Nestled between dramatic 300-foot sandstone cliffs and the San Juan River, lies the small community of Bluff, Utah. Its tall shade trees and several sturdy sandstone homes are an oasis in a stark desert setting. The historic district encompasses most of the original 1880 town site, cemetery hill, and the bluffs north of town. Most of the remaining historic homes were built between 1890 and 1905, and they are of the Victorian eclectic or vernacular architectural style. The only remaining historic building which is not a residence is the LDS Tithing House/Powell Trading Post.
The town was originally laid out in the same pattern as other early Mormon towns - in large square blocks. The cemetery is located on a prominent hill directly north of town at the base of the cliffs. Most of the graves are outlined with cobblestones; there is no landscaping. The winding drive, grave markers of significant artistic and cultural merit, and the panoramic view make this a fascinating place to visit.
Three distinct natural features clearly evident to the visitor are Locomotive Rock and Twin Rocks on either site of the bluffs. Locomotive Rock is named as such because of its similarity to a locomotive. Twin Rocks symbolize the Navajo Twins of the Navajo creation tradition.
The Bluff Ballroom is also an interesting place to visit. It is comprised of a large natural alcove or cave in the sandstone. The Ballroom has been used by Bluff residents for dances and other information social gatherings since the late 1800s.
Bluff City was established in 1880 by a group of Mormon pioneers called to colonize the San Juan River area of southeastern Utah. The Bluff settlers had to accomplish an arduous 180-mile, five-month long winter trek through the rugged country of southeastern Utah to arrive at their destination. Their route became known as the Hole in the Rock Trail. The most difficult segment of this trail was a steep, narrow passage, which had to be blasted with dynamite in order to allow passage of wagons. This spot can still be visited on Lake Powell. Even though much of the trail is under water, the difficulty of this trip is obvious to today's observer.
After the settlers established their town, they were beset by the challenges of marginal soil, floods, dam breaks, extreme heat, and Indian trouble. In March and April of 1884, floodwaters up to nine feet higher than normal destroyed homes and ruined much farmland. At this point, some of the settlers left, those who stayed developed a local livestock industry. They formed the "Bluff Pool," a cooperative livestock venture that enabled them to compete with the large cattle outfits from Colorado, Texas, and New Mexico. This was the period of prosperity in which most of the beautiful sandstone homes that you see today were built. Today, the region's national parks, canyons, prehistoric sites, river running, and mountain biking have attracted tourists in unprecedented numbers. Recapture Lodge and the trading post are places a visitor should not miss.
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