Grand County

County Profile

Founded in 1890, Grand County is located on the east central edge of the state. It encompasses an area of 3,689 square miles with a population of approximately 9,754 (U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates Program, V2019). Moab is the county seat.

  • Origin of Name: The Grand River (now known as the Colorado River), which flows through the county
  • Bordering Counties: CarbonEmery, San Juan, Uintah, and Wayne

A Brief History of Grand County*

Grand County is situated on the Colorado Plateau eastern Utah. The plateau includes two-thirds of the state of Utah and parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Composed mostly of sandstone and limestone, the plateau has been eroded by large rivers and other water sources into huge canyons and complex erosional forms that make it a rugged but scenically spectacular region.

Much of the Colorado Plateau in prehistoric times was inhabited by the Anasazi. First arriving perhaps as early as the time of Christ, the Anasazi had disappeared by A.D. 1300, probably due to years of drought. Today the remains of their cliff houses and rock art in the canyons delight explorers. A petroglyph of a mammoth or mastodon on a canyon wall west of Moab suggests occupation by Early Man.

The first white men to enter the present area of Grand County were Spanish explorers who discovered a crossing of the Colorado River at the site of the present highway bridge at Moab. Later Spanish traders and American fur trappers developed the route known as the Spanish Trail, using that crossing and one across the Green River above the present Emery County town of that name.

The first attempt by Mormon colonists to settle the Moab area was a failure. The Elk Mountain Mission reached Moab Valley in 1855 and established a small community, but the Indians who were already farming the fertile Colorado River bottoms regarded them as competition and drove them out after they had been there only a few weeks. Not until the very late 1870s and 1880s did a few Mormon families find it possible to build permanent homes.

Most of the history of Grand County has been the story of small family farms and orchards, mining for potash and uranium, and livestock. Large sheep and cattle companies have found abundant forage for their livestock in the canyons and the LaSal Mountains, and cowboys and outlaws figure prominently in the area's folklore. The uranium boom of the 1950s brought the first real population expansion to the area and saw the creation of a few large fortunes as well as many failures.

Most recently the income from tourism has been the county's major economic resource. Arches National Monument was established in 1929, and consistently increasing numbers of visitors led to its upgrading to National Park status in 1971. During the 1970s and 1980s Moab became perhaps the most important center for river running, mountain-bicycling, and four-wheel drive recreation in Utah.

*Used by permission. Beehive History 14: Utah Counties. 1988. Utah State Historical Society, 300 Rio Grande, Salt Lake City, UT 84101-1182.