the owners of the museum got their start sculpting dinosaurs for the motion picture industry!)  The Dinosaur Museum in Blanding is a true hidden gem, and is sure to capture the attention and imagination of dinosaur lovers of all ages!

The Dinosaur Museum: 754 South 200 West, Blanding, UT 84511, 435-678-3454

9. Edge of the Cedars State Park


Another must-see in Blanding, for both kids and adults, is Edge of the Cedars State Park.  This park is made up of three parts; a world-class museum that houses the largest collection of Ancestral Puebloan Artifacts in the Four Corners area, a one-thousand year old Puebloan Village site located behind the museum, and the facility is also a federal repository housing artifacts from the area, as well as other parts of the country.

Kids will love climbing the ladder down into the kiva located behind the museum, as well as exploring the children’s area- a large room full of books, puzzles, drawers with various activities, and hands-on play areas including a Puebloan dwelling where they can stack ‘stones’ to build their own walls.

Edge of the Cedars State Park: 660 W 400 N, Blanding, UT 84511, 435-678-2238

10. Nations of the Four Corners

Nations of the Four Corners is a network of trails and an interpretive cultural area made up of sites representing the different groups that contributed to the history of this area; Ute, Navajo, Hispanic, and Pioneer.  It sits right on the west edge of Blanding making it very convenient to visit as you’re just passing through, or even as an evening outing if you’re spending the night in town.  In addition to the structures, there are a couple of archaeological sites along the trails, as well as an arch (Prayer Arch) and a natural bridge! (Nations Natural Bridge)  Since it’s a network of trails, you can make your outing any length you want, from just a quick 10-15 minute stop, all the way up to a 5-6 mile roundtrip hike if you hike all the way out to Nations Natural Bridge and Five Kiva Pueblo.  (You can also access these sites by vehicle from the south end of town)

As you visit the structures representing each of the groups, it offers a great opportunity for kids to learn about the diverse cultural history of southeast Utah.  And be sure to visit the observation tower in the center of the site for spectacular views on the surrounding countryside!

Nations of the Four Corners: 461 W 500 S, Blanding, UT 84511, 435-678-4000

11. Discover the Colorado Plateau at the Canyon Country Discovery Center


The Canyon Country Discovery Center is a science and nature center, with indoor and outdoor learning stations. Developed for culturally diverse audiences, the facility allows children and adults to explore and discover the natural history and landscapes, people and places, land use and energy, astronomy, water, and climate of the Colorado Plateau.  The center also houses a rock-climbing wall, nature playscape out front, and numerous walking trails on the campus grounds.

Canyon Country Discovery Center: 1117 N Main, Monticello, UT, 800-525-4456

12. Finders Keepers at the Hideout Golf Club


From Memorial Day through Labor Day each year, locally made Cedar Mesa Pottery is hidden along the cart paths at the Hideout Golf Club.  Rent a cart or walk the paths, (especially nice in the evening when the deer are out) and if you find a piece of pottery- it’s yours to keep!  Kids will love the treasure hunt, and even if they don’t find a piece of pottery, chances are they’ll at least find a golf ball or two!

**Visit Utah Geocache Location**

13. Kid-Friendly Hikes in Canyonlands National Park


There are several great, kid-friendly hikes in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. Here are a couple of our favorites…

Cave Spring

At only .6 miles, this short loop trail is a great hike for kids.  The trail first takes you past an old cowboy camp nestled in an alcove with tables, dishes, a cookstove, and many other items still in place.  As you continue down the trail you’ll come to Cave Spring, which is one of the few year-round water sources in the area.  If you look closely, a smoke blackened ceiling and pictographs confirm that this area was used by the Ancestral Puebloan Indians long before the cowboys came along.

After passing Cave Spring, two ladders take you up onto the slickrock above and provide you with amazing panoramic views of the Needles Rock formations, North and South Six-Shooter Peaks in Indian Creek, and the Abajo and La Sal Mountains.  This hike provides a great opportunity for kids to learn first-hand about the history of Canyonlands.

Pothole Point

Pothole Point is another great hike for kids in the Needles District of Canyonlands.   Again, at only .6 miles, there’s no time for kids to get bored on this hike, especially if you go after an early spring or late summer rain when the potholes are full of water and creatures such as Fairy Shrimp, Beetle larvae, Tadpoles, Snails, and Tadpole Shrimp.  Since water never lasts long around here, the potholes provide a great opportunity for learning about the lifecycle and adaptations of these desert dwelling organisms.

For children ages 5 and up, there’s also the Junior Ranger Program that they can complete to earn a special Junior Ranger Badge!  Just pick up a booklet at the Visitor Center when you arrive!

This list could go on and on, but these are my top 13 picks for the best family-friendly activities in Utah’s Canyon Country in the southeast corner of the state.  For more ideas, click, ‘Things to do with kids‘ in the tag cloud on the right hand side of the blog or feel free to contact us at:


Posted in Blanding, Bluff, Bluff Fort, Canyonlands, Canyonlands National Park, Edge of the Cedars, Hiking, Monticello, Monument Valley, Museums, National Monuments, National Parks, National Parks & Monuments, Navajo Tribal Parks, Off the Beaten Path, San Juan River, Things to do for FREE!, Things to do with kids, Tours, Tours/Guided Trips, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment