People have lived in the San Juan River basin for thousands of years.The Ancestral Puebloans (also known as the Anasazi) were the first humans to establish permanent communities in San Juan country, building small pit houses at first, then larger, multi-room cliff dwellings, and in some locations multi-story great houses. By 1300 A.D., the Ancestral Puebloans had vanished from the area, and the Navajo (Diné), Paiute, and Ute people moved in some years later.
Archeologists believe the first permanent settlements in the area now known as Bluff were established around 650 A.D. See Bluff’s Deep History to learn more. Due to the dry climate, remoteness, and protection afforded by cave-like recesses in canyon walls, the areas in and around Bluff contain hundreds of archeological sites, many of them quite well preserved.
It’s easy to fall under the spell of canyon country and become a “Southwest Geek”. These folks return year after year, most often in the spring and fall, drawn by the beauty of the red rocks and the lure of a a ruin and rock art ramble.
Easily accessible sites such as River House Ruin, Butler Wash Ruin, Mule Canyon Ruin and Edge of the Cedars Ruin are maintained by a government entity and have been stabilized. Many other ruins and rock art panels are accessible via a short hike.
Hiking the area with a knowledgeable guide is highly recommended (See Guides and Outfitters). Many area guides have spent decades hiking the canyons and are able enrich your experience by answering archeology questions and detailing subtle features missed by most laypeople. Guidebooks are available for those who want to go it alone.