Bluff: your stargazing hub for 2016 Dark Sky Week

dark sky bluff utah canyonlands natural bridges
Did you know that Bluff, Utah is within an hour’s drive of two Dark Sky Parks?  April 4th – 10th, 2016 is Dark Sky Week and a great time to plan a trip to a designated Dark Sky Park near Bluff for a stargazing extravaganza. Outdoor lighting in many metropolitan areas has virtually hidden the stars.  Most people, especially those residing east of the Mississippi river, have never seen the Milky Way.
dark sky bluff utah canyonlands natural bridges

Experience the beauty of the Milky Way at Natural Bridges.

The remoteness of the area near Bluff offers a great opportunity to experience the wonder of the night sky without light pollution.  Two National Monuments near Bluff are designated Dark Sky Parks. Natural Bridges National Monument is 56 miles from Bluff and the world’s first, certified International Dark Sky Park because it has zero light pollution.   You can choose from ranger led programs or explore on your own.   In 2016, Natural Bridges will again offer ranger led programs several evenings a week, and will include new topics such as archeoastronomy.   The ranger led programs also offer you a chance to glimpse the dark sky with Natural Bridges’ telescope and powerful binoculars and learn a little more about the heavenly bodies above you. Specific Natural Bridges 2016 dark sky programs will be announced later this month on the Natural Bridges Facebook site, or on the park’s website.  Natural Bridges states the best times for stargazing are around the time of a New Moon.  In 2016, New Moon dates are April 7, May 6, June 4, July 4, August 2, September 1, September 30, October 30, November 29 and December 28. Hovenweep National Monument is 34 miles from Bluff and was designated a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park in 2014.   Hovenweep will offer ranger led programs every Saturday in 2016 from April 16th – October 1st.   The programs take place at the Visitor’s Center parking area.  Hovenweep also has a telescope which can be used for viewing. Hovenweep was the sight of six prehistoric Ancestral Puebloan villages, and we know that Ancestral Puebloans were keen skywatchers.  At Hovenweep, you can learn more about the importance of celestial events in Ancestral Puebloan life. So, find a New Moon on your calendar and book your accommodations in Bluff.   Find your camera’s instruction manual and brush up on your night photography.  You’ll want to make certain to capture the perfect shot of your star date.

Road to the Mighty: All-American Road Trips in Southern Utah

If “epic family road trip” is what you have in mind for your next trip to Utah, look no further. VisitUtah.com has launched The Road to the Mighty as a follow up to "The Mighty 5" campaign to share some of Utah's hidden treasures. The Road to the Mighty helps you plan a road trip on the many scenic highways and byways that trace their way through Utah's famed National Parks.
Monument Valley 3- iStockphoto

Monument Valley is one of America's classic road trip destinations.

There are far more scenic sights in Utah than the classic 5:  Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches. If you want to get off the beaten path and have an All-American adventure, these 5 national parks, the “Mighty Five”, can be connected by several different road trips that take you through gorgeous landscapes like Monument Valley. VisitUtah.com has created an interactive list of 25 different road trip itineraries but to make it even easier, we've paired down the list to a few of our favorites. Visitors view pottery at the Edge of the Cedars Museum

Native Spirit

This 4 day, 515-mile road trip starts in Moab with Arches National Park and winds down to the Edge of the Cedars State Park & Museum in Blanding, then to Hovenweep National Monument, then on to Bluff to visit the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel and finally to Monument Valley. This whirlwind of a tour experiences Utah’s heritage and Native American connections to the land as witnessed through rock art, cliff dwellings and more.

Southern Dinos and Goblins

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 4.28.00 PM Because you could spend your entire road trip in southeast Utah, Visit Utah created one just for that! Southern Dinos and Goblins is 4 Days and 430 miles that take you to the Bluff Fort, Sand Island Petroglyph Panel, Monument Valley, Natural Bridges National Monument and more.

Footsteps of the Explorers

Fort-72 For a bigger road trip, try Footsteps of the Explorers. Totaling 6 days and 680 miles, its treasures will include the Bluff Fort, the Monument Valley Jeep Tour, a historic Drive-In and the John Wesley Powell Museum. This road trip starts in Green River and ends in Escalante.

Southwest Silver Screen

shutterstock_111755141 (1)mon vall resized Southwest Silver Screen takes you to Forrest Gump Point. Need we say more? Are too many options making it hard to decide? The good news is that Bluff is a great gateway or rest stop for many of these itineraries. And with our great lodging options, including RV and tent camping, we have the perfect location to host you and your family. You may catch the Road to the Mighty TV commercials that are airing across the southwest through April. For additional road trip ideas, see our recent blog 8 Great Road Trip Ideas from Bluff.  

The best time to float the San Juan

River rafting on the San Juan River with Wild Rivers Expeditions

Not a bad view from camp on the river!

The San Juan River is a favorite trip for families, archaeology buffs, photographers and hikers because of its gentle nature and all of the side trips it offers. You're guaranteed a few fun splashes but the San Juan is considered mild by whitewater standards. This scenic winds westward through Bluff towards its resting place in Lake Powell. If you are looking to float the San Juan, the best time of the year is April - June and because of a good snowpack this year, 2016 should be an excellent year on the river with high flows. The folks at Wild Rivers Expeditions are the local experts on the San Juan. They run trips April 1 - November 1 ranging from half-day Stand Up Paddleboarding outings to multi-day river rafting trips.  All of their trips specialize in teaching about the Archaeology, Geology, Flora, Fauna and History of the San Juan.

The San Juan River shares hints of the Ancestral Puebloan past. Visitors can see ancient pottery in its final resting place.

If you're lucky, you can join Wild Rivers guides and regional experts on one of their speciality trips this season:
  • Archaeology May 13-16
  • Ornithology Trip June 1-3
  • Yoga Trip August 12-14
  • Photography Trip August 5-7
To book your rafting, Stand Up Paddleboarding or other adventurous tour with Wild Rivers Expeditions, visit their website or call  (435) 672-2244.
 River rafting on the San Juan River with Wild Rivers Expeditions
Interested in their land based tours as well? 4 Corners Adventures offers jeeping, hiking and canyoneering outings that take you off the path for an unforgettable desert experience.

8 Great Road Trips Ideas from Bluff

Here in our little corner of southeast Utah, we seem to be central to everything! From the scenic views of Monument Valley, the dizzying bends of Goosenecks State Park to the majestic bridges of Natural Bridges National Monument, Bluff boasts an expansive backyard.  If you're looking for a fun day or multi-day road trips from Bluff for anytime of the year, here are a few recommendations. (c) Ken Lund

Sand Island Petroglyph Panel

Starting from Bluff, you can head west on Highway 191 a short four miles and visit the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel. The prehistoric rock art ranges from 800 to 2500 years old. Can you spot Kokopelli, the humpbacked flute player?  

Valley of the Gods

0747-ValleyOfGodsA Continuing west of Bluff on Highway 163, you can't help but notice the giant formations sculpted from Cedar Mesa sandstone. Painted with the territory’s famous red dirt, these monoliths boast a royalty of rich colors and fantastic formations.  The formations have been given names such as Rooster Butte, Setting Hen Butte, Balanced Rock/Lady in a Tub by locals.  As you drive through Valley of the Gods, think about the names you would give these formations. More information on the 17-mile loop through Valley of the Gods can be found here. Camping beneath these stately towers is a fun option, too!

Goosenecks State Park

0707-GoosenecksB_th The Goosenecks of the San Juan River are a series of tight loops– or “goosenecks”—made by the river as it flows towards the Colorado River.  Geologists refer to these loops as entrenched or incised meanders.  This state park has an easily accessible viewpoint above the river offering spectacular views of the goosenecks below. To reach the Goosenecks, drive west from Bluff on US 163 for 20 miles, then turn north on UT-261.  Turn left at the sign for Goosenecks State Park (UT-316).

Monument Valley

Monument Valley Road resizedThe famous Monument Valley. Say, didn't John Wayne poke his head around these parts? Monument Valley is all about the view of magnificent buttes, spires, mesas, and pinnacles.  You can tour the park via a 17 mile, unpaved loop that can be quite bumpy in some areas. Monument Valley is about an hour drive southwest of Bluff on Highway 191 and 163. For more information on its history and geology, click here. shutterstock_40037671

Moki Dugway to Natural Bridges National Monument

After you've had your fill of towering sandstone spires, buttes and mesas (but can you really tire of such beautiful views?), circle back towards Bluff but head north on Highway 261 to climb the famous Moki Dugway. These three winding miles of climbing will take you to the top of Cedar Mesa. A detour "left" at the top of the Moki Dugway will take you to the Cedar Point and Muley Point Overlooks. Best time to experience these scenic lookouts? Sunset. Continue north on 261 for 32 miles, then take a left on Highway 95 to follow signs to Natural Bridges. This National Monument is famous for its long, natural sandstone bridges and Ancestral Puebloan ruins. For more information about Natural Bridges, visit here. Natural Bridges Ken Lund 66198189_06a1f9ad6d_z

Arch Canyon Overlook

Photo (c) Allison Yamamoto-Sparks Continuing on our road trip, we can start to loop back to Bluff by heading east on Highway 95 towards the town of Blanding. On the way, you'll pass the Arch Canyon Overlook. This slight detour requires high clearance vehicles but is well worth the effort. Stunning views of Arch Canyon give you a taste of how grand all the canyons on Cedar Mesa are. We suggest reading Utah's Canyon Country blog for great directions on getting to the overlook.

Hovenweep National Monument

HovenweepB The name “Hovenweep” is a Ute word for “deserted valley,” a suiting description of the landscape of southeastern Utah. Once home to more than 2,500 indigenous people, the Ancestral Puebloan ruins of Hovenweep are believed by archaeologists to have been part of an agricultural community in 900 A.D. To reach this National Monument, continue east on Highway 95 towards Blanding. When you hit Highway 191, turn right to head south for 10 miles, then turn left on Highway 262 towards Hovenweep. More details about Hovenweep can be found here. After some fun stops and a couple of days on the road, time to head back to Bluff. If you are looking to add more stops to your road trip, we recommend checking out our full list of recommendations here. Have fun- and safe travels!

Celebrate Cedar Mesa Weekend March 4 – 6

Local conservation group Friends of Cedar Mesa is hosting its annual Celebrate Cedar Mesa event, a full weekend of lively presentations, local films, workshops, hikes and service projects helping protect the beauty and archaeology of this spectacular landscape. 2016 Celebrate featured imageThe three-day weekend held March 4 - 6, 2016 in Bluff is sure to make a splash. Friends of Cedar Mesa kicks off the weekend Friday the 4th with service projects on our public lands. Friday night, everyone is invited to a free evening of films, awards, snacks and a presentation on archaeoastronomy. Saturday is the big gathering at the Bluff Community Center. Early registration for this event is $30 and includes lunch and a chili dinner. The agenda featuring archaeologists, botanists, local land managers and FCM staff can be found online. Saturday night, registrants are invited to an evening of dancing and live music by Durango bluegrass band "Running out of Road." Cash bar. Sunday, meet up with other Cedar Mesa Celebrants for organized hikes and workshops. Register now for workshops, as they're filling up quickly! DSC02545