Area: 3,689 square miles; population: 6,620 (in 1990);
County seat: Moab;
Origin of county name: the Colorado River, which flows through the county, was first called the Grand River;
Principal cities/towns: Moab (3,971);
Economy: tourism, agriculture, livestock, mining;
Points of interest: Arches National Park, Manti-LaSal National Forest, Colorado River, Dead Horse Point State Park.
Grand County is situated on the Colorado Plateau in eastern Utah. The plateau includes two-thirds of the state of Utah as well as parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Composed mostly of sandstone and limestone, the plateau has been eroded by large rivers and other water and wind sources into huge canyons and other 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. Arriving perhaps as early as the time of Christ, the Anasazi disappeared sometime around A.D. 1300, perhaps fleeing a period of prolonged drought or hostile Navajo invaders. Today, the remains of their cliff houses and their rock art delight more recent visitors to the land.
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, of which that crossing and another ford across the Green River above the site of the present Emery County town of that name were a part.
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 late 1870s and the 1880s did a few Mormon families find it possible to build permanent homes in the area.
Most of the history of Grand County has been the story of small family farms and orchards, of mining for potash and uranium, and of livestock. Large sheep and cattle companies have found abundant forage for their livestock in the canyons and in the La Sal 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 witnessed 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 being upgraded 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, and the prospects seem good that tourism and recreation will remain important to the county for the foreseeable future.