Friday, November 27, 2015


On the northeast side of our majestically scenic town stand two rock pillars commonly known as the Navajo Twins. Perched on a slight promontory rising above town, these geologic masterpieces are named for the mythical Hero Twins of Navajo legend, Monster Slayer and Born for Water. Sculpted by wind and water over many millennia, the towers have stood guard over numerous civilizations, the earliest established in approximately 650 A.D. These silent sentinels presently watch over the approximately 225 modern day pioneers who call Bluff home.

Inspired by an alternative name for the spires, in 1989 Twin Rocks Trading Post was established at the base of these natural monuments. From that day forward Barry, Priscilla and I have “manned" the sales counter. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, we “entertain" visitors to Bluff with stories of local lore and cultural complexities. Anyone interested, or foolish, enough to ask is regaled with mostly true stories of our experiences buying, selling and trading turquoise jewelry, Navajo rugs and woven basketry. Despite notable gaps in our expertise, we do not hesitate to also expound on the history of the community and the Paleo-Indian, Anasazi, Navajo, Paiute and Mormon people who populated this region from the earliest times.
Read description below $500 for more info on how to WIN!

While there are a great many stories we have read, been told or simply made up regarding the establishment of this village, there is one mystery that continues to confound Barry and me. I was reminded of the issue about three months ago as I wandered through Twin Rocks Cafe sipping my morning mug of coffee laced with honey and cream. “Hey Steve”, one of our buddies from Blanding said, “what about the story that the twins were once triplets?” The question relates to the often cited lore that there were three sandstone siblings standing when the Mormon pioneers arrived in this river valley in April of 1880, and that one was blasted down to build the Victorian homes constructed during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Of the many elegant rock homes built during that era, only a handful remain. These include the residences of Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr., Platte D. Lyman, Frederick Joseph Adams, Hyrum Perkins, Jens Nielson and John Albert Scorup. These individuals are legendary in the annals of San Juan County, and their extraordinary homes stand as testaments to their faith and tenacity. Jens Nielson became the first bishop of Bluff, L.H. Redd and John Scorup established cattle and sheep ranches of vast scope, and together these men planted the seeds of family trees that have matured into an ever expanding forest.

The historical record as we know it, however, is devoid of information documenting the third sandstone offspring. For years Barry and I have examined oral histories, perused historic photographs and interrogated old-timers, looking for information that might help resolve this riddle. Despite our diligence, we have come up entirely empty. Not long after our friend put the bite on me, I sat in Barry’s office lamenting our inability to solve this topographic teaser. “Well”, Barry pointed out, “you never were good at that sort of thing anyway. Why don’t you just offer a reward?” “A reward”, I shot back, a bit too defensively, “aren’t those for outlaws, miscreants and persons gone missing?” “Sure”, he said, “but there’s no reason you can’t use one to locate the mislaid monolith." Despite my belief he had underestimated my critical thinking skills, I wondered whether he might be on to something and went to discuss the problem with Priscilla. Priscilla’s grandmother had always referred to the twins as her babies, so I concluded she might have some valuable insight.

Priscilla agreed we should use our limited resources to resolve this quandary once and for all. As a result, Barry and I have pooled our pesos and determined to issue a bounty on the truant. Therefore, the first person providing verifiable evidence of the existence of the third sibling will receive a $500.00 cash reward. The offer stands so long as Barry and I are standing. Let the hunt begin.

With warm regards from Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Tumbling Tumbleweeds

Last week I was manning the sales counter at Twin Rocks and visiting with customers when a strong storm blew in. Because the weather has been pleasingly moderate, we have been leaving the Kokopelli doors wide open so we can experience the outside world while working inside. As I casually conversed with a California couple concerning several pieces of Navajo jewelry they had recently inherited, I became interested in what was happening on the porch. As I watched through the open doors, several tumbleweeds rolled clumsily past, heading east along our wide red porch. A few minutes later, those same high desert travelers rolled back in a westerly direction.

As the man rambled on about an old turquoise, cluster style bracelet, the woman noticed my distracted gaze and followed it out the door. "Ooh!" she commented, interrupting her husband, "The wind must be gusting in circles. It reminds me of that old cowboy song, the one about tumbling tumbleweeds. Who sang it anyway?" "I think it was The Son's of the Pioneers", I said, "They also sang Ghost Riders, they were great." "Yes!" she said exuberantly and began to hum, then sing Tumbling Tumbleweeds. Let's just say her singing voice was . . . less than great. I smiled amicably as she sang. Then her husband scrunched his face, put a hand on her sleeve and shut her down. “That's the one!", I said with gusto, trying to ease the hurt.
Navajo Sleeping Beauty Turquoise Cluster Bracelet - Eugene Livingston (#141)

The woman had her own way of dealing with the man, she punched him a solid blow in the upper arm. Hard enough, I witnessed, for him to visibly flinch. "I could have been a cowgirl", she said, "riding all day, nights underneath the prairie moon." "I'll bet you could have", I agreed, looking to her husband who was rubbing his bruised appendage. "You seem tough enough." The woman laughed merrily and made another playful jab at her companion, he was not amused. The couple soon departed, with the woman humming and her guy keeping his distance.

There was plenty to do, but the golden light filtering through the doorway and cottonwood trees across the road were beautifully soothing so I lingered a while. The dancing tumbleweeds continued their awkward pirouette across the porch and graveled parking lot. I relaxed back into the stool I was sitting on and thought about how it might have been to be a cowboy, drifting along with the breeze and living the lonesome life. Just then a whirly-gig sprang-up in the middle of the parking lot and began to toss-about tumbleweeds, red dirt and anything else it could whisk-up into the disrupted air space. All heck broke loose, causing me to jump the counter and force the Kokopelli doors shut in an effort to keep the oscillating debris cloud from entering the trading post.

Moving to the plate glass windows, I watched the dust devil crank its way across the parking lot. The wind ripper stripped yellow leaves from the trees and hurled tumbleweeds, which looked like bundles of barbed wire, into the atmosphere. I saw my guests racing to their car, dodging stickery masses as they went. Followed closely by a cloud of dust and debris, they jumped into their car, slammed the doors shut and drove away. I guess the romantic notion of being a high-plains drifter had dissipated with the first stiff breeze.

I too have had romantic notions of being a historic cowboy or mountain man, living off the land, free to go anywhere I like and do what ever I want. That lonely life, however, was not my lot and I would not want to live without the love and joy my precious family and friends provide. Bluff is a great place to be, so I will settle for straddling the intersection of tradition and innovation here at Twin Rocks Trading Post. Anyway, if I had lived back then I probably would have lost my top knot early on. Even in these modern days, Steve and I have been scalped a time or two. Luckily though, there has been no hair loss. I truly am satisfied with my life, so I'll just keep rolling along. Deep in my heart is a song, here in Bluff I belong, drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.

With warm regards from Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

Friday, November 13, 2015


Late in the afternoon I stood behind the jewelry counter watching the day fade to black. It was the type of fall day that causes Twin Rocks Trading Post patrons to ask, "Is it always this nice here?” As we all know, nothing is universally the same, and in Bluff everything, including the weather, can change in an instant.

Bluff Cottonwood Trees

During evenings like this I long to bottle a few early November hours to remind me of autumn during the heat of summer or the chill of winter. On this particular evening, the golden sunlight streamed through yellow cottonwoods and splashed on the ground, creating pools of gold I treasure more than any precious metal. This serene beauty makes my heart beat slower, and at times leaves me in an almost hypnotic trance.

As the sun set, the smell of ripe melon permeated the store and I noticed customers unsuccessfully attempting to identify the scent. A young man in his early twenties strode in sporting waist length hair imprisoned by a series of rubber bands and an Australian accent that seemed too forced to be authentic. Neglecting the unusual aroma, he asked, "Do you have knee-high moccasins and bone chokers?" "Sorry, no", I answered without further explanation, putting him on notice this is not a knee-high moccasin and bone choker kind of place.

Moments later an elderly couple wandered through the store, smiling, pointing and complimenting in a friendly fashion. Their senses worked hard to define the unrecognized fragrance. Only a few hours earlier Ray Lovato had delivered the aromatic fruit, along with blue corn cookies and several chilies. "Grown from my own patch," Ray proudly proclaimed as he handed over the produce.

Ray had informed me the melon was a highly effective means of exciting the opposite sex. He said one must eat its fruit and boil the left over rind in alcohol to produce the desired effect. Once the husk was completely rendered, he advised me to rub it on my face, chest and other anatomical parts that should not be mentioned in polite company. "Guaranteed to work", he affirmed. His daughter blushed and turned away.

After Ray exited the trading post, a mining economist who had previously been holding forth on existing and extinct turquoise mines asked, "Has he been drinking?" "Drunk on the fairer gender," I explained, "Ray gave up booze decades ago. Now he's addicted to turquoise and memories of the past, maybe hoping for future adventures if his melon recipe works out."

The question posed by the economist reminded me how difficult it is for our customers to understand local culture. It also brought to mind an incident that happened several years earlier when two women came striding into the post. "Are you here for the Bluff Arts Festival," I asked. "Yes," they responded, "we were out at St. Christopher's Mission for the Spin Off. There was a live sheep when we arrived that was dead when we left”, they explained with unvarnished disgust. The women failed to understand that, on the Navajo reservation, sheep are considered a gift to the people; an expendable resource.

Ray's romance melon and chilies

Later that same evening, Kira's friend Gabby and I were discussing the proper method of slaughtering sheep when Kira announced that killing them was “awful." Gabby patiently explained the process to Kira and described delicious foods created from sheep intestines, brains and blood. To Gabby, butchering animals for food was as natural as taking ground beef from the freezer. Kira, however, found the process foreign. Gabby's patient explanation opened a window of understanding for Kira, and helped her appreciate the differences that define their lives.

In our modern world of prepackaged everything, society has forgotten the basic functions of rural life. Like Gabby, many of our Native American friends still understand how it used to be. Ray, however, must not be one of them. As Barry and I can attest, his "traditional" love potion was a complete flop. Just don’t ask how we know.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post