Bluff, Utah the second time around, Part 2

Bluff is a great home base for several adventures in the area, all surrounded by incredible scenery.  As I mentioned in my last post, this was our second visit here and I’d published two posts of our previous explorations a couple of years ago:

Having experienced/viewed/photographed the jaw-dropping scenery here, we focused our energy this time on exploring more ancient ruins.  You see, the southwest and in particular the Four Corners region (CO, AZ, UT, NM) was the heart of the ancestral Puebloan culture.  They lived here eight centuries ago and left behind impressive and well preserved rock art and village ruins.

Also known as the Anasazi Basketmakers, the ancestral Puebloans were the first humans to establish permanent settlements in the area – building small pit houses at first, then larger, multi-roomed cliff dwellings.  Some now have well-marked trails to them, while others are not shown on maps, remaining unknown and maybe even undiscovered.  During this visit we checked out Hovenweep National Monument and the Citadel Ruins.

Hovenweep National Monument

This monument is an hour’s drive from Bluff, located in canyon and mesa country north of the San Juan River.  It spans the UT/CO border and consists of six separate village ruins.  Of the six, we visited Little Ruin Canyon, which featured a collection of structures clustered along its rim.

Hovenweep is the Ute Indian’s way of saying “deserted valley”

We followed the Rim Trail loop, where most of the dwellings stood right on the canyon rim while others sat atop irregular boulders.  The unusual architecture featured round towers and square or D-shaped structures grouped at canyon heads.  These fine ruins have withstood 7 centuries of weathering and were designated as a national monument in 1923.

Square Tower rises from the bottom of the canyon, with Hovenweep House in the background
Eroded boulder house features a double-sided wall
Twin Towers, among the most carefully constructed dwellings in the southwest, had 16 rooms
Skillfully laid thick and thin sandstone blocks built on solid rock
Hovenweep Castle is perched on the rim.  The people who lived here were farmers, not kings and queens

We pondered what life must have been like way back then, the canyon abuzz with sounds and activities.  The fact that parts of these structures remain standing is a testament to the skill used to build them.

According to the visitor center movie, this is how part of the village probably looked 700 years ago

Citadel Ruins

On another day we intended to hike the Lower Fish Creek Ruins only 18 miles from Bluff.  But after driving 4 miles on loose and sometimes deep sand, we gave up after getting stuck a couple of times (no AWD on our CRV).  With the winds here, a lot of sand can collect on the roads in a short amount of time.

Cleaning sand out of the tailpipes after sinking deep
Is he laughing at us?

Figuring out a Plan-B, we proceeded to drive an hour to Cedar Mesa to hike the Citadel Ruins, a trek John and Pam had completed a couple of days prior.  Using their post as our guide, we heeded their warnings about the rough road out there and parked the car about a mile short of the trailhead.  But just the drive to Cedar Mesa brought back fond memories:

Cedar Mesa and Bears Ears National Monument in the distance
Passing Valley of the Gods
Driving Moki Dugway again – three miles up steep and sharp curves for a fabulous view!
Raplee Anticline – aka Navajo Rug – is like abstract art painted by natural minerals in the rocks

The first part of the hike to the Citadel was fairly easy, but we eventually had to figure out how to get down to the “land bridge” leading out to the end.  We finally found a route across slick rock and scooted on our butts a couple of times to resume our route.

The only wildflower we saw – Indian Paintbrush

There were several Anasazi ruins on the many ledges along the canyon walls
Oh, maybe that isn’t the easiest way down!
Citadel Ruins
The ruins are near the top of that peninsula of rocks

It’s only when you’re at the base of the Citadel that you can see the ruins.  Hidden under a ledge, it would have been an excellent place for a defensive stronghold.  But we did wonder about the effort it must have taken to get water up here from the creek bed some 500′ below!

We puzzled over why there was no rock art here…
We were told these are the original straps that hold the window headers together – amazing!

Looking north – Steve thought this was one of the most amazing canyon hikes we’ve taken
Looking south, see the two hikers?

Looking down 500′
Looking back at the Citadel ruins, overlooking Road Canyon with a 360º view – it’s a wow!

Bluff’s Founder’s Day and Fry Bread Festival

Our stay also happened to coincide with Bluff’s 2nd Annual Founder’s Day and Frybread Festival.  The city of Bluff was founded in 1880 by the famous “Hole in the Rock” expedition of Mormon (Latter-Day Saints) pioneers, whose mission was to establish an agrarian community on the San Juan River.  We patronized the event by purchasing pizza from the lunch truck, and by clapping loudly when descendants of the pioneers walked by in the parade so they’d throw lots of candy at us!

The gang heads up to check out the food trucks – first things first!

We watched a Navajo mother and daughter demonstrate how to weave a wedding basket, explaining the design symbolism just as our guides at Monument Valley and Betatakin Ruins had:

Navajo fry bread with honey on top – incredible!

We were a bit melancholy at our goodbye happy hour, as John and Pam were heading back to Boulder City to finalize the purchase of their new home.  But at the same time we were glad that we’d be meeting up with Dave and Sue at Moab, our next stop.

The bluffs of Bluff as the background during our final happy hour with John and Pam for a while



  1. Isn’t Hovenweep beautiful? You captured some wonderful photos there. Such a beautiful photo of “Navajo Rug,” too. We drove the Mogi Dugway but I don’t remember seeing that.
    We’ve not yet had the adventure of hiking to The Citadel, but it’s on our list. It looks pretty exciting along some parts of that trail!

  2. Amazing area! and that Indian Paintbrush was a delightful insert 🙂

  3. How I love seeing the ruins of the ancestral Puebloans. I actually wish I could have lived among them based on what archeologists tell us of their lives. Although I’d have to have been much less of a water girl than I am in this incarnation. Hovenweek is just amazing. I think eroded boulder house is my favorite. The construction of the twin towers is just incredible. The stone work is exquisite.
    I think you were brave to even try those roads – more like wide trails – in your Honda. It’s a problem we have too and ours isn’t as tall as yours. Your Navajo Rug picture is wonderful. The colors are so vivid. What an incredible natural mural. I too always wonder how did they do water and for sure agree with Steve that the canyon is one of the most outstanding I’ve ever seen. Your picture is grand.
    I’m all for anything that has to do with Fry Bread. Candy doesn’t hurt either. Hope there were tootsie rolls.

  4. The photos from the Citadel are just stunning. I’m glad you have pictures with you and Steve in them because it provides so much perspective. You don’t realize how huge these places are until you get that sense of perspective. We’re looking forward to seeing these beautiful views and the ruins, but I expect it may be crazy hot by the time we visit. Looks like you guys went at a perfect time weather wise.

  5. Okay, now I have to return to the Citadel! I didn’t realize there were ruins on the other side!! Darn!

    Love that photo of the five of us heading to the food truck. We were definitely on a mission!

  6. It’s been years since we spent any time in that area. Thanks for some amazing photos reminding me of why I want to go back.

  7. Amazing…your pictures are incredible MonaLiza. The ruins are so impressive and what a treat to walk where these ancient peoples lived and worked. What a cute picture of you all heading to the food truck…I do believe Sue hid behind Pam when the happy hour photo was taken !

  8. Beautiful country. Another place to add to my list. Thanks for the post, information and wonderful photos.

  9. I had never heard of the Navajo rug…gorgeous! One of these seasons we need to stay here in the west and just head to Utah. There is so much to see. Thanks!

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