After our trip through the Valley of the Gods we landed in Bluff Utah. It was getting dark, so we checked into the Kokopelli Inn.
The Kokopelli Inn has modest rooms and is great for spending the night. One bonus was the owner’s husband is a Jets fan, so he and Mrs. Badlandsexpeditions had a nice conversation about their losing team.
The main attraction is Bluff Fort. Bluff Fort is a restored/rebuilt Mormon settlement that is a Church Historical site.
In 1878 there was a “Mission Call” to establish a settlement at Montezuma, on the San Juan River, in the southeastern region of Utah.
70 families consisting of 250 men, women and children answered the call and left their established comfortable lives to venture in to the uncharted wilderness.
A scouting party had identified a route that was approximately 125 miles and would take only six weeks. The reality was, the journey was over 260 miles and took over six months through the winter.
The convoy of horses and wagons were stopped at the top of a massive mesa with a 1,200 ft almost sheer drop to the Colorado River. For six weeks, the Mormon pioneers chipped, dug and blasted a passage through this steep (45 degree) gorge. It was named the “Hole in the Rock”.
The Mormons used ropes attached to anchors to control the wagons descent down the steep trail. Many of the women and children slid down on their butts. Finally at the Colorado River, the Mormon missionaries were still a distance from the destination. This obstacle was not the last one on this journey. Cottonwood Hill proved to be a larger obstacle than the Hole in the Rock requiring more blasting than the Hole. Other obstacles were the Slick rocks requiring more blasting and the creation of a switchback road the mountain. The Cedars took the settlers through a dense forest of pine trees that had the men cutting a 20-mile road through the forest. The final obstacle was Comb Ridge where a dugway had to be built to ascend the hill. After six months, the group arrived at present day Bluff; about 20 miles short of their destination Montezuma. Exhausted, the settlers decided to stop there.
The pilgrims built their community in a large square with their small cabins on four sides with the doors all facing the center plaza.
In addition to building their community, a major challenge was irrigation for their fields, and they worked at different methods of getting water from the San Juan river to their fields.
Bluff Fort Historical site does a great job of recreating the actual settlement with replicas of actual buildings as well as the remains of some original buildings. Walking though these modest cabins takes you back in time and you imagine how life was at that time and the hardships. The thick timbers the cabins were made up offered insulation from the heat and the cold and each cabin had a fireplace. Despite the strong construction of the cabins, the roof construction was lacking and the cabins suffered from leaks .
Perhaps I overthink some things, but I could not help imagining the smell of unwashed bodies in summer heat. Especially with all the heavy clothing worn by both men and women as was the fashion at the time.
The restored Co-op store serves as a visitors center and the staff are very well versed in the history of the Fort and the travels of the settlers. There is a short video about the journey the settlers took and was one of the better of these types of videos that I’ve seen.
There are many original photographs of the settlers and given the penchant of Mormons for recording family history we have a good look into life back then. Each cabin featured an audio recording about the family that had lived there and offered a glimpse into their lives. More than one family suffered the loss of the wife/mother during or just after childbirth, leaving the man alone with his four or five children.
This is an exceptionally well-done restoration and a testament to the faith , strength and resilience of these pioneers. It is certainly worth the stop if you are in the vicinity.
H/t to the below links for resource information and for further information on Bluff Fort.