Discover Our County

San Juan County is replete with contrasts. We are at the heart of the Colorado Plateau where tremendous geologic activity eons ago created a unique desert and mountain environment cut with deep river canyons. There is over a mile difference in elevation throughout San Juan County; the La Sal Mountains rise to over 13,000 feet (3,962.4 meters) and Lake Powell is close to 3,000 feet (914.4 meters). With the elevation change come drastic changes in flora and fauna and changes in lifestyle. At the higher elevations, snow covers the ground three or four months a year, while at the lower elevations the temperature in July and August reaches above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). While elevation and temperature might seem minor players in the lives of plants, animals, and people, they are extremely important. Mountain dwellers such as bear, cougar, marmot, deer, and elk live among the aspen, fir, and ponderosa forests of the mountains while antelope and big horned sheep live among the prickly pear cactus and juniper of the desert. Activities change with elevation as well. Spring, fall, and winter are the best times of the year to experience the desert areas of the county while fall and summer are good times to enjoy the mountains.

The population of San Juan County is also controlled by the elevation. Blanding at 6,000 feet (1828.8 meters), Monticello and La Sal at 7,000 feet (2,133.6 meters), are situated at higher elevations where summer temps are more hospitable and water is more easily available. The settlers found building a life in these climes easier than doing so in the desert. La Sal was the first area settled by non-Indian people. Spanish vaqueros moved through this area in the early 1800s with large cattle herds and some settled in La Sal - Spanish for 'the salt' because the mountains look like piles of salt when they are snow covered. These cowboys did not plat towns and establish communities but, rather, lived on scattered ranches. Today La Sal is still a ranching community and one of the few remaining examples of a 'company town', the headquarters of Redd Ranches. Bluff, at 4,000 feet, was the first Anglo community in the county settled by people who were sent to southeast Utah by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in 1880. For awhile Bluff was one of the wealthiest towns in the state but the desert proved a difficult master and today Bluff is a quiet little village along the banks of the San Juan River. Many of the original Victorian sandstone homes are still in use in Bluff along an historic walking tour. Some of the original Bluff families moved to Monticello in 1880 and established the community where water was more readily available and easier to obtain. Although the winter is harsher at 7,000 feet (2,133.6 meters) the summer temperatures are more forgiving. Monticello is home to one of the best golf courses in the sate, The Hideout Golf Club.The village of Eastland was established as a farming community in the 1920's and once had a post office and school. Today, both Monticello and Eastland are populated by farmers and ranchers. Blanding was settled in the late 1800's and, at 6,000 feet (1828.8 meters), enjoys the most moderate climate of all our communities. It was established in 1905 with the name Grayson, and today is home of the College of Eastern Utah - San Juan Campus, the Edge of the Cedars State Park & Museum, and the Dinosaur Museum. Mexican Hat at 4,350 feet (1325.9 meters), named for a sandstone formation north of the community, was founded after B.L. (?) Goodrich discovered oil seeping into the river. The town grew rapidly with prospectors and once boasted a population of over 1,500. Today, it is a launching site for San Juan River trips and a vacation spot. Just south of Mexican Hat, across the San Juan River, lies the Navajo Nation. The tiny hamlet of Halchita is a Navajo community where a uranium mill was once located to process ore brought from Cedar Mesa down the infamous Moki Dugway, a three mile graveled stretch of State Highway 261. Farther southwest along the major corridor of US Highway 163 is the community of Monument Valley, at 5,250 feet (1,600.2 meters) and the fabled Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park where John Ford, with John Wayne, made motion picture history. Monument Valley is home to many Navajo families and the destination of many of our county's visitors.

Think of our county as a woven Indian rug. Our communities are all small, the largest containing just over 3,000 people, and they provide the warp that creates the foundation of the weaving. In a weaving, the warp threads are held taut and in parallel order. Just so does a community hold the residents in order. The weft is the various threads woven through the warp to create the pattern. Just so are the people of a community, varied folks with different ideas and backgrounds who, when brought together, make up a population. Our communities are composed of folks from our pioneering heritage, our Native American population who pioneered this area long before Anglo settlers arrived, and folks who are newly arrived with new ideas and skills to add to the pattern. The weaving created in San Juan County is thus varied and colorful although the communities are small.

Our people compensate for our size with small town friendliness. We actually know our neighbors and the folks down the street. Crime, as compared to an urban environment, is non-existent. Even though we drive to nearby larger communities to acquire items not available in our small towns, the drive is beautiful no matter which route taken and it is definitely not along crowded roads or busy interstates. An hour's drive in can actually be fun! However, all the necessities are available in the county: groceries, pharmacy, medical service, auto service, hardware/building supplies, florists and gift shops, and other small but vital businesses. Services are available, too: the county maintains ambulance service in each community and law enforcement is handled by both the county and our two incorporated cities, Blanding and Monticello. Both cities provide fire protection and the county picks up that task in the unincorporated areas. Life here is quiet and slow, but that means you can really enjoy the surrounding area and relax into a healthy lifestyle.

The outdoors is our playground and folks hike, ATV, camp, ride horses, cross country ski, float the river, and enjoy the many outdoor options available in Canyon Country. Year round activity is possible because we have such diversity of geography. A winter hike in the southern portion of the county is every bit as pleasant as a summer trek in the mountains. Folks easily access the mountains for summer cook-outs and reach special desert spots with no trouble for a winter ATV ride. Once the snow falls at higher elevations, it is not difficult to find a road or trail for cross-country skiing and the mountain always beckons with open slopes and trails through the winter white aspen. Those same aspen provide cool and shaded spots for summer camping where mountain trails lead to stunning overlooks or intimate glens surrounded by tall and stately fir trees.

Each community offers schools, churches, and community organizations for those seeking an active community life. Several local foundations operate in the county providing a choice of charitable activity. San Juan County is on the cusp or growth. Folks with varied life experience will find a wide-open field for community action and involvement. While we do not wish vast or rapid growth for our area, we do see the value in sustained advancement and happily welcome those who would like to participate in moving the county forward into the new millennium.

Yes, San Juan County is a land of contrast - Indian and cowboy, desert and mountain, farmer and rancher, old and new - all providing the warp and weft of life at the heart of the Colorado Plateau.