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Carbon County

Carbon County

Quick facts
Interesting facts
What the land is like?
A bit of prehistory
Settlers and beyond
Coal, coal, coal
More about the economy

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Quick Facts

Area: 1,476 square miles 


County Seat: Price 

Where it got its name: from the vast amounts of coal found there 

Main cities and towns: Price, Helper, East Carbon, Wellington

Economy: coal mining, transportation, energy 

Points of Interest: Nine Mile Canyon, Helper Historic District and museum, Scofield Reservoir, Price Canyon Recreation Area, College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum in Price, Greek Orthodox Church in Price

Interesting facts


Two miners in the Lion Coal Co. shaft

What the land is like

cliffs and train

Train coming through the "Castle Gate" in Price Canyon in 1912.

At the north and west, the high alpine mountains of the Wasatch Plateau slope down eastward into desert country of sagebrush, pinyon and juniper. The Price River, which gets its start on the plateau, cuts through Castle Valley.

To the east is the rugged and remote Tavaputs Plateau. The Book Cliffs, part of the plateau, stretch 200 miles from Utah into Colorado.  The Green River cuts through the plateau, forming the beautiful, Grand-Canyon-like Desolation Canyon, at the west end of the county.

Geographically, Carbon County is in the Colorado Plateau physiographic province.

A bit of prehistory


Bison petroglyphs in Nine Mile Canyon. Photo by horatio 3k on Flickr.

The Fremont people lived throughout this region. They left many echoes of their lives—in finely formed Fremont figurines, rock art such as those in Nine Mile Canyon and the Gordon Creek area, pithouses and granaries such as those being studied in Range Creek.

Settlers and beyond

The high Wasatch Plateau was a formidable barrier to settlement in Carbon County. Routes into the region included offshoots of the Old Spanish Trail and a trail over Soldier Summit. But it wasn’t until the late 1870s that Mormon settlers arrived to establish farms, ranches, and towns along the Price River.

At the time the settlers were living in Emery County. But in 1894 the territorial legislature split the county, creating Carbon County.

In early generations, most people farmed and ran livestock, giving Carbon County a tradition of cowboys—and outlaws too, with the likes of Butch Cassidy and Gunplay Maxwell roaming the area.

During the early years the Nine Mile Canyon freight road from Price to the Uinta Basin became an important transportation route.

Coal, coal, coal!

Greek man

Angelo Raikos, a Greek labor agent in Price and later a sheepherder, in 1902. He's wearing a fustanello, the dress of his native province in Greece.

During the early 1880s the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, looking for a route from Denver to Salt Lake City, discovered vast coal fields in Carbon County. Coal mining became a big part of the county.

Coal companies built lots of company towns. They brought in southern and eastern European and Japanese laborers to work in the mines and on railroad gangs. Helper became known as the town of "57 Varieties" because of its ethnic diversity.

Mine explosions near Scofield in 1900 (200 killed) and at Castle Gate in 1924 (172 killed) and major strikes in 1903-4, 1922, and 1933 brought tragedy, violence, and eventual unionization to the mines.

More about the economy

Coal mining continues to play a vital role in economic and social development, with ups and downs in the industry creating periods of boom and relative bust.


Coal miners for the Columbia Steel Company

Utah Power and Light built a main electric generating plant near the former town of Castle Gate. In 1980 the Carbon Plant generated 171 megawatts of electricity. Ninety-eight percent of UP&L's power comes from coal-burning steam plants.

The College of Eastern Utah, established in 1937 in Price, has become part of what drives the county's economic and social development.