Articles published in the Blue Mountain Panorama

This blog was created to preserve digitally, articles written by Janet Wilcox for the Blue Mountain Panorama. This newspaper is published in Blanding, Utah by Neil and Becky Joslin. By publishing digitally, more photographs can be added, and your comments and corrections can be quickly noted. Thanks for reading my articles in the newspaper, as well as on the Internet. If you have ideas for stories, please contact me at

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Does a Docent Do in “da” Day

Bluff Fort is a Happy Place to be as exhibited by some of the local docents:  l-r   Steve Bronson, Director, Neldon and Bobbie (kneeling) Holt, LaRue Barton, Ariella Thomas (kneeling), Ron and Lorraine Barton, LaMar Helquist and Graig Taylor HIR Board members.

Anyone know what a docent is? 
   Half a cent?  Two cents? Those who “do” ?  

Hint: The Bluff Fort has nearly two dozen of them. Some of them include local residents Neldon and Bobbie Holt, Karl and LaRue Barton, Beverly Vowell, Karen Dufer, Joyce Martin, Donna Washburn, Bernice Hurst, Max  & Sandy  Black, Pam Bronson, and Judy Lyman.

Give up? A docent is one who teaches or lectures, often serving as a volunteer at museums, historic sites, and galleries.  The Fort site has now expanded and visitors have increased to the point that a real push is on to recruit docents to help meet the needs of the many visitors who were coming each day.  In 2010 there were about 1500 visitors.  From March 3 of this year to June 30 there have been 5,376 visitors to this historic site.

Bobbie Holt explained how they became docents, “Last Fall we were here visiting the Fort with our daughter and grandkids and Steve Bronson, director of the Fort, asked us if we’d like to be tour guides at the Fort, and we thought it would be a good thing to do; so here we are.”   

Bobbie told of a recent experience she had at the Fort,  “Last Saturday while we were here substituting at the Fort, we had an amazing thing happen.  A German couple came in, and as we visited I told them I was going to Germany this fall.”  She explained that she was going to  St. Ingbert about 50 miles south of Frankfurt, and the couple said they lived very close to that area.  Then they asked her who she was going to see.  “I told them it was my sister Shirley and her husband Theo Herzer and I was dumbfounded, when they said, they knew them!”   Ironically, the visitor and Theo are both ministers in protestant churches in that area.

That same Saturday, Bobbie explained that at one time there were five languages being spoken: Russian, German, Spanish, Italian and English.  The Fort is fast becoming the multi-lingual gathering point of San Juan.

Another local volunteer docent is Ariella Thomas who moved to Montezuma Creek 6 months ago to teach Kindergarten.  “I needed something to do this summer, and came looking for a job.”   There were no paid jobs, but lots of volunteer needs, so she decided to help.  “This experience has helped me learn to love the area. When I moved here I thought it was the ugliest place in the world, and now because I’ve learned so much, I really enjoy being here.”

Other docents at the Fort come from out-of-town and include Lorraine and Dennis Harvey from Casa Grande, Az, Elaine and Frank Rowley from Coolidge, Colo,  Jim and Mitzi Perkins from Boise, and Ron and Lorraine Barton from St. George.  They will be in San Juan through the summer and live in camp trailers while volunteering at the Fort.  Earlier docents who served at the Fort were George and Lark Flannigan from Cedar City area, Bill and LoraLee Hall from St George, Corrine and Howard Hurst from Calif, Grant and Erleen Taylor from Highland , Keith and Geri Nielson from Utah, County, and Lamomi Sampson also from Utah county. 

Steve Bronson, Bluff Fort Director
Future Docents coming in the next few weeks include Russell and Peggy Capson from So. Jordan, and Lamar and Colleen Helquist.  In  Sept. Wayne and Marva Hancock from Springville, and  Erma Redd  will be coming to help.  Fort Director, Steve Bronson, added, “ We need about four more local docents to help us finish up this season and we could really use some local volunteers to help us for a few hours on Sundays.“

Docents at Bluff Fort, are multi-talented volunteers and do much more than explain and lecture.  They also garden, water, organize, run the gift shop, clean cabins, bake zucchini bread, and greet the public.  Director Bronson thinks they are the best.  ”How wonderful and great they are!  We have some wonderful people working here, who have a great willingness to serve.  I can’t say enough good things about them.  They have really spruced things up!”

In the early days when the idea of Bluff Fort was incubating in Corrine Roriring’s mind, Karl and LaRue Barton were the first docents and directors of the complex.   Last Fall, LaRue stepped down when Steve Bronson came on board. Corinne Roriing paid tribute the Bartons at that time, “We would particularly like to thank LaRue Barton, outgoing Visitors Center Director, for the great work she has done. She worked tirelessly for three years to advance the mission of Bluff Fort.”

Every state in the union has been represented in visits to the Fort this year, except Tennessee, and people from 44 foreign countries have come.  In the two hours we were there Friday July 8, we spoke to Frenchmen, Scotts, Irish, and people from Belgium.

So what is bringing tourists to this unobtrusive piece of real estate commemorating the survival and sticki-ta—tudy of the 1880 Hole-in-the-Rock Pioneers?  It’s certainly not glaring neon lights, loud music, and colorful buildings.  None of modern technology’s fancy recreation draws is needed to tell the Bluff pioneers’ simple, yet dramatic story of dedication and survival in the wildest country in the west.  Not only did they survive, but they did it all while carving a road across the rugged, unmapped morass between Escalante and Bluff, Utah.  These are the stories the docents share with visitors.

The cabins, stories, memorials and friendly visits with docents help to make a memorial experience for those who visit the site. One visitor from Morocco wrote, “God bless the souls of all these pioneers.” 
Another from England wrote, “Great to see sheer will power wins through this history lesson.”

Steve Bronson claims there is a unique spirit there, different than ay other place.  He recalled visiting with Kirk Nielson once, who told him: “I can’t even say the word “Bluff” without tears coming to my eyes.”  After visiting the Fort most leave Bluff Fort with the same feeling of awe and admiration.  If you have questions call the Fort at 435-672-9995

Monday, July 11, 2011

Donations needed for Co-op Store Match by September

            Both small and large projects need big pushers before they can be completed and Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation member, Graig Taylor is doing one more big song and dance, to encourage those with heart-ties to Bluff, to come forth with more than just words and feelings.   “We need everyone who is interested or connected to Bluff to donate money to help make the new “Bluff Co-op a reality.” 

            While the Hole-in-the-Rock Foundation has obtained a grant to rebuild the actual structure, matching funding is needed to create the inside displays and panoramas that will teach visitors about the Hole-in–the- Rock trail and the early San Juan colonization efforts. The final push needs to raise the last $90,000 for the HTR match by September.  Little and big contributions are appreciated.  Mail checks to
HIR Foundation  Box # 476 Bluff, Utah 84512 .

            In the early 1900’s, the co-op store was at the heart of the community of Bluff. It was originally organized with Platte D. Lyman, President; Jens Nielson, Vice-President; Charles E. Walton, Kumen Jones and Hyrum Perkins, Directors; L.H. Redd, Secretary; Benjamin Perkins, Treasurer; and Joseph A.
Lyman, as salesman

            The original log co-op store was located in the northeast corner of Bluff Fort. This cooperative venture provided a means for buying, selling and trading, and it became very successful. Navajos and Utes frequented the store and traded their wool, pelts and woven goods.  Near the turn of the century, the original log structure was replaced with a two-story stone building.

            In a letter to Joseph F. Barton dated January 16, 1900, Jens Nielson wrote, “Our co-op store is now so far completed that we can pile goods in the lower part, and [we] had all our holiday dances on the upper floor. The building cost $2,700 to date and will cost about $300 more to finish it. The store has cleared $2,700 in two years (Fall 2010 HIR Newsletter).  Unfortunately that Co-op was blown up in 1925 during a robbery attempt.  The robber, under the alias Fred Starr, used too much dynamite when attempting to break into the safe, blowing up both the co-op store and himself.

            The new Bluff Co-op will visually show the Bluff and Hole-in-the-Rock story, telling why and how the pioneers came, what they experienced once they arrived in Bluff, and how they survived.   It will also show the Hole-in-the-Rock trail, as well as San Juan Hill, and give visitors a reality experience with what a Co-op store of the 1880’s was like a century ago.  Who knows, there may even be honey taffy, and hard tack available!

            The 2nd floor will be dedicated to Bluff’s pioneer town center and Main Street, and will also house a video theater.  “The stone Co-op store, was the jewel of the fort, and was the center of old Bluff commerce and its social life,“ stated Corrine Roring, HIRF President.   With a big dose of Jens Nielson ‘STICKYTA-TUDY’ it will become so again. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bluff Fort Provides Pause that Refreshes

            It doesn’t take flashing lights, carnivals, and donut shops to entice tourists and busses to stop.  Having a  spacious clean bathroom facility ranks right at the top of important “musts.”   Imagine how amazed the original Hole in the Rock pioneers would be to return to San Juan County and find a luxurious bathroom facility at Bluff Fort!  Changing tables, running water, and private stalls for both men and women are a far cry from bushes and cliffs where pioneers sought bathroom privacy a century ago.   Bus tours, youth groups, families and other tourists who visit Bluff Fort today now enjoy a convenience that was never even imagined 130 years ago.
            The restroom foundation and cement slab was built by Hurst Construction, and Redd Mechanical installed the plumbing. A group of volunteers under the expert guidance of Ron Snowden put up the walls and ceiling beams and covered them with plywood.  Construction continued through last winter, and then in March when the Bayles family came to built their cabin, part of the group put up the siding on the restroom.  Tile on the walls and floor finished off the pristine facility, a far cry from the two-seaters of earlier times.  Its completion can now qualify Bluff Fort as a designated stop for bus tours going through San Juan County.

          As the Fort becomes more and more a reunion center for families, this facility becomes even more valued as large crowds can now be easily accommodated. In recent months the Hobbs family, the McConkie/ Wolf/ Woods families, and Sons of the Utah Pioneers have all convened at the Fort for their reunions and meetings.  Craig Taylor, long time promoter of the Fort stated, “We hope Bluff Fort will become more and more, a family reunion destination as well as a stop for tourists.”


    To learn about future work projects and volunteer opportunities, contact LaMar Helquist at 801-225-9096 or