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Iron County

Iron County

Quick facts
Interesting facts
What the land is like
Some indigenous history
Explorers and settlers
Economic endeavors

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Quick Facts

Area: 3,300 square miles 
County Seat: Parowan 
Where it got its name: from iron deposits in the area 
Main cities and towns: Cedar City, Parowan, Enoch
Economy: government (including education), wholesale and retail trade, services, light manufacturing, construction 
Interesting places: Cedar Breaks National Monument, Iron Mission State Historic Park, Old Iron Town, Southern Utah University and Shakespearean Festival, Brian Head resort, Parowan historic buildings

Interesting facts

kids in front of log schoolhouse

The school at Parowan, around 1890.

What the land is like

Iron County is a study in contrast—from the arid Escalante Desert and Great Basin ranges in the west to the meadows and forests of the High Plateaus on the east.

The colorful formations of Cedar Breaks National Monument, a kind of miniature Bryce Canyon, creases the Markagunt Plateau.

Brian Head mountain (11,307 feet), named for a profile that resembles William Jennings Bryan, rises abruptly behind Iron County's major string of settlements. The high mountains capture precipitation from passing westerlies, and this snow and rain feed the headwaters of the Sevier River.

Some indigenous history

rock art

Petroglyphs at the Parowan Gap

Fremont people lived in Parowan Valley home from about A.D. 750 to 1250. They built granaries and pit houses and left an unusual variety of petroglyphs of different periods in the cliffs of the Parowan Gap—about 12 miles northwest of Parowan.

Today, Cedar City is the tribal headquarters of the modern Southern Paiute Indian Reservation. The ancestors of the Paiutes used the plants and animals of the basin/plateau environment in a complex seasonal pattern.

Explorers and settlers


A gravestone in Cedar City. It is written in the Deseret Alphabet. Translation: "In memory of John T. Morris Born Feb 14 1828 Lanfair Tahaira Danbyshire North Wales. Died Feb 20, 1855 Aged 27"

The Dominguez-Escalante expedition traveled through the area on October 12, 1776, on its unsuccessful search for a route to central California.

Fur trapper Jedediah S. Smith was the first Anglo-American to visit present Iron County during his amazing journey of 1826-27.

John C. Fremont passed through in 1844 and again in 1854. In this year, when he and his men staggered over the Markagunt Plateau, they likely would have starved and frozen if settlers in Parowan had not cared for them.

Mormon settlers dispatched by Brigham Young established Parowan in January 1851 as the mother colony of the southern frontier. Other settlers founded Cedar City (originally Coal Creek) the same year. Several pioneer log homes remain in the county, as well as some English two-bay log barns—now very rare in the state.

Unfortunately, Iron County is the site of Utah’s most horrific tragedy, when Mormon militiamen murdered men, women, and children at Mountain Meadows.

Economic endeavors

cone-shaped charcoal kiln

Hand-built coke oven west of Cedar City--near the primitive furnaces that made the first iron in Utah.

Coal in the canyons east of Cedar City and iron ore in the mountains west inspired the early Iron Mission—settlers who came to mine and smelt iron to help Utah be more self-sufficient, But the pioneer-era iron development didn’t work particularly well.

Later mining and transportation turned the county toward a new era befitting the county name. Old Iron Town still has a fine beehive coking oven among its ruins. The west end of the county also has some historic and current precious metal mining.

The Escalante Desert now goes by the name Escalante Valley, reflecting the irrigated hay, small grains, and potatoes grown there.

Iron County has a more balanced and broadly based economy than most of rural Utah. Located on Interstate 15, Cedar City is 500 miles from Los Angeles, 180 miles from Las Vegas, and 260 miles from Salt Lake. It’s also about midway between L.A. and Denver via I-70.

historical photo

Performers at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City.

This good location and the city’s size have made it a regional trade center and supplier of services. The concessionaire for nearby national parks has offices here, the Bureau of Land Management, Dixie National Forest, and Utah Wildlife Resources.

The city has a railroad spur, an airport, and a nearby rocket motor fuel plant.  Southern Utah University, combined with a peerless Shakespearean Festival in the summer, make Cedar City an attractive stop for some of the more than one million people who annually pass through.