The great flowering of Anasazi culture during the late 10th through the early 12th century was centered around the dry, remote area of northern New Mexico, in the southern San Juan Basin, called Chaco Canyon. The Chaco Anasazi had their base in Chaco Canyon centered around such massive public, ceremonial structures like Pueblo Bonito
and Pueblo Alto
, but had sent feelers out all over the Four Corners region. These outliers, built around the same plan as the Great Houses in Chaco Canyon, are located in strategic locations and influenced prehistoric Pueblo populations for hundreds of years to come. In Utah, one of the best preserved examples is at Edge of the Cedars
. To see what one of these massive outliers looked like before modern excavation and reconstruction a great place to go is the Bluff Great House.
Situated on a low gravel bluff overlooking the town of Bluff. In the late 1000's, this valley would have been filled with small hamlets and fields, irrigated by water from the San Juan River. The Bluff Great House, standing several stories tall with a ceremonial Great Kiva and Chacoan road, would have been the center of society along this stretch of the river. Now the village is a large pile of rubble, the kiva a sunken circular area, and the road just an eroded swath. While some excavation and pot hunting has gone on at the ruin over the years, it has not been rebuilt like nearby Edge of the Cedars. Potsherds and other artifacts litter the ground around the ruin; please leave them where they lay.
The trail begins at the information kiosk. Stop here to learn a bit of the history of the ruin, as well as see a site map, showing the location of major archaeological features. Then walk back up the dirt road, part of the ancient Chacoan road. Cross the Cemetery Road, and follow the dirt path towards the mound of rubble. The trail divides near the southwestern portion of the mound. The two branches that go to the right connect, looping around the pueblo. The trail to the left loops around the Great Kiva.
Heading to the right, the trail rises up a portion of the ruin. Several remains of walls can be seen poking through the rubble, and a few sunken area denote rooms or interior kivas. The trail then winds down to the base again and circles to the north side of the ruin. Here you can see remains of the encircling wall, and on the backside a small section of excavated room. Here you can see a great example of outlier Chacoan masonry. It is not as finely finished as "core" Chacoan structures, but the classic core-and-veneer construction is present here.
From this point, the trail winds around the back of the structure and meets back up with the other branches at the main junction. Follow the western branch to see the remains of the Great Kiva, and then head back to your vehicle by the same path as you came.
The paved road that you cross to and from the vehicle to the ruin is the Cemetery Road, which leads to the Bluff Cemetery. Pioneers, and their descendants, are buried here on the mesa top. One has to wonder how many ancient artifacts and burials the undertakers of Bluff have encountered.