bluff, utah & the bluff fort historic site

In April of 1880, 250 pioneers arrived in Bluff, Utah after an arduous 6-month journey.  They were part of the San Juan Mission / Bluff expedition, sent by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The Bluff Fort was the first and probably only settlement purposely placed adjacent to two Indian nations with the goal of establishing better Indian relations. The San Juan missionaries faced the task of establishing a livelihood in a desolate landscape, nurturing peaceful relations with the Indians, establishing law and order in a lawless land, and opening the area to future colonization.

On this Friday in May, 138 years after these hardy pioneers settled in, we arrived in Bluff after a busy day visiting Natural Bridges National Monument and Hovenweep.  We checked into one of the few motels in town, the Mokee Motel, whose proprietor was a woman with straggly blonde hair and a missing tooth.  She greeted us wearing a yellow floral house dress.  Our room smelled like a mixture of cigarette smoke and the sickly sweet fragrance of aerosol spray.  We sat at a table outside our room and shared a glass of wine and Triscuits topped with dill Havarti before heading out in search of dinner.


The Mokee Motel


The Mokee Motel

At the Comb Ridge Bistro & Espresso Bar, we had to wait for a table, so we walked around the grounds as the sun was setting and a cold wind blew across the prairie.  As the waitress added our name to the wait list, she declared that it was always windy in Bluff.  Last night she went home and her window covering had been knocked off and she found her house filled with dust.


Comb Ridge Bistro & Espresso Bar

Out front, a quirky art installation of life-size rusted figures greeted us.  We were serenaded by a dinosaur playing a trombone, while a steely horse and Native American totems stood by.  The Willow Street Cottages out back looked more inviting than our motel.

Next door to the restaurant, we found a decrepit homestead that was photogenic in the waning light.


Bluff sunset


homestead in Bluff

A rusty green gutted GMC truck stood in the parking lot beside modern-day cars.





The atmosphere and the meal at the Comb Ridge Bistro were one of the best dining experiences of our entire trip. After a Hefeweizen for Mike and a Petite Syrah for me, Mike had a falafel taco salad and I had a quiche with blue cheese, red pepper and onion. A group of six Chinese students sat behind us; one of them from California translated the menu and the waitress interactions for the others.


quiche with blue cheese, red pepper and onion

At the front of the charming cafe, art was offered for sale: tie-dyed scarves, earrings, painted notecards, framed photos of the area, and necklaces of natural stone, including turquoise. Mike was happy to get me out of there before I made a purchase.

After a restless night in our stinky motel room, we got up early to make a quick visit of the Bluff Fort Historic Site. At this early hour, the Visitor Center was closed, but the site was open.  We walked around through pioneer log cabins with quilted beds, an Ute teepee, a Hopi mud hut, covered wagons, and a blacksmith shop.

The Bluff Fort Historic Site recognizes the Bluff expedition of 1880 and the pioneers who settled here. This expedition was the last organized wagon train of its size in the United States.  Due to the harsh terrain, the missionaries averaged only 1.7 miles per day, a slower average than the Oregon Trail expeditions, the Brigham Young-led Mormon expeditions, the Mormon handcart expeditions and even the ill-fated Donner party expeditions.

No wagon road was built through rougher terrain than the Hole-in-the-Rock trail. Today, this trail is the most preserved wagon road in the West. The trail provided a crucial supply and access link between the Four Corners area and the western Utah settlements.  Many of its most challenging sites are untouched from when the pioneers blasted and cut their path.


romping livestock


traditional Ute homesite and wagons


traditional Ute homesite


inside the traditional Ute home


covered wagon


water wheel


covered wagons


wagon and log cabins




wagon and log cabins


Navajo blanket


quilt inside the log cabin


close up of quilt


inside the log cabin


quilt-covered bed


log building


Lyman family cabin





*Friday- Saturday, May 11-12, 2018*


“PHOTOGRAPHY” INVITATION:  I invite you to create a photography intention and then create a blog post for a place you have visited. Alternately, you can post a thematic post about a place, photos of whatever you discovered that set your heart afire. You can also do a thematic post of something you have found throughout all your travels: churches, doors, people reading, people hiking, mountains, patterns, all black & white, whatever!

You probably have your own ideas about this, but in case you’d like some ideas, you can visit my page: photography inspiration.

I challenge you to post no more than 20 photos (I have more here!) and to write less than 500 words about any travel-related photography intention you set for yourself. Include the link in the comments below by Wednesday, January 2 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Thursday, January 3, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation, every first and third (& 5th, if there is one) Thursday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired!

Thanks to all of you who shared posts on the “photography” invitation. 🙂