Big Bend was the original town along the Dolores River. When the Rio Grande Southern Railway bypassed the town, Big Bend was abandoned and the town’s population moved upstream to found the present Town of Dolores. The RGS carried supplies and miners heading for the silver mines of Rico and Telluride. By the turn of the century, the mining boom had played out and the remaining settlers turned to subsistence agriculture and the export of agricultural and timber products. The mining boom had left behind a narrow gauge rail network that connected Dolores and Mancos with Durango and markets in Denver and the Midwest.

Between 1924 and 1944, the mill town of McPhee (linked to Dolores by rail) was harvesting Ponderosa Pine and was one of the largest mills in the West. By the end of World War II, the mill had burned down and McPhee was virtually abandoned.

In the 1980s the construction of McPhee Reservoir (the Dolores Project), and its extensive irrigation systems, allowed increased agricultural production and enhanced recreational opportunities for locals and tourists.