Culture and Canyons in Utah's San Juan County
It´s somehow unbelievable that it was just more than 100 years ago that the first Mormon settlers populated the mighty canyons of the San Juan County region in southern Utah with their simple wagons. Yet today remain not only traces of these pioneers, but also of natives that lived here thousands of years before. This region is among the most breathtaking natural landscapes in the U.S. and is not surprisingly known as the world´s greatest outdoor museum.
The History of Pioneers at Bluff Fort
To begin our journey, we visit the very first settlement of the region. Here in Bluff, the first Mormons settled in the 1880s after a months-long journey. This first settlement has been reconstructed almost completely and the wooden houses have been painstakingly furnished. Audio tours tell interesting stories about the people who once lived here. In an adjacent building, a woman in a traditional outfit is weaving a small carpet and gives us insights into the handicrafts of the 1880s.
Natural Bridges National Monument
About an hour away is Natural Bridges National Monument, home to three of the biggest natural stone bridges in the world. From one of the parking lots, we descend into the White Canyon to see one of theses bridges, the Sipapu Bridge, up close. The hike alone, which took us about 45 minutes, is great fun. We walk over wooden ladders and stone staircases until we stand directly in front of this impressive natural wonder, whose mighty arch reflects in the shallow water of the small river that runs through the canyon.
If you arrive here in the afternoon, you should definetely plan to stay through the evening and at least part of the night. After we‘ve driven to the nearby Owachomo Bridge, the largest in the park, we stay here until long after sunset. This is the first International Dark Sky Park, which means it‘s an area that prevents as much artificial light as possible from polluting the dark night skies. Long after the sun is gone, the half-moon and the stars shine so brightly that we cast shadows!
Breathtaking Sights in Monument Valley
We continue our journey the next morning to fascinating Monument Valley, one of the most famous natural landmarks in the U.S., known from countless films and commercials. The area of the iconic mesas is located on the tribal territory of the Navajo natives who offer guided tours. At John Ford‘s Point, a view known from the eponymous director‘s famous Westerns, we rent a horse and pose for a memorable picture on the back of a horse with our cowboy hats on.
Even More Iconic Places in San Juan County
On we go to Four Corners National Monument, about 1.5 hours away, also located on Navajo territory. This is where four states – Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado – meet at one single point.
From here, we drive 2.5 hours to make it right in time for sunset at the Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands National Park, where we enjoy the breathtaking view onto wild canyon vistas that are painted deep red by the setting sun.