Colorado City lies amid some of the most iconic scenic destinations in the western United States. It is surrounded on all sides by the splendor of the Grand Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, Grand Staircase Escalante, Zion National Park and more, all within a few hours driving distance at most. Nestled beneath the scenic cliffs of the Canaan Mountain Wilderness, it has been a village of close knit families since its founding.
Colorado City is located in the northernmost portion of a 7,878 acre tract of land known as the Arizona Strip. This is the land between the Grand Canyon and the borders of Utah and Nevada. It had long been inhabited by Native American people, stretching as far back as the time of the building of the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Remnants of these ancient civilizations can still be found throughout the area. These include rock art sites, dwellings, grain pottery shards, arrowheads, and caves which served as seasonal dwellings as they travelled between the Grand Canyon and various other places in search of food and more favorable conditions.
It is likely that the first white people to step foot in the area were Spanish missionaries. There are accounts of Father’s Dominguez and Escalante who travelled through the area in order to forge a route from the settlements in Santa Fe New Mexico to Monterey California. Their route eventually became the Old Spanish Trail.
The first Mormon pioneers to settle the area were led by Jacob Hamblin in the mid 1800’s. These expeditions led to the building of Pipe Springs, which was a fort to protect the communities of Mormon pioneers from Navajo raids. The fort and other pioneer infrastructure that was built there is now a National Monument. These early settlers established travel routes that connected the Arizona Strip to the lower half of the state.
The site now known as Lee’s Ferry became the major route that Mormon Pioneers used to access the southern portion of Arizona. It served as a gateway to the Northern portion of the Honeymoon Trail, which passes just south of Colorado City. This was the wagon road that newlywed Mormons would travel to reach the Temple in St George. Some traveled from as far south as Show Low, Arizona. What is now the Colorado City area served as a stop along this route. Portions of the trail can still be travelled today. For a glimpse into the grit and dedication of these early people, one need only travel down the Hurricane Fault Line portion of the Honeymoon Trail.
A prominent landmark just south of Colorado City, Berry Knoll, is named after a group of Mormon settlers who were killed by Navajo raiders on April 2, 1866. Robert Berry, his wife Isabelle and brother Joseph were travelling to their ranch in what is now Glendale, but at the time was called Berryville. Their bodies were taken to the county seat, which was Grafton and their graves remain there to this day. Grafton is one of the best preserved ghost towns in Utah and well worth a visit.
The Strip became a cattlemans paradise in the late 1800’s, with herds as large as 100,000 head ranging between the lower grasslands which sprawl to the edge of the Grand Canyon in the winter, and up to the summer grazing areas on the Kaibab Plateau. Mormon settlers began cattle ranching and eventually larger companies came to dominate the Arizona Strip, buying up most of the water and grazing rights. There were many conflicts between cattlemen, sheepherders, and cattle rustlers in those days. Due to the remote nature of the area, many crimes and conflicts would be settled outside of the law. The county governments for Coconino and Mohave counties lie in Flagstaff and Kingman respectively.
The first known settler in the Colorado City area was William B. Maxwell. His ranch was in Maxwell Canyon in Hildale, where there is now a park which bears his name. The next known settlers were the ranching families of Jacob M. Lauritzen and Will Rust who began to build the community in the early 1900’s. Soon others including Orlin F. Colvin, Isaac Carling, and the Black family moved in and settled the area. These settlers began building up aqueducts from the springs in the canyons for farming and cattle ranching. Many of today’s hiking trails were livestock trails built by these early pioneers. The remote and harsh nature of the area made it very challenging to live and raise families here, but they persevered.
Settlement gradually increased as some families split ways with the mainstream Mormon church over doctrinal differences. As the population grew, a rich culture of tight knit families continued to build up the area and brought it out of the pioneer era and into what it has become today. Community members worked tirelessly to bring education, electricity, consistent water, and housing to the harsh desert.
Colorado City is seeing a resurgence. Everywhere you turn, new and exciting things are happening. Mohave Community College has just built a new facility with state of the art educational infrastructure to match what they provide in other parts of the county. This includes a new nursing classroom and lab as well as a business incubator which provides a space for startup companies to get up off the ground. A reinvigorated social and political ethos has shifted the community’s focus to bringing in more of the services and amenities you would find in any town. A new full service grocery store, banking, diverse religious services, schools, restaurants, nightlife, hotel accommodations and a health clinic, are all either here or on the horizon.
While many things are changing, one thing remains the same: the people of Colorado City and Hildale remain a tight knit community of family and friends. Through over a century of hard times and good times, the people who have called this area home have remained industrious and family oriented. It is a place where kids can hop on their bike and ride across town, and nobody will have to worry. There are miles and miles of magical landscape to explore. It is a great place to be.