Named after the Uinta-Ats Ute Indians that inhabited Utah’s eastern corner, Uintah County lies in the Basin formed by the Uinta Mountains, the Wasatch Mountains and southern rim of the Book Cliffs. The Basin is the geographic remains of prehistoric Uinta Lake. Ashley Creek and the White, Uinta and Green rivers are the main waterways.
Prehistoric Indian sites suggest that the Uinta Basin was inhabited thousands of years ago by Archaic and the later Fremont Peoples. The first white men in the area were Fathers Dominguez and Escalante, who traveled through the region in 1776 searching for a land route from Mexico to Monterey, California. Trappers and fur-traders followed in the 1830s and 40s. A Mormon party sent by Brigham Young in 1861 found the region “one vast contiguity of waste and measurably valueless” so it was abandoned. That same year President Abraham Lincoln created the Uintah Indian Reservation. The county seat, originally in Ashley, was moved to the larger community of Vernal.
In 1888 gilsonite was discovered and miners persuaded the federal government to withdraw 7,000 acres from the Uintah Reservation for mining. Today, the economy rests on significant energy resources, including oil, natural gas, oil shale and tar sands, deposited millions of years ago when ancient lakes receded. Outdoor enthusiasts also prize the area for its trophy elk and deer herds, Dinosaur National Monument and other recreational