Town History

Bluff is a Beautiful Town with a Prehistoric Past.

Native Americans

The Ancestral Puebloans (also known as the Anasazi Basketmakers) were the first humans to establish permanent settlements in Bluff, building small pit houses at first, then larger, multi-room cliff dwellings (Pueblo), and in some locations multi-story great houses.  Archeologists date these settlements to around 650 A.D.

By 1300 A.D., the Ancestral Puebloans had vanished from the area.   Abandoned dwellings, burial sites, petroglyphs, and pottery sherds remain, telling the stories of ancient inhabitants who were well adapted to this country many centuries ago.

Following the prehistoric cultures, nomadic tribes of Paiutes, Utes, and Navajos were well established in the San Juan country area by the late 1500′s.  San Juan Band Paiutes hunted rabbits, deer and mountain sheep; foraged for seeds and roots, and irrigated corn, squash and melons along the river bottoms.  Utes took full advantage of the introduction of the horse and lived a life similar to the Plains Indian cultures.

In the mid-19th century, Utes were hired by explorers and pioneer groups to guide expeditions and fight neighboring Navajos, who had migrated from northern Canada and spread into southern Utah. Navajos farmed the San Juan River flood plains and pastured sheep in the nearby mountains. After a number of conflicts, government military campaigns, and the tragic Long Walk to New Mexico, the Southwestern domain was once again opened to Native American and Anglo use precipitating rapid and dramatic changes to the Navajo and Ute ways of life.  While Paiutes no longer have a presence in the region, these three Native American tribes played significant roles in the development of the area.

Anglo Settlement

Snish explorers in the 1700′s may have traversed this area, but no white settlers called the Bluff valley home until 1878. Historic Bluff City was founded in 1880 by the famous “Hole in the Rock” expedition of Mormon (Latter-Day Saint) pioneers, whose mission was to establish an agrarian community on the San Juan River.  The original Bluff Fort and historic village of log homes was laid out with a church, school, and co-op store in the center and was surrounded by agricultural fields and orchards.  Farming along the San Juan River proved uncertain, for the river either flooded or went dry too often for dependable irrigation.

During the livestock boom period, 1886-1905, Bluff’s original rough log cabins were replaced by substantial hand-hewn red sandstone houses in the Victorian Eclectic style, some quite large and elegant, others built of wood frame lumber.  A number of these homes are now listed on the National Historic Register.  See the Bluff History Tour for a virtual tour of Bluff’s historic district.

Because they could not tame the San Juan River, many of the original pioneer families left Bluff for Grayson, Utah, now known as Blanding, Utah, twenty-five miles to the north.

Bluff’s 20th century economic history is replete with the rise and fall of mining ventures in coal, gold, oil and uranium, together with the challenges of cattle ranching and farming along the erratic San Juan River.

Bluff Today

Today, Bluff is an active center for artists, crafts people and writers, as well as others involved in farming and ranching. Tourism has also become a strong component of the local economy.  Bluff is in the center of the Grand Circle, an itinerary which links numerous iconic western National Parks, Tribal Parks, National Monuments and State Parks.  Bluff is near a common launch site for the San Juan River, and also a great base to explore the canyons of Cedar Mesa and Grand Gulch.