Bluff Dwellings Resort and Spa opens and inspires guests to love the journey
Life is a journey. That’s the way Bluff Dwellings Resort and Spa creator Jared Berrett sees it. He and his family have made it their mission to celebrate every day and he wants to help others do the same.
That sentiment is reflected in the slogan he attached to his new resort tucked into the sandstone cliffs at the northeast entrance of Bluff: “Love the Journey.”
Berrett chose the logo for the resort because of its spiritual significance. “The Bluff Dwellings spiral logo, according to most rock art experts, represents the journey,” Berrett said.
“I want guests to feel like their journey was enhanced – not just their journey in the Four Corners, but their journey in life – that their life was a better experience in some small way by going on a tour with us or staying here with us.
“I want people to slow down, put their tablet away, breathe in the air, just take in the surroundings and say, ‘Wow.’ To respect and enjoy the surroundings is super important to me.”
The spiral is a prominent icon in ancestral Puebloan petroglyph rock art, so widely prevalent in San Juan County. It represents a path to follow – a continuous journey of progress and growth.
Berrett said it is proper, since he wants the resort to be more than just a place for people to sleep while they’re in southeastern Utah.
Bluff Dwellings is designed to help guests embrace their own spiritual journey as they enjoy the majesty and solitude of the incredible landscape just beyond the back door of their room.
When it is fully operational, the resort will boast 14 buildings and 54 rooms intricately designed to look like a Native American village spanning a thousand years. Three different dwellings will each represent a different era.
“Before the cliff dwellings,” Berrett said, “the ancestral Puebloans were nomadic. They were hunters and gatherers. To represent those dwellings, we’re putting four teepees on the property.”
The next set of structures represent cliff dwellings, from which the resort derives its name. You can hike all over around here and see cliff dwellings.”
He continued, “The last building is the big dwelling and it’s a pueblo. Archaeologists believe that around 1200 A.D. the cliff dwellings were abandoned. They believe that most of the ancestors of those Puebloans built pueblos along the Rio Grande.”
The pueblo, which features 15 rooms, is the first operational dwelling on the property. It opened just last week and has already received many rave reviews online.
It doesn’t take an expert to see that Berrett has spent a good portion of his time over the last several years obsessing over design and attention to detail.
Bluff Dwellings, even though it is still a work in progress, is a manifestation of the excellence to which Berrett aspires and the pride he takes in his work.
He is adamant that his vision of the resort eventually become reality – so he designed it himself and he’s building it himself.
A stop at the currently-operational pueblo revealed a stucco and rock structure that feels like an extension of the existing sandstone cliff.
Each pueblo has its own unique patio that is shaped by the surrounding landscape and features fire pits and chimineas.
A breezeway invites guests from the back patio area into a two-story kiva that features a public sitting space facing three large panels that will eventually bear Native American rock art.
In designing the Bluff Dwellings kivas, Berrett was inspired by the giant kivas located in the Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico.
On the third floor atop the kiva sits a balcony that affords a beautiful view overlooking Bluff towards Monument Valley.
In each of the rooms at Bluff Dwellings, Berrett painstakingly created his own version of the plaster that Native Americans once used in their homes. All of the artwork throughout the facility comes from local artists.
One of the most beautiful features of the resort is the pool, with a beach entrance, a slide encased in rock art that Berrett hand carved, and a giant jacuzzi. An exercise room overlooks the pool area.
The resort spa features double-bed and single-bed treatment rooms and a manicure/pedicure room.
Once completed, Bluff Dwellings will feature a “permanent food truck,” custom-integrated into a giant boulder and the surrounding landscape.
It will offer many tasty menu items such as brick oven pizza, chicken wings, paninis, smoothies, espresso, and Belgian waffles and hand-made omelets for breakfast.
The resort sports a 1,400 square-foot conference center that will hold up to 100 people and includes a catering kitchen.
Condo units that are set to open in the coming weeks will have all the amenities of home, including a full kitchen, living room, and a secluded patio featuring a private fireplace.
The septic system is an incredible piece of technology and will help the resort conserve water. “It’s 2,200 feet of leach field that has a recirculation filter,” Berrett explained. “All wastewater is filtered four times and can be recycled to water the property.”
It would be easy to roll onto the property and not appreciate what you see. To better understand the resort, you must learn the story of how it came to be.
After growing up on the Wasatch Front, Berrett moved his family to Blanding 13 years ago to take a teaching position at San Juan High School.
Berrett and his wife, Spring, have always been an outdoor couple. They love mountain biking, rock climbing, canyoneering, and hiking.
“So, within five years of moving to Blanding,” Berrett shared with a gleam in his eye, “we fell in love with the area, with the Native American culture, and we found ourselves becoming very knowledgable about the area.”
As their family grew, eventually to eight children, it became more difficult to get outside.
They thought they had found the perfect solution when they created Four Corners Adventures tour company in an attempt to make a living sharing their expeditions with the public.
But it wasn’t a solution. It was difficult financially and, at the time, it was impossible to obtain guiding permits from the government.
A lasting solution presented itself when longtime Bluff tour company Wild Rivers Expeditions came up for sale, and the Berretts purchased it. With the transaction, they obtained the guiding permits they needed to run tours.
For a while, they operated their two companies out of Monticello, Blanding, and Bluff. But slow growth forced them to abandon their northern offices and focus all their efforts in the Bluff area.
Berrett said at this time he began to pursue the purchase of land. When two property contracts fell through at the last minute however, he was discouraged.
“At that point,” he said, “I reset my bearings, mustered my faith, and the land that Bluff Dwellings currently sits on immediately became available. It was a Godsend,” he recalled.
Berrett said that since the property included 16 acres, he and Spring started thinking about lodging soon after they made the purchase. It was also at this time that the couple began to rethink their business plan.
“I originally wanted to be like Moab Adventure Center. They’re very successful, so I hired the owner as a consultant to teach me the business.
“But what I came to realize over eight years in the adventure tour business,” he explained, “is that I didn’t want to be like Moab. I wanted to focus on a wilderness experience in solitude.
“Moab is in-your-face adventure. What I realized down here is I want to be authentic to the Native American culture and to solitude that is getting harder to find in the world, and especially in the U.S.”
That mindset transformation is what eventually led Berrett to create Bluff Dwellings Resort and Spa.
Berrett taught for some time in a college of engineering, so he’s “pretty technical,” as he put it. Original designs he received for the resort he was planning “didn’t maximize the square footage,” he said, so he redesigned every single building himself, using a 3-D computer program.
Eventually, Berrett had an engineered set of plans, approval from the State of Utah for a septic system, access to the property, and a sign. But the sign was logo-less because he didn’t know if he’d be able to get funding for the project.
For a long while, it didn’t look good on the financing end. The lenders Berrett shopped the project to were simply not interested in funding a multi-million dollar project in Bluff.
“Literally, out of 15 banks,” he recalled, “12 were just like, ‘Forget it.’ A lot of them laughed me out.” Many suggested that if Berrett would build a Holiday Inn or a Best Western, they would finance the project.
“They didn’t see the vision of what I’m trying to accomplish,” he explained. “I really wanted to get the guests enveloped in the surroundings. The surroundings are beautiful to me. To put a modern hotel in this setting would be egregious.”
Just before Berrett gave up, one bank called to say they wanted to make the project happen. That was July 3, 2017 and it brings the story to where it is today – at the end of a two-year construction loan.
Berrett was supposed to have finished the project already. In addition, the construction has gone well over budget. So, for now, he’s in the process of renegotiating his loan terms and construction continues on the resort.
“The good thing,” he said, “is that the resort is operational now. It has reviews; you can see it, taste it, feel it, and it’s amazing. That’s in my favor.” And Berrett said he thinks that once Bluff Dwellings is fully operational, the resort has the potential to recoup its cost within ten years.
Anyone interested in seeing San Juan County thrive will celebrate if it does. With numerous local companies providing labor and production to the project, and the local manpower Berrett has employed, he estimates he has injected around $4 million into the San Juan County economy.
That will continue if the resort thrives. When business conferences, retreats, or seminars choose Bluff Dwellings, Berrett will use local catering companies to feed the guests.
“I worked on the Blanding Area Travel Council,” he explained, “trying to work with the cities and grow my business and employ people. Today I’m employing over 50 people. That’s considerable.
“There has been a lot of resistance against tourism,” he continued. “That frustrates me because this can be a great economic development opportunity and bless a lot of families’ lives.
“There’s so much fear of ‘becoming Moab,’” Berrett pointed out. “I don’t want to be Moab. I’m going to carve out a niche and have something unique.”
“If we grow responsibly, we can control it,” he reasoned. “And I think we’re doing a pretty responsible job here.”
Jared Berrett and his family refuse to live in mediocrity. They live every day striving for excellence. They are carving out a niche they hope will be one small part of a thriving San Juan County.
When they’re finished, they’ll have a beautiful facility that will give some folks an opportunity to rest on a little dot on a map in the middle of nowhere and appreciate some landscape, some culture, and some spiritual renewal.