By Meredith Andrus (with contributions from Jake Powell)
“Small town rural Utah” is a phrase that conjures up certain images and notions. To a newcomer, especially one raised in Southern California whose experience of small towns is limited to the towns surrounding Logan, Utah, visiting Bluff for the first time was a singular experience.
I am one of nine students from Utah State University’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Panning. As a team, we are looking at the region surrounding Bluff, Utah, as a case study to learn about regional planning. As our class prepared to visit Bluff it became apparent that the opportunities available in Bluff differ vastly from those found elsewhere. Bluff is the gateway to Bears Ears National Monument, as well as a launching point for the Natural Bridges National Monument, Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, and Goosenecks State Park. All of these provided authentic experiences that connected our class to the history and culture of the landscape. I found these places nurtured a visceral connection to the land, they inspired, awed, and strengthened my relationship to this hidden corner of Utah. Our class found that visiting Bluff, getting to know the people, and experiencing the extraordinary landscapes, helped us feel a sense of invitation into a community rich in history, culture, intellect, and respect for the wonders around them. As one resident imparted to me, one should not visit Bluff with a list of places to see — to be checked off as one would when traveling to a National Park. Instead, Bluff is a place for introspection and creating a connection to the landscape; Bluff is to be experienced and not just visited.
Our class found that the region surrounding Bluff is beautiful and unique, much like the people who live there. We observed that Bluff is a community of individuals, individuals who share a common story – they serendipitously found their way to Bluff, are connected to this place, and they care about its future. The residents and business owners we interacted with have cultivated this area’s history and identity, and remain faithful in preserving the charm and timeless qualities that make this quintessential rural small town special. The shared story and resultant commitment of these individuals has created a community that is open, tolerant, kind, and genuine. Bluff remains authentic, a characteristic that seems to be fading fast from America’s culture.
To be honest, I was hesitant to visit Bluff and skeptical as to what I would experience. I was surprised and humbly chastised by the kind and open natures of the residents we met and the peace I felt while visiting this sleepy town. I found a place free from bright lights and flashing signs, free from the hustle and bustle of busy cities. This is a sleepy town, in the best kind of way. On my visit to Bluff, I watched shooting stars fall across a sky so clear I could see the Milky Way, I enjoyed friendly conversation over a meal at the Twin Rocks Café, and I stood in awe at the meandering San Juan River. I explored canyons, marveled at pictographs and ruins while contemplating the lives of the ancient inhabitants that once lived in this area, and I talked with the people that live here now. I may have come to Bluff skeptical, but I left forever changed. I can say that while I may be from Southern California, I am now partly a Bluff Utahn too, and I cannot wait to return!
–Meredith Andrus is a student in Utah State University’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Panning course taught by Professor Jake Powell.