This was supposed to be a video piece that would be part of the San Juan Strong Inspiration series , the county produced interviews and videos showcasing notable people and businesses in our county, but something happened. Operator error.
The interview Kathy and Craig Simpson, owners and operators of the properties, sat for in late May was too good to let slip away. The following is an attempt to see if the human memory and some research can convey what came out of that interview.
They sat side by side for the interview sharing a microphone on a chamber of commerce morning in the courtyard of The Stone Lizard Lodge. Their conversation and style was that of a well timed team. Timing like that could only come from a lifetime of love and understanding and the kind of familiarity gained from a trusting relationship that had survived the decades. No one was finishing anybody’s sentences but the stories were fitting together like a hand in a glove.
The Stone Lizard Lodge has a history dating back to 1947 and boasts being the first motel built in Blanding. Craig and Kathy have been restoring the property little by little into one of the nicest lodging choices in San Juan County. And even though the Covid-19 restrictions had changed the presentation a bit, the breakfast spread added to this conclusion, everything about this place is summed up by two words. Done right.
Travelers or those who have grown up in the desert southwest will recognize the architecture. You’ve seen it along highways and byways on the edges of Phoenix, Fresno or any other western locale that would sprout motor lodges on the outskirts of town. That flat faced string of rooms along one edge of a parking lot with a smaller wing along another creating an L.
The Simpsons have made that nostalgic look so inviting one finds a smile creeping onto their face surveying the colors of the walls, the green awnings shading the front of each room and the beds of plants padding the rooms from the parking lot. These are the Simpson touches that make the entire property not only a great base camp for exploring the Four Corners but also a nice place for a less energetic spin around town, taking your time in that courtyard with breakfast, recharging a bit before taking in some of the adjacent adventures in Blanding.
The office is not quite in the middle of the string of rooms that descends the gradual hill from the west. It occupies a space faced in native sandstone with vigas pushing out the top. It doesn’t take a trained eye to spot the little things that set the Stone Lizard Lodge apart from some of its more corporate or commercially furnished competitors.
The sconces around most lights are one of a kind works of art created by Craig and Kathy’s son Adam in metal, sculpted to pay tribute to the art being practiced by the people of the area long before the Simpsons had found their way here. Adams creations catch your attention throughout the property adding just the right underscore of metal to the architectural materials.
The rooms are well balanced works of art as well and filled with furnishings revealing another dimension of the design team. That of a man who was raised by one of a handful of mid century traders in the area and a woman who knows good taste.
The lodge delivers several surprises. It boasts a family suite with a full kitchen and room for 7 sleepy travelers tucked into it’s cool stucco walls. 16 other rooms ranging from Deluxe King rooms to Queen Size doubles offer a stay that feels like you’ve landed in a well appointed southwest hacienda. And the southwest motif isn’t some mass produced copy of such, the room themes are inspired by local ancestral puebloan structures and decorated with true works of art and photographs from local artists.
Craig Simpson cares for not only the Stone Lizard Lodge, The Blue Mountain Trading post and RV park, but with his siblings in the area, he’s keeping up the reputation of Duke Simpson, his father. A little over 60 years ago Duke brought a small but growing family to the Four Corners and set up home and shop a few miles down the road in the tiny town of Bluff.
Craig reminisced a bit about Duke and growing up at the gas station his dad ran next to the Cow Canyon Trading Post in Bluff. Duke would trade auto repairs for Native American jewelry or other locally produced crafts then sell them to tourists that might stop into the little trading post and filling station. Some pieces were kept and given as gifts.
Now for the RV crowd. If you are basing in the Blanding area, Craig Simpson’s attention to detail in care and upkeep of the Blue Mountain RV park should meet even the crankiest old guy with too big of a motorhome's expectations. Pull throughs are available! And each space has an unobstructed view of Cedar Mesa and the Bears Ears. Many front grassy areas with picnic tables. Tent sites are available too. And a dog walk. It isn’t just a coincidence that a store with some of the necessities for RV life is on the property sharing space with one of the finest collections of high quality Native American arts and crafts from the indigenous peoples.
Ute, Navajo and Zuni wares fill the cases of The Blue Mountain Trading Post. Coral, lapis turquoise, silver and skill. These are the ingredients blended into the art on display.
The trading post takes Craig Simpson full circle to the path of his father Duke. That morning Craig was behind the counter holding pieces that he judged as worthy of attention for the lost video. His large hands cradled rings and silver cuffs holding them up and admiring each piece.
Then he held out one very special piece and draped it gently across his left wrist. It was in need of slight repair, he explained. This piece was quite a bit simpler than much of what had been filmed, and its silver was not as shiny, its stones not as flashy as some of the pieces with four figure price tags. But from the look on his face, the value was very high. This was the piece Duke had given his first son, back at that first trading post. The one 30 miles south and well over half a century in the past. The one where those Simpson kids took to the cliffs and sand scrubbed landscapes that would forever be their home.
You really can’t go wrong at any of the properties Duke had a little influence in making happen. Craig and Kathy are seeing to it that the level of pride the family has delivered for so long is included with their part of the legacy at The Stone Lizard Lodge and Blue Mountain RV Park and Trading Post.
To book a stay or for more information on The Stone Lizard Lodge visit: https://www.utahscanyoncountry.com/stone-lizard