Sunday, September 7, 2014

San Juan County's First Mormon Settlement - Bluff Fort.

Bluff Fort/Visitors Center

550 Black Locust Avenue
Bluff, Utah, 84512

Phone: (435) 672-9995


Many times I have gone through Bluff, Utah with the sole purpose of getting elsewhere; it just happened to be on the way.  Sometimes we have even stopped to have a great meal at the Twin Rocks Café; but Bluff Fort was always bypassed.  Why you might wonder?  Simple, the descendants (Bluff, Monticello and Blanding locals) of the "Hole in the Rock Pioneers" make you want to with their "My ancestors were the pioneers and you must bow to me." attitude; not only to "outsiders" (anyone not from Utah state and/or Mormon), but anyone from Utah and/or Mormon who is not descended from the pioneers; yep, they're considered "outsiders" too.  Remembering that their ancestors were themselves "outsiders" seems to keep slipping their minds; fact is, the Native Americans were the first settlers in San Juan County, then came the ranchers from Colorado and Texas.  Digging through the archives of written records of the 1800s at BYU and University of Utah; these pioneers were sent here by the higher powers that be in Salt Lake City for more reasons than to expand settlements through San Juan County.  In other words, being descended from the "Hole in the Rock Pioneers" might not be something to brag about in the long run if you read up on the deep, dark history. 

So, instead of going through the whole history of those pioneers and Bluff itself; I'm going to write about Bluff Fort from a "tourist/historical site of the Old West" point of view from here on.  While it's called Bluff Fort, it's not a fort in the sense of the tall walls built around a settlement; it's simply a short rail fence, about four foot high, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

As soon as you enter the brick Visitors Center building, you are engulfed in this amazingly stocked gift shop.  Bluff Fort, thankfully, does NOT have a contract with Canyonlands National History Association (CNHA), so they are able to sell books, wares, knick-knacks and artwork of all types, most especially from local artists.  One of the directors on the museum board is the owner of Jacob Lake Inn, located in the Kaibab National Forest, Arizona; so those delicious cookies and brownies from their bakery are fresh made daily at the Fort also.  The employees of Bluff Fort are all local volunteers dressed in period costumes and the friendliest folks you want to meet; so sign that guest book and give a donation into the box!

Before going outside, you are introduced to the pioneers by watching a very short video in the Chapel.  The trek was indeed incredible, all 200 people made it through, 2 babies were born along the way, and not one animal was lost either.  Now that accomplishment is something those pioneers certainly had the right to brag about!

Walking outside is traveling back into time, into the era of the Old West; covered wagons, Dutch ovens over fire pits, log cabins with Spartan décor inside; one room school house; blacksmith's shop; and so much more.  I happily took many a panoramic shot, and many closeups; this is what I picture when thinking about the "winning of the West".

The tour throughout is self-guided; there are boxes on the cabins where you can push a button and the description is voiced in the language of your choice.  How neat is that!!!

Original Hole in the Rock Wagon

Log Meeting House

One Room School House

Barton Blacksmith Shop

Covered Wagons and Dutch Oven Cooking

Dutch Oven Cooking

Now lets meet some of those pioneers, well, at least see where and how they lived.

Decker Family

Frederick and Mary Jones

The "Richie Rich Clan" of the Pioneers was the Joseph Barton Family.

Lemuel Redd

The Perkins Family

The first stone home built in Bluff was for the Kumen Jones family in 1893; gee, were the Bartons jealous that they had been outdone by the neighbors?

A new feature is a dedication to the LDS President, John Taylor, who instructed these people to pull up stakes in their current homes and make the move out to San Juan County.  There is also a dedication to the pioneers themselves and a listing of all the names.

So, there you have Bluff Fort from the viewpoint of an "outsider" - not from the state of Utah, not a Mormon and not related to the pioneers in any way, shape or form.  Looking at it from an Old West point of view though, this is a great place to visit!!!

Currently Bluff Fort is open 7 days a week from 8:30AM to 7:30PM; during the winter, hours and days are dependent on the weather, so call them to make sure they're open when you want to visit.  Oh, did I forget to mention; it's free!  Thought that would peak your interest.

Mary Cokenour

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