Area: 5,158 square miles
County Seat: Panguitch
Where it got its name: after President James A. Garfield, who had been recently assassinated
Main towns: Panguitch, Escalante
Economy: cattle, lumber, tourism
Interesting places: Bryce Canyon National Park, Anasazi State Park, Panguitch Lake, Escalante Tithing Office, Escalante Petrified Forest, Boulder Mountain, Burr Trail
The U.S. Mail station between Escalante and Henrieville, 1907
The bridge on the road between Escalante and Boulder. Photo by Jason J. Corneveaux.
Garfield County is a land of colorful variety: high mountain plateaus, steep mesas, cliffs, slickrock, rock formations, gorges, natural bridges and arches, canyons, dry foothills and desert expanses. The county stretches from the eastern edge of the Great Basin to the Colorado River.
The Sevier River, gathering streams from the high plateaus, ends in a dead-end lake in the Great Basin.
The Escalante River gathers waters from dozens of creeks and washes and carries them to the Colorado River-Lake Powell.
The low desert can get hot, but much of the county lies at a high elevation. Panguitch, they say, has “nine months of winter and three months of [darn] cold weather.”*
A Fremont-style pot found at the Pueblo village at Anasazi State Park.
The Garfield County area was home to both Ancestral Pueblo and Fremont cultures. And it seems that the people interacted. For instance, at the Pueblo village at Anasazi State Park, archaeologists have found pottery from both cultures.
The ancient people left behind structures; traces of irrigation ditches and dams; pottery and baskets; tools such as axes, grinding stones, and arrow points; rock art; ornaments of shell, bone, and turquoise; traces of trails and roads; figurines, and more.
After the Ancestral Pueblo and Fremont cultures disappeared, Numic people moved in—people we call Southern Paiutes and Utes today. These people lived in small bands and hunted and gathered their food.
The first white settlers made the difficult trip from Beaver and Parowan through the mountains to the Panguitch area in March 1864.
The winter was so hard that the town had a party in the spring. “We had pies made of bulberries and service berries and the Bishop made forty gallons of beer. We had plenty of chickens and other things to eat…. We had plenty of old time music.”*
The settlers didn’t stay long. After the Black Hawk War broke out the next year, they left.
Groups didn’t try settling in Panguitch again until 1871. Other settlers established other towns in the following years, including Escalante in 1876.
The territorial legislature created the county in 1882.
Settlers established the town of Boulder in 1889. For decades, the only road into town went over Boulder Mountain—and that road was closed in winter. So Boulder was the most isolated town in Utah.
Pack mules carried mail from Escalante to Boulder until around 1940.
In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers built a road from Escalante to Boulder. And what a job it was! They had to blast through rock and work on the sides of cliffs.
The CCC also reseeded ranges and built telephone lines, ranger stations, and trails.
The Mammoth Lumber Company of Hatch, Utah, loads lumber in the Dixie National Forest, date unknown.
Vast rangelands and some of the state's largest forest reserves have made cattle ranching and lumber Garfield County's most important industries since pioneer times.
The forests also provide many recreational sites. People who love to fish love Panguitch Lake.
Bryce Canyon National Park, created in 1928, helped tourism grow. Other spectacular lands lie within the county, such as parts of Capitol Reef National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Tourists looking for solitude, beauty, and outdoor recreation find plenty of these in Garfield County.
Unfortunately, the seasonal nature of lumbering and tourism often gives the county higher than average unemployment.
Garfield produces oil (at the Upper Valley oil field in central Garfield). It also has large coal fields as well as tar sands and uranium, but these energy-related resources have not been developed.