Monday, April 29, 2019

36 Hours in San Juan County

San Juan County has our hearts. This past "36 Hours" trip was truly something special. I know that each trip we have been on has enriched our lives and been so much fun and bonded our family in a special way; with that said, San Juan County really is something else. Perhaps it has something to do with the remoteness, or something to do with the sacredness of Bears Ears, or the friendliness of the locals, or the changing scenery, or the incredible food, or the rich history...I could go on and on, but really the only way to understand it is to visit it for yourself! We have wanted to go back to SouthEast Utah for the past 18 months, immediately after our trip to Monument Valley and our stay at Gouldings  Lodge. That trip gave us a reverence for the Navajos and their land, and so we needed to explore more.

Where to Stay:

After much research based solely on pools, I decided on a hotel with a pool/view to die for! And that is my new go-to way to do it! I know, I know, it doesn't look like much from pulling up to fact, I wondered if I had made a mistake. We checked in and the front desk employee was so kind and friendly and checked us in speedy-quick.

Our room was such a nice surprise! We had two queen beds and a refrigerator and microwave (which is a must when traveling with kids as it saves us a ton on food money). I was so surprised how quiet the room was once we closed the door...Hat Rock Inn is literally on the highway, so a room that was silent was a bonus! The owner of Hat Rock Inn, Joy, has recently updated the rooms and really they were lovely. The beds were crazy comfortable...I typically am restless the first night away from my own bed, but I didn't notice that at Hat Rock Inn...score! We had a two queen room (and three of my kiddos slept on the floor with sleeping bags) and it was just great.

The layout of the hotel premises is just amazing - the view along the cliffs and the San Juan River are truly world class!

Our first morning in Mexican Hat, we woke up and ate our breakfast along the deck overlooking the river. We ended up bird watching for over an hour! So peaceful and beautiful!

There are these cool modern leather seats along the glass railing that were perfect relax in and sight see. My kids could have sat here forever! We saw kayakers paddle past us and that was pretty darn exciting! 

I mean, really, the view. I read my book, drank my diet coke and just enjoyed the peace. My family and I are already planning another trip to Hat Rock Inn this summer to tube the San Juan River from the famous Mexican Hat to the hotel.

On Sunday, we spent 6 hours swimming and lounging fact, we ate our dinner and lunch poolside! I have decided that from now on, I am going to choose places to stay based on the pool! This was just perfection!

The pool was heated and is saltwater, which as a former lifeguard/swim instructor, is the BEST! There was a beach entrance to the walled off shallow area which we used as the toy search and rescue area...I'd sit in the hot tub and toss little plastic dinosaurs while my boys would swim around and gather them. Hours were passed this way...glorious!

These are the little toys that now come with us frequently. Boys! Ha!

What to do:

I am not kidding when I tell you that the highlight of this trip was our guided hike with Wild Expeditions to House on Fire Ruins. This place filled my soul in a way that I cannot describe, but it is special!

We met at Wild Expeditions in Bluff and followed our guide, Nate, to the trailhead of House of Fire Ruins. He explained to my children the importance of Leave No Trail before we headed on the trail. The initial descent into the trail was steep and sandy, but Nate was careful to help when needed (no help was needed as we are hikers). 

There were several dips into the dry stream bed and back up the other side while hiking to the ruins...we all thought it rather fun to jump down and scurry back up. And the recent wet winter, sure provided a green landscape which was an unexpected surprise.

I enjoyed watching my children follow Nate like ducklings walking behind him. Nate was truly awesome chatting with the kids and answering and asking questions the entire way!

He also pointed out several plants and biomes native to this Bears Ears are which are being protected. 

And just before we reached the actual ruins, Nate paused and explained how the elements created this phenonenom.  It was really cool listening to him and watching my children understand the uniqueness of this rock overhang. 

And then we had a final lesson at the ruins. I mean, come on, this place is so so cool! Look at how my children were enthralled! 

My daughter brought along a bit of my mom (who passed away four months ago) with this little stuffed Steif lamb. Nate was kind enough to think of this picture and said that now, my mom was with us, too. It was a tender moment shared for all of us. THAT is the kind of great outfit that Wild Expeditions is! The extra mile really impacted our hearts! 

My kids were so careful to not touch any part of the ruins, the walls, the ceiling, and were just so reverent. It was a special trip.

We really cannot wait to go back and do another tour with Wild Expeditions and visit with our new friend, Nate!

Places to eat:

We decided to try a different approach with our meals on this trip: a dinner recommendation and also a lunch recommendation.

For dinner, we ate at this rustic steakhouse and all of us walked away full. The atmosphere is just really perfect for the wild west and the ruggedness of Bears Ears. Like most every establishment in this part of the world, Cottonwood Steakhouse is seasonal. Seasonal means it is only open March through the end of October, so be sure to head down there to try their yummy entrees! 

The steakhouse surrounds this huge, ancient cottonwood tree and all the cooking is done outside! 

The inside courtyard is a great place to dine. We were there during a really high windstorm, so we ate inside the restaurant. But I have no doubt that the outside dining is something really fun! 

We were seated right by the heart of that large fireplace and it was so cozy and welcoming! The art work around the room was mostly the history of Bluff and the Bears Ears area which was so fun to read.

Because we were there early in the season, the cottonwood tree had yet to finish blooming, but it was still stunning. (In the right of this picture is the outdoor grill).

Cottonwood Steakhouse made us the yummiest, from scratch, blue cornbread muffins. And we all gobbled them up!

My son finished off every one's salads and later, my ribs. He walked away FULL to the brim!

I had their famous ribs and the sauce had the perfect kick to it...finger lickin' good, I tell ya! And they are known for their pies miles around...I am not sure there is anything better than a warm apple pie!

For lunch, we ate at the only year-round restaurant, Twin Rocks Cafe. This restaurant and Trading Post is nestled right below the Twin Rocks. 

We were so excited to see those rock formations and more excited to eat some Navajo fry bread!

While we waited for our food - we opted to eat outside since our crew can be quite loud - we visited and played "Would you rather?"

It was hard to decide exactly what we wanted to order...everything looked and sounded so yummy, but in the end, Navajo Tacos won out!

And boy oh boy! We were glad we chose that! They were perfect for a bunch of hungry people. 

I just had to share how a rock had fallen between the Trading Post and Restaurant and has stayed there ever since...pretty nifty!

The boss-lady, Frances, was so gracious and gave us a detailed background about the area and how she has loved living, cooking and serving in Bluff at Twin Rocks Cafe. She was originally from a fancy-schmancy restaurant in Park City, but has truly come to love it in SE Utah!

We left with full tummies and full hearts! But unfortunately, we forgot to go back for some ice cream...some locals said it was the best! Dang it! Next time, it will be our first stop!

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