This southern section of Utah's Canyon Country (San Juan County, Utah) is highlighted by the San Juan River and Monument Valley. Other attractions include the Historic Fort in Bluff, Hovenweep National Monument, Valley of the Gods, Muley Point, Moki Dugway, Rainbow Bridge, and the Goosenecks of the San Juan State Park. Outdoor activities abound here with options for rafting on the San Juan River, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, ATV riding, canyoneering, and more.
Hovenweep National Monument was designated in 1923 to protect a desolate cluster of six ancient villages found spanning a twenty-mile area across the southeastern Utah/Colorado border. The towers of Hovenweep were built by Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited the Four Corners region of Utah between 500 and 1300 A.D. Most of the structures are believed to have been built around 1200 A.D. Archaeologists believe they were part of an agricultural community with close ties to ancient Native Americans near Mesa Verde.
Of the six groups, Cajon Tower and Square Tower reside on Utah land, while Cutthroat Castle, Holly, Horseshoe and Hackberry, and Goodman Point are located in Colorado. The structures vary in shape and size, including circular kivas (ceremonial rooms) and towers, and square or D-shaped dwellings. The Cutthroat Castle Group is the largest ruin, with several kivas below ground level, while the Square Tower Group includes the largest collection of pueblos. The Cajon Group is another large structure, estimated to house close to 100 people. Unusual in its D-shape, the Horseshoe House is believed to be several rooms designed around a central kiva. The Holly Group features a rock art panel that may have served as a solar calendar.
The Hovenweep towers were first documented by W.D. Huntington during a Mormon expedition in 1854. Ute and Navajo guides were already familiar with the ruins of Hovenweep, which means 'deserted vally' in Paiute. After a 1903 survey, Hovenweep National Monument became federally protected under President Harding in 1923. The monument was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and excavation began in the 1970s. Hovenweep is managed by the National Park Service. Services include a visitor center and campsite at the Square Tower Group, hiking trails, and restrooms. To reach Hovenweep from Bluff and Blanding, take U.S. Highway 191 to Highway 262.
Elevation: 4,300 feet (1,311 meters)
Aneth, or 'Just like the devil!' The Navajo people used that phrase to describe the business practices of the community's first white trader. The name stuck.
The Aneth Oil Field is still one of the major producing fields in the western U.S. Geology in this area is remarkably exposed, revealing colors that vary from mauve and purple to beige and gray. You may see traditional Navajo hogans (ho'gone) or shade houses--a pole structure used as a work or play area during the hot weather.
Aneth is a Navajo Chapter Headquarters. Chapters are equivalent to city or county government. Land, although owned collectively, is considered private.
Day tours include Hovenweep and Natural Bridges, in addition to Aztec National Monuments: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Mesa Verde National Park. Gasoline, sundries, and food available. No lodging.
The community of Aneth is located approximately ten miles west of the Utah/Colorado border and six miles east of Montezuma Creek on Utah 262. It is situated within the boundaries of the Navajo Reservation at an elevation of 4300 feet. Aneth is a Navajo Chapter Headquarters, and the location of Aneth Oil Field, one of the major producing fields in the western United States. Aneth is also home to the Aneth Community School, a Navajo/Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school that serves students from the immediate area. Aneth's estimated population in 2000 was 1650.
Elevation: 4,380 feet (1,335 meters)
Bluff was founded by Mormon settlers after they pioneered the Hole-in-the-Rock trail from western Utah. The original fort, Bluff Fort Historic Site, is still partially standing, and Victorian era homes--some on the National Register of Historic Places--provide a sense of life at the turn of the twentieth century.
A center of prehistoric life, Basketmaker and Puebloan archaeological sites are near the community. Sand Island is near Bluff with its many figures of Kokopelli, the humped back flute player of ancient southwest mythology. Rock art sites abound in the area. An unrestored ancient village site dating to AD 750-900 lies just below the surface near contemporary homes. Older still (dating from AD 1050-1250) and also unrestored, a great house, great kiva, and remnants of a prehistoric road are in evidence near the community. Great houses and kivas represent one of the highest levels of architectural sophistication found among ancient structures in the southwest.
Bluff is the site of the annual International Bluff Balloon Festival in January. In May the Reading of the Gourds takes plce, June sees competitors vying for prizes at the Herbert Maryboy Memorial Rodeo, and the Utah Navajo Fair livens up the town in September. Bluff also hosts the annual Fandango! in Bluff each October with nationally recognized poets and story tellers.
Popular day tours include Natural Bridges and Hovenweep National Monuments, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Canyonlands and Mesa Verde National Parks, Grand Gulch Primitive Area, and the San Juan River. Package tours are available by contacting Desert Rose Inn, Far Out Expeditions, and Wild Rivers Expeditions. Full services available.
The village of Bluff, nestled within the sandstone bluffs that give the community its name, is located twenty-six miles south of Blanding on US 191. It is on the banks of the San Juan River at 4380 feet in elevation. Founded in 1880, it was the first organized Anglo community in San Juan County.
Many of the Victorian pioneer homes have been, or are being, restored. Bluff was built on the site of a much older pre-Pueblo community, and ancient ruins of that culture abound in the vicinity of Bluff. Recently, Bluff has attracted a number of artists and craftspersons who are busy establishing an artist's community.
Bluff's estimated 2000 population was 370. It provides volunteer fire protection and maintains a Special Service District Board in addition to water utilities.
Elevation: 4,244 feet (1,294 meters)
Population (Mexican Hat): 110
Named for the inverted stone sombrero near the town, Mexican Hat boasts a colorful history. Early in the last century over one thousand people at a time descended on this curve of the San Juan River looking for gold, oil, or uranium.
Today, the town is a popular starting point for adventures on the San Juan River. The Navajo Tapestry--wavy geometric colors in the rock strata--makes a colorful backdrop to the desert landscape. Halchita, a Navajo word meaning 'the red lands' is across the river.
Popular day tours include Grand Gulch Primitive Area, John's and Slickhorn Canyons, Goosenecks State Park, Valley of the Gods, Natural Bridges, Hovenweep, Navajo National Monuments, and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Full services available in Mexican Hat, none in Halchita.
Halchita is a small community situated near the San Juan River at 4350 feet along US 163. Mexican Hat is located on the north bank of the San Juan River. Halchita, a Navajo word meaning 'the red lands,' is located on the south bank. These communities are approximately twenty miles south of Bluff on US 163. Halchita is the first community encountered on the Reservation when traveling southbound on US 163. It is the location of a government remediated uranium millsite. Combined estimated population of Halchita and Mexican Hat in 2000 was 110.
Located on the Navajo Reservation, Montezuma Creek is fifteen miles east of Bluff on Utah 262 at an elevation of 4300 feet.
The area was annexed to the Navajo Reservation in the 1950s in exchange for Tribal land where Page, Arizona is now located and land that would ultimately be covered by Lake Powell. Oil was discovered near the community in the 1950s, and today the nearby Aneth Oil Field is still producing. Hovenweep National Monument is located twenty miles northeast of Montezuma Creek. The community boasts a swimming pool and lighted sports field. Montezuma Creek provides volunteer fire protection, and estimated population in 2000 was 1430.
Elevation: 5,200 feet (1,585 meters)
The spectacular scenery of Monument Valley is captivating year round. Sandstone formations with fanciful names like Mittens, Elephant Butte, Totem Pole, and North Window reveal their greatest beauty at sunrise and sunset, and can easily be viewed from the native surface road through the Tribal Park.
Available facilities include a visitor center, campground, and restaurant in addition to guided tours. Gouldings Lodge provides lodging, dining, tours with Navajo guides, a museum, a gift shop full of hand-crafted Native American items, a grocery, and a campground.
The Gouldings operated a trading post from the 1920s through the 1960s, serving the local population with groceries and supplies. Harry Goulding made the initial contact with the film industry that continues today. Monument Valley has been the location for over sixteen major motion pictures and scores of commercials.
Day tours include Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks State Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Navajo, Natural Bridges and Hovenweep National Monuments. Full services.
Located on the southern border of Utah at an elevation of 5200 feet, Monument Valley and Oljato are surrounded by unique sandstone formations. Monument Valley is twenty-five miles southwest of Mexican Hat on US 163. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is located here, as is historic Gouldings Trading Post and Museum. The Valley is world renowned for its photographic possibilities. Since Stagecoach was filmed there in 1938, it has been a popular location for many feature films and television commercials.
Oljato, located nine miles west of Monument Valley on County Road 2406, is a tiny Navajo community and Tribal Chapter Headquarters with a traditional Navajo trading post at its center. Oljato Trading Post is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Estimated population of the two communities in 2000 was 1600.
Monument Valley’s sandstone buttes and mesas are among the most iconic images of the southwest. The majestic landscape has been the backdrop for more than sixteen movies, including Stagecoach, Forrest Gump, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, plus dozens of television shows, music videos, and commercials. Straddling the border of southeastern Utah and northern Arizona, Monument Valley lies within the Navajo Nation Reservation's borders. The Navajo name for the area is Tse Bii' Ndzisgaii, which means 'valley of the rocks.'
Monument Valley's isolated rock formations are eroded remains of their Rocky Mountain ancestors, formed by sandstone deposits and geologic uplift and then shaped by wind and water. Three main layers of Organ Rock shale, de Chelly sandstone, and Moenkopi shale are visible in many of the buttes. The largest of the freestanding formations towers 1,000 feet above the valley floor. Part of the Colorado Plateau, Monument Valley sits 5,564 feet above sea level and encompasses 91,696 acres.
A 17-mile dirt road through Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is the best way to see the infamous formations. The scenic drive takes two to four hours, and has eleven designated stops: the East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Camel Butte, the Hub, Totem Pole, Yei B Chai, Sand Spring, Artist's Point, North Window, and the Thumb. Rain God Mesa marks the geological heart of the park and holds special significance for Navajo medicine men. Many of the formations in the park have been named by the Navajo for spiritual references, or by early settlers of the area.
The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has a visitor center, restaurant, and campground. The visitor center offers Navajo-guided tours which include a visit to a Hogan, the traditional Navajo dwelling. Wildcat Trail, an easy three-mile loop around West Mitten Butte, is the only trail within the park that doesn't require a Navajo guide. Hiking away from the designated stops is not permitted.
Trails outside of the Tribal Park are unmarked and considered backcountry, requiring a $5 day-use permit from the visitor center. Monument Pass is accessible from the southeast side of Highway 163 and passes the Saddleback, King on His Throne, Stagecoach, Bear and Rabbit formations. The six-mile hike across mostly flat benches is moderate, although there are some rocky areas and small cliffs.
Monument Valley can be reached from Bluff, Blanding, and Monticello by taking US Highway 191 to Highway 163, the main road through Monument Valley. This northern approach leads through one of the most familiar scenes: a long stretch of highway running through the deep red desert toward the towering mesas of Monument Pass on the horizon.
Bluff is an excellent base camp for exploring Monument Valley, with several lodging and dining options. Nearby Mexican Hat also offers a couple of eateries, as well as its namesake rock formation. A bit further north along US Highway 191, Blanding and Monticello also offer dining and lodging while still offering convenient access to Monument Valley.
Elevation: 6,500 feet (1,980 meters)
Sheltered at the base of Navajo Mountain, the community is the trailhead for two trails to Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Neither trail is maintained and both are suitable for only the hardy and prepared hiker. Both trails require a permit from the Navajo Nation. Guides are available and recommended. One-way return transport to Page, Arizona can be arranged at Wahweap Marina in Page. No services.
The most remote community in San Juan County, Navajo Mountain is only thirty-five air miles from Monument Valley, but 110 road miles. There is no access directly connecting Navajo Mountain to any Utah location. Travel to this small Navajo Chapter Headquarters requires driving into Arizona on US 163, continuing southwest on US 160, west on Arizona 98, then north on Indian Hwy 16. Located on the Navajo Reservation at an elevation of 6500 feet, Navajo Mountain is the trail head for the seventeen mile Rainbow Bridge Trail, which descends from Navajo Mountain to Rainbow Bridge at Lake Powell, the largest natural stone formation of its kind in the world. There are 180 homes in Navajo Mountain.