Guided Adventure in Bluff
- Posted On
- Apr 07, 2020
- Southern Utah
Guided Adventure in Bluff
By Monique Beeley
“Bluff…huh…where is Bluff?” was the reaction I got from my sister when I called to invite them on an adventure with us. My reply: “It’s two hours south of Moab, north of Monument Valley, and Bears Ears National Monument.” She replied, “Oh…Bears Ears…yes, I have heard of that area.”
The small town of Bluff is located 330 miles south of Salt Lake City, 50 miles north-east of Monument Valley and has a population of about 300. If you haven’t been to this outdoor adventure-hub then you need to put it on your list ASAP. This small town really packs a punch for the outdoor enthusiast. Within a 60-mile radius, you will find thousands of archeological sites, hundreds of miles of trails, three National Monuments (Bears Ears, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges), one Navajo Tribal Park (Monument Valley), two State Parks (Goosenecks, Edge of The Cedars), one National Recreation Area (Glen Canyon), and the San Juan River…just to name a few. Pretty sure with a list like this, Bluff definitely hits the mark for being called a true outdoor adventure destination.
As usual, on the morning of a new adventure, I was the first one up, tip-toeing around the room trying not to wake anyone up. I quietly made my coffee, grabbed a jacket, and stepped outside to take in my surroundings. We had arrived at the Bluff Dwellings Resort after dark and I was excited to get a full view of the desert oasis that surrounded me. The morning light was just starting to fill the sky. The air was chilly and crisp and the smells of the desert filled head. I had 20 minutes to enjoy my coffee and quickly noticed an aptly appointed comfy chair that afforded me the perfect views of the desert landscape, and that glowed beautifully in the light of morning sun.
“Good Morning,” I said as I entered the room. “Who is ready for an adventure?” My enthusiasm exuded the dark, quiet room and at this point, my tip-toeing had turned into more deliberate movements intended to wake-up everyone in the room.
Forty-five minutes later, we walked to the hotel lobby, backpack in hand, to meet our canyoneering guides, Jared and Dallin. After filling out the paperwork and making sure we all had the proper amount of water, food, and clothing for the day, we were each fitted for our canyoneering harness, helmet, and gloves, which we added to our packs.
We had a two-hour drive to our canyoneering destination which allowed time for questions about the area and our upcoming adventure. The route took us on the Bicentennial Highway (SR 95) which is also part of the Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway that travels into the heart of the Bears Ears National Monument. As we drove, both Jared and Dallin were able to share their wealth of local knowledge about the area. Which is one of the many reasons I always enjoy my time with professional guides.
It was 10:00 am when we arrived at our destination, Blarney Canyon. Before starting our journey, Jared gave us the run-down of what to expect for the day. The round-trip route would be a total of five miles, three rappels, and should take about five hours.
One by one we followed Jared as he zig-zagged back and forth up the sandstone hill. It was about two miles before we reached our first rappel which dropped us into the slot canyon. The views were incredible as we gained elevation, and once we were above the surrounding bluffs we could see for miles in all directions.
The first rappel always feels a bit trepidatious. But after the first few steps down the rappel, that feeling always changes to exhilaration. Watching the group move through this transition is inspiring. We had another family on our tour and this was their first time doing anything like this. It was helpful for their kids to watch my ten-year-old daughter, Kya, who was the youngest in the group, cautiously master the first rappel.
Next, was a short rappel that dropped us into the vibrantly colorful slot canyon where we were able to practice our down-climbing canyoneering moves. Both Dallin and Jared showed the group the best practices for navigating the narrow and twisted canyon. This part is usually my daughter’s favorite because it’s like a natural playground.
By the time we stopped for lunch, we were all hungry and ready to just chill and enjoy our magical surroundings. This break gave me a chance to explore down the canyon a bit. I’m always in search of the perfect photo op. Slot canyons are one of my favorite things to photograph, and the ever-changing light or lack there-of makes for some truly incredible photos.
By the time we reached the third and final rappel, we all felt like seasoned canyoneerers, and knew the drill; one by one we descended into a cool, dark cavern. This was to the deepest section of the canyon and it felt like the temperature had dropped nearly 15 degrees. Thank goodness we all packed an extra layer. From here we navigated a couple more down-climbing sections in the shade before we reached the sandy bottom of the canyon.
The last 20 minutes back to the car were quiet. I’m sure some of the group were reflecting on the experience we had just shared, feeling a sense of accomplishment, while the kids were just anxious to get back at the van. Personally, my mind was filled with gratitude; gratitude for being able to share this experience with my daughter, my sister, and her daughter. And, gratitude for being able to safely explore such a beautifully rugged place. A place that was created naturally through years of water, wind, and weather carving and sculpting this smooth and narrow canyon.