Come Home to Montezuma — We’ve Got Room For You
We offer diverse cultural and archaeological sites that are world renown, plenty of outdoor adventures and an unsurpassed quality of life, with plentiful city parks, state of the art recreation facility, hiking and biking trails, charter schools, community college and quality health care.
Montezuma residents are known for their passion and commitment to healthy, locally produced food and a thriving local economy. Our community spirit and can-do mentality aligns with our core values. Montezuma County has strong support and appreciation from residents as well as our governmental agencies for new and expanding businesses.
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.
The mining and logging settlements in neighboring Rico and Dolores created a demand for agricultural products that could only be grown at lower elevations in the richer soils of the Montezuma Valley. The limitation was water, with an average annual rainfall of only 13”. The Dolores River, which originally ran through the Montezuma Valley and connected with the McElmo drainage, had been turned north by a geologic uplift in prehistoric times leaving the Montezuma Valley without a major river. The developers of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company punched through the uplift near the “Big Bend” bringing water into the valley for irrigation, as well as water to support the growth of Cortez, established in 1886.
The growth that Cortez experienced in the 1950s and ’60s was spurred by the development of the “Aneth Oil Field” in Southeastern Utah, which was accessed via McElmo Canyon. With Cortez as the nearest full service town, many of the oil field workers and their families made it their home. It was during the oil boom that streets were paved, schools were built and several subdivisions were developed in Cortez. The development and paving of Highways 666 (now Hwy 491) and 160 opened up Cortez as a regional trade center for the surrounding agricultural areas and Indian reservations. When the energy boom busted in the 1960s, Cortez gradually developed a tourism economy based on the presence of Mesa Verde National Park and its location on Highway 160, the major east/west corridor in the area.
In the 1980s the Bureau of Reclamation began construction on McPhee Reservoir, which when completed in 1995 provided irrigation water to 35,000 newly irrigated acres (including 7,500 acres on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation) and supplemental water to 25,000 acres in the Montezuma Valley irrigation system. This project, known as the Dolores Project, also provides long-term water supplies to Towaoc, Cortez and Dolores.
The Mancos Valley was settled by ranching families in the early 1880s, including the Quaker Wetherill Family from Pennsylvania. The Wetherills ranched in the Southern part of the Mancos Valley and were the first white men to extensively explore the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde. In 1891 the Rio Grande Southern Railway reached Mancos on its way to the silver mines of Telluride and Rico. Mancos boomed, becoming a thriving commercial center based on lumber, cattle and produce grown in the Montezuma Valley. When the energy boom busted in the 1960s Mancos developed a growing tourism economy based on the presence of Mesa Verde National Park.
Presently, the Town of Mancos retains a heritage based on ranching and the manufacture of timber products. The area also provides many recreational opportunities within the San Juan National Forest, and Jackson Gulch Lake, which is located in the Mancos State Recreation Area.
The County is comprised of 1,333,888 acres (2,084 sq. miles) and was originally part of neighboring La Plata County. Of these lands, 30% are private, 33% are tribal (Ute Mountain Ute), and 37% are state and federal lands.
Ute Mountain Ute
Historically, the Utes roamed throughout the Four Corners and Western Colorado in several distinct hunter-gatherer bands. The Southern Ute divisions were the Muache, Capote, and Weeminuche. As a result of the Dawes Act in 1887, and the subsequent Act of 1895, the previously defined Southern Ute reservation lands were broken into two distinct units. Most of the Muache and Capote Utes accepted farming allotments in the eastern portion, which became known as the Southern Ute Indian Reservation with agency headquarters at Ignacio, in La Plata County. The Weeminuche Utes, led by Chief Ignacio, refused to accept allotments and moved to the western portion, which became known as the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation with agency headquarters at Towaoc, in Montezuma County.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s land is located in southwest Colorado and eastern Utah, and covers 993 square miles. The land is held in trust by the United States Government. The Tribal enrollment in 2002 was 2,012 with the majority of the members living on the reservation in Towaoc, Colorado (Montezuma County), and in White Mesa, Utah. The Tribal census shows the largest percentage of the members are in their early twenties and younger.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is a major contributor to the regional economy. The Tribe is one of the largest employers in Montezuma County with 1,130 jobs in 2005, in all aspects of tribal government and operations, and at their Ute Mountain Casino and RV Park. The Weeminuche Construction Authority has become one of the most successful and largest construction companies in the Four Corners area. The Colorado Ute Water Settlement Act of 1988 mandated through the building of the Dolores Project and McPhee Reservoir, that drinking and irrigation water be provided to the reservation. This has dramatically expanded farming and ranching operations. Other tribal resources include income from oil and gas wells, and tribal enterprises that revolve around tourism such as the Tribe’s Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park, Casino, and pottery factory.