Archeological evidence suggests that the Moab area and surrounding country was inhabited by a tribe of ancient Indians, the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi), perhaps as early as 10,000 years ago. The present town of Moab sits on the ruins of pueblo farming communities dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. The Indians left in the middle of the 13th century for unknown reasons. Nomadic Ute tribes greeted the first Europeans to arrive in the Canyonlands area.


In 1855 Mormon missionaries attempted to settle the area and established the Elk Mountain Mission but a Ute Indian attack forced the mission to close after only 3 months. For the next 3 decades the future site of Moab was used intermittently by trappers, prospectors, and cattleman. Permanent settlement was not achieved until the 1870s.
Region History
The first people to settle in the fertile Spanish Valley, named after the "Old Spanish Trail," which ran through it, were the Mormon pioneers in 1877. These early settlers, coming in from the north, encountered the deep canyon walls of the Grand River (officially renamed the Colorado River in May, 1921) and were unable to take wagons over, or around, the steep canyon walls.

They unloaded their supplies, took their wagons apart, and lowered them by rope over the ledge 1 piece at a time. They then drove their oxen over a high, rocky canyon rim and lead them down deep sand dunes to the wagon parts. After the wagons were reassembled and supplies reloaded, they made their way through sand almost 1 foot deep until they came to the river. They then had to find a place that was free of quicksand, yet shallow enough to permit them to cross this large and treacherous river. This crossing was made below the present river bridge and it is where settlers later put in a ferry, which served as the only means across the river, until a bridge was built in 1911.


In 1881 the area was known as Grand Valley and early on Moab was typical of a "wild west" town. A prospector who visited Moab in 1891 remarked that it was known as the toughest town in Utah because the area and surrounding country has many deep canyons, rivers, mountains and wilderness areas. It became a favorite hideout for many outlaw gangs. Among the most infamous of outlaws to hide out in the area were Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch.

Economic Growth

The settlement grew slowly, its economy based on farming and ranching. During the 1890s as mining began and the railroad was built, the valley's population grew to about 19 different Communities and villages.

In 1881 construction began on the first school in Grand County. It was a rough hewn log cabin, with a log and willow roof. In the winter a potbellied stove served as the only heat. By 1890, Moab had 2 schools and in 1896 a high school was built. Today, Moab has 1 elementary schools, 1 middle school,1 high school and an extension campus of Utah State University.

The fruit growing industry began about 1879 when Mrs. A. G. Wilson, one of the early Mormon settlers. Planted some peach pits that she had brought with her. By 1910 Moab was producing some of the biggest and best fruit in the west. Today, melons, peaches, grapes, apples and pears grow in abundance.

Formation of Grand County

Grand County was formed from part of Emery County and legally become Grand County on March 13,1890. Moab became an incorporated city in 1902, but was not recognized by the State of Utah as such until 1937 when it had grown to a population of 800.

Oil exploration in the 1920's led to the development of the Moab Oil Field. Riches from the black gold failed to materialize, but oil exploration was continued and has contributed significantly to the local economy.

Exploration & Discovery

In 1949 John Ford discovered Grand County's magnificent and diversified scenery, which he used as settings for some of his great western movie classics. Moab has continued its romance with Hollywood for 5 decades, hosting some of the greatest directors and stars of the cinema.

Discovery of uranium in 1952 began an era of mineral extraction in the county, swelling the population from 3,000 to nearly 10,000 residents in just 3 years. Potash, salt mining and uranium milling operations added to the local economy until 1983 when the market for uranium dropped. Most uranium mining and milling operations ceased at that time. However, potash, salt and oil & gas industries are still active.

Grand County Today

Today Grand County is working to diversify its economy by targeting light manufacturing, tourism and recreation, the fine arts, educational programs, television and motion picture production, agricultural, and the development of natural resources.

People who visit the red rock country have always asked how Moab got its name. The Ute Indian tribe called the green oasis, "Mohapa", meaning mosquito water. Moab, Utah's only town located on the Colorado River, was also subsequently known to Anglo settlers as Elk Mountain Mission, Mormon Fort and Grand Valley. It is to William Pierce that credit given for suggesting "Moab" as a name for the frontier outpost.