Nicknamed “Utah’s Dixie” for its sunny, warm climate the early Mormon efforts to cultivate cotton, Washington County lies in Utah’s southwest corner. The eastern third, including Zion National Park, is part of the Colorado Plateau. The western third lies in the Mojave Desert. The Virgin River and its tributaries supply life-giving water to this desert landscape.
Traces of the prehistoric Archaic and Anasazi cultures have been found in the area and the Santa Clara and Virgin Rivers provided an important base for the development of Southern Paiute life. The Dominguez-Escalante expedition in 1776 recorded the first description of the Indians in the area. In 1980 the federal government restored traditional tribal lands west of Santa Clara to the Shivwits band of the Southern Paiutes.
In an effort to establish an overland route to southern Californa, the Mormons founded a string of settlements running southwest from the Salt Lake Valley. Fort Harmony was established in 1852; Washington, 1857; Toquerville, 1858; and Grafton, 1859. St. George, settled in 1861, became the center of Dixie and pioneers succeed in producing sizeable amounts of cotton, wine and molasses. During 1875-80, Silver Reef-- northwest of Leeds-- was a booming mining town.
The economic base has changed significantly over the years from its agricultural foundation to a much more diverse mix. Zion National Park (established in 1909) has always been one of Utah’s premier tourist attractions. Communities such as Bloomington, Ivins and Kayenta attract retirees who value the mild winters and many recreational activities. Dixie College and Intermountain Health Care are major employers as are the construction trades and the tourism industry.