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Emery County
Museum of the San Rafael Swell, in Castle Dale
Museum of the San Rafael Swell, in Castle Dale
Official seal of Emery County
Map of Utah highlighting Emery County
Location within the U.S. state of Utah
Map of the United States highlighting Utah
Utah's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  Utah
Founded February 12, 1880
Named for George W. Emery
Seat Castle Dale
Largest city Huntington
 • Total 4,472 sq mi (11,580 km2)
 • Land 4,462 sq mi (11,560 km2)
 • Water 9.5 sq mi (25 km2)  0.2%
 • Total 9,825
 • Density 2.1970/sq mi (0.84827/km2)
Time zone UTC−7 (Mountain)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−6 (MDT)
Congressional district 3rd

Emery County is a county in east-central Utah, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the population was 10,976. Its county seat is Castle Dale, and the largest city is Huntington.


Early settlement

RochesterPanel 04 2008
Barrier Canyon Style rock art found in Emery County

Occupation of the San Rafael region dates back thousands of years to include people of the Desert Archaic Culture who were followed by those of the Fremont culture who inhabited present-day Emery County from about A.D. 500 to about A.D. 1300. Evidence of these people can still be found in numerous pictograph and petroglyph panels, such as those in Temple Mountain Wash, Muddy Creek, Ferron Box, Black Dragon Canyon, and Buckhorn Wash-all sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Ute Indians also occupied sites in Castle Valley,

Old Spanish Trail

The first white men who came to Castle Valley were undoubtedly Spanish Traders and Explorers. These explorers came to the area sometime after Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, who in 1776, crossed northern Utah through the Uintah Basin. These Spanish traders and explorers eventually found a more southerly route than Escalante had traveled, which became known as the Spanish Trail. It began at Santa Fe, thence to Durango, Colorado, crossed the Colorado River where Moab is now located, then to the Green River-crossing where Green River is now located, thence westerly to Cedar Mountain. It went on the South side of Cedar Mountain, across Buckhorn Flat, passed the Red Seeps to Huntington Creek, crossing about a mile below where the present bridge crosses; thence to Cottonwood Creek. It crossed the Ferron Creek where Molen now stands. It passed through the Rochester Flats about one mile (1.6 km) east of present-day Moore and crossed the Muddy Creek about two miles (3 km) due east of the present town of Emery.

Route of the Old Spanish Trail within southeastern Utah.

It then went over Salina (Salt Creek) Canyon. It then turned south and went through Parowan, Mountain Meadows, Las Vegas, Barstow California and to the coast. They had to enter Castle Valley in order to avoid the straight walled canyons of the San Juan, Colorado, Green, Dirty Devil, and San Rafael Rivers. Eventually, after many years of exploring, the best route became the Spanish Trail. The principal trade which developed between Santa Fe and the Utah region was slavery. The trading of Indian women and children to the Spanish, although illegal, was the purpose of the Spanish coming into the area which was to become Utah. The other use of the trail was to herd livestock, mostly horses, from California to Santa Fe. Since the slave trade was illegal, the traders kept neither records of their activities nor the extent of their travels and explorations. Travelers along the Old Spanish Trail gave Castle Valley its names, as the travelers marveled at the "castle" geologic formations throughout present day Emery County.

Early explorers

The first Americans to come to Castle Valley were fur trappers. The very first were the "Lost Trappers", James Workman and William Spencer, who had been separated from their trapping party by Comanche Indians and had wandered all the way to the Moab crossing of the Colorado River hoping that they would find Santa Fe. Here they met a Spanish caravan of forty or fifty people going to California. They joined the caravan and traveled through Castle Valley in 1809 and went on to California. In 1830, William Wilfskill came to Castle Valley along the Spanish Trail. He and his party were fur trappers but found little in the area to keep them here.

Following the trappers in the late 1840s and early 1850s, government explorers came to the valley to find routes across the continent. Kit Carson was the first of these famous men. He was looking for a direct route for the mail to be carried overland from St. Louis to California. Carson carried through Castle Valley to the nation the news of gold being found in the Sierra Nevada in 1848.

Site of Gunnison Massacre BHoU-p469
Gunnison's trail through Utah

In 1853 John W. Gunnison, an Army Topographical Engineer came through Castle Valley for a route for the Pacific Railroad. He was commissioned for this assignment by Jefferson Davis Secretary of War. He left very detailed descriptions of his travels and carefully laid out his route through Castle Valley. Gunnison's route first met the Spanish Trail at the Green River crossing. He followed this trail for a short distance west of the Green River, but when the Spanish Trail entered the rugged rocky region that we today call the Sinbad Reef and charted a route around this feature.

The third government explorer was John C. Fremont. He came through the valley in the winter of 1853-54. The trip by Fremont to explore the west is noted because of the many difficulties that he had resulting from the winter weather. They suffered greatly from lack of food and from the inhospitable landscape. There was no relief from their difficulties until they left Castle Valley and made their way to the small Mormon settlement of Parowan.

Arrival of pioneers

In 1875 livestock growers from Sanpete County brought cattle and sheep into Castle Valley to graze, and several recognized the settlement potential of the region. With a shortage of sufficient land and water in Sanpete County and a strong desire by LDS Church leaders to acquire unoccupied land in the region before non-Mormons did, young families began moving into Castle Valley in the fall of 1877 to take up homesteads in what would become the settlements of Huntington, Ferron, Castle Dale, and Orangeville.

In late August 1877, Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), issued an order to the Sanpete LDS Stake president seeking ". . . at least fifty families [to] locate in Castle Valley this fall." The order led to the founding last Mormon colony settled under the direction of Brigham Young. One week later on August 29, Young, the Great Colonizer, died. During his 30 years as leader of the LDS Church, Young had overseen and directed the establishment of almost 400 towns and villages. The settlement of Emery County was his last.

Soon after issuance of Young’s order, several bands of settlers moved out from the Sanpete region headed for Castle Valley (Emery County). They settled along Huntington Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and Ferron Creek. The following spring (1878) several more families moved into the region. In the spring of 1878, Elias Cox and Charles Hollingshead set up a saw mill in Huntington Canyon to provide lumber for the colony. On Ferron Creek, setters plowed lands and began construction of a ditch for irrigation. Most of the early settlers in Castle Valley claimed easily watered bottom lands along the creeks and rivers, and by 1879, most of the best lands had been taken up.

Emery County was created by the Utah Territorial Legislature in February 1880 and included what later became Carbon County, Utah. The census of 1880 showed 556 people and 84 farms in Emery County, but this figure is likely short as many prominent settlers were inadvertently left off the county rolls. By 1890, the population of Emery County had risen to 2,866, and towns had grown from groups of ramshackle cabins to communities with schools, stores, and churches. Between 1880 and 1900, many significant canals were constructed, including the Huntington Canal (1884), Emery Canal (1885), Cleveland Canal (1885), and the Wakefield Ditch (1880). Many of the early canals are still in service.

In the early 1880s, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad began investigating rail routes through the Emery County region. Early plans to locate the railroad through the heart of Emery County were thwarted when the route over the Wasatch Mountains proved to be too steep. The alternative route took the rails through the north-eastern corner of the county, by-passing most of the settlements in the county. While most of the county did not immediately benefit from the railroad, Green River, on the eastern edge of Emery County boomed almost overnight following arrival of the rails.

Twentieth Century

By 1900, the population of Emery County had reached over 4,600 people. Over 450 farms were operating in the county, growing crops on over 25,000 acres (100 km2).

Rochester (Moore Utah) School House 1912
Moore, Utah school house circa 1912.

Irrigation systems were being expanded to bring new lands into production, bringing with them problems which would plague the region for several decades. Water rights conflicts frequently arose, and water theft, known as "midnight irrigation," became common. Most disputes were settled by decree, but a few were contested by violence.

The underlying soils in Emery County consist of ancient seabeds which contain high levels of salts. Poor drainage and over-irrigation causes the salts to collect on the surface, rendering large areas of land unsuitable for agriculture. The problem first appeared in the 1890s, and in 1903, a Department of Agriculture report stated that over 30% of the developed farmland in Emery County had been abandoned due to degradation.

With expanded irrigation development came expanded settlement as several new towns were established. In addition, the coal industry, which had consisted of a few small mines which provided for local demand expanded, and several large scale operations began. The entry of the United States into World War I created a minor boom in Emery County as agricultural prices rose and manpower shortages caused wages at the mines to rise. Following the war, prices dropped significantly, leading to hard times throughout much of the 1920s. Things improved somewhat during the later years of the decade, but an even more significant collapse came with the onset of the Great Depression in the early 1930s. In addition, severe drought in 1931 and 1934 intensified the economic hardship in the county.

The decade of the 1930s was difficult for the residents of Emery County. The population of the county dropped from over 7,400 in 1920 to a little over 7,000 in 1930, and remained steady through the 1930s. Agricultural prices dropped 40% from their 1929 level, and coal production dropped by half. Water shortages and land degradation continued to be problems. In 1935, only 16,462 acres (66.62 km2) out of 41,725 acres (168.86 km2) produced crops.

San Rafael Bridge near Castle Dale
San Rafael Bridge in Emery County.

The residents of Emery County benefited from many depression-relief programs, including the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Several CCC camps were established in Emery County. Company 959 established a camp in Joes Valley in May 1933. The camp moved several times in the following years before establishing a permanent camp near Ferron in 1935. A second camp was established at Castle Dale in 1935, and another camp was established at Green River in 1938. During its tenure in Emery County, the CCC built road, bridges and trails as well as building ranger stations and other projects on public lands. Many enrollees settled in Emery County after their discharge from the Corps.

Following the end of World War II, service men from Emery County returned home to find relative economic prosperity. County farm income in 1946 was double that of 1940, and the coal mines were operating at fairly high levels. During the post-war years, the county matured and modernized as modern water and sanitation systems were constructed, roads were improved, and many of the luxuries enjoyed by people in less rural areas, like telephones, reached Emery County. While many things in Emery County improved, some things did not. The agricultural sector still suffered from inconsistent water supplies and a lack of significant long term storage. And in the mid-1950s, the region again suffered from a period of low precipitation. It was also during this time that the long sought after reservoir in Joes Valley would become a reality.

Riding the crest of national economic growth during the 1970s Emery County's population grew significantly as a result of the construction of large coal-fired power plants in Castle Dale and Huntington by Utah Power & Light Company (PacifiCorp) and the expansion of coal mines to fuel these important power plants.


On Monday, August 6, 2007, at 2:48 A.M., UtahAmerican Energy's Crandall Canyon Mine, 15 miles (24 km) west north-west of Huntington, collapsed; trapping 6 workers inside. The mine, located just off State Route 31, is about 34 miles (55 km) southeast of Fairview, and 140 miles (230 km) south of Salt Lake City (100 miles, or 161 km, on a flight line). The workers were approximately 3.4 miles (5.5 km) from the mine entrance and 1500 feet (457 m) underground. The collapse registered recorded seismic waves in magnitude 3.9 to 4.0, by seismograph stations of the University of Utah. Emery County, the state's No. 2 coal-producing county, was also the site of a fire that killed 27 people in the Wilberg Mine in December 1984.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 4,472 square miles (11,580 km2), of which 4,462 square miles (11,560 km2) is land and 9.5 square miles (25 km2) (0.2%) is water. The Green River forms the eastern boundary. The Wasatch Plateau, a mountainous area, sits along the western boundary. The main population of the county lives along the base of these mountains. The San Rafael Swell occupies most of the area to the east.

The western side of the county is the most populated and contains numerous small communities residing in an agricultural valley that roughly parallels the Manti National Forest to the west. Streams originate in the Wasatch Plateau on the forest and their headwaters are stored in several reservoirs. Agricultural areas depend on these reservoirs and waterways for survival and some farmland communities struggle with excess salinity. The east side of the county is dry with rough terrain. Green River, the largest community on this side of the county, is more closely tied to the communities and economy of Grand County. Emery County’s maps show the importance of the forest lands to the local communities as there are very few significant groundwater aquifers in the area.

Emery County is bordered on the north by Carbon County (which was created from Emery in 1894), on the west by the Wasatch Plateau and the original settlements in Sanpete and Sevier counties from which most Emery County settlers came, on the south by the remote artificial boundary with Wayne County, and on the east by the Green River—the natural boundary with Grand County (which was created from Emery county in 1890). Emery County includes three geographical areas: the mountains of the Wasatch Plateau; Castle Valley, where the major settlements are located; and the desert of the San Rafael Swell, the San Rafael Reef, Cedar Mountain, and the remote stretches of land west of the Green River.

The San Rafael River, the life blood of the county, originates in the Wasatch Plateau where the headwaters are stored in several reservoirs for agricultural and industrial use. It flows into Castle Valley in three branches—Huntington Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and Ferron Creek—which unite to form the San Rafael River after they pass the communities and adjacent farm land. It then twists its way through the rock and desert to its junction with the Green River.

Geographical names feature Native American, Spanish and English influences. Two of the Ute Indian names which are still with us Wasatch, meaning a gap in the mountains and Quitchupah which means a place where animals fare poorly. Wasatch is the name of the mountains between Sanpete Valley and Castle Valley. Quitchupah is a small creek south of Emery. The Spanish name which is still used is San Rafael which means Saint Ralph. During Spanish times the name Rafael was also given to the present Ferron Creek. In 1873, A.D. Ferron, the surveyor, named this creek after himself, but prior to this time it was known as Rafael. The Ute Indians called the Ferron Creek the Cabulla which refers to the small edible part of a cactus pear. The Huntington Creek was originally called San Marcus. The Indians called Cottonwood Creek by the name Sivareeche Creek and the Spanish called the creek Mateo. The Indians called Castle Valley Tompin-con-tu or rock house land which relates to the present Castle Valley. The Spanish named the valley St. Joseph's Valley.


Range Creek rises in Emery County, and has recently been shown to have pristine remains of the Fremont culture. The State of Utah owns the site and is currently identifying the remains and developing a long-term conservation plan.

Adjacent counties

National protected areas


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 556
1890 5,076 812.9%
1900 4,657 −8.3%
1910 6,750 44.9%
1920 7,411 9.8%
1930 7,042 −5.0%
1940 7,072 0.4%
1950 6,304 −10.9%
1960 5,546 −12.0%
1970 5,137 −7.4%
1980 11,451 122.9%
1990 10,332 −9.8%
2000 10,860 5.1%
2010 10,976 1.1%
2020 9,825 −10.5%
US Decennial Census
1790–1960 1900–1990
1990–2000 2010–2018 2020

As of the 2000 United States Census, there were 10,860 people, 3,468 households, and 2,798 families in the county. The population density was 2.43/sqmi (0.94/km2). There were 4,093 housing units at an average density of 0.92/sqmi (0.35/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 95.64% White, 0.18% Black or African American, 0.65% Native American, 0.31% Asian, 0.10% Pacific Islander, 1.87% from other races, and 1.24% from two or more races. 5.23% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 3,468 households, out of which 45.90% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 69.80% were married couples living together, 7.20% had a female householder with no husband present, and 19.30% were non-families. 17.60% of all households were made up of individuals, and 8.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.10 and the average family size was 3.53.

The county population contained 35.40% under the age of 18, 9.60% from 18 to 24, 24.10% from 25 to 44, 20.90% from 45 to 64, and 10.10% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 100.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 97.50 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $39,850, and the median income for a family was $44,086. Males had a median income of $39,059 versus $18,929 for females. The per capita income for the county was $14,243. About 9.40% of families and 11.50% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.00% of those under age 18 and 8.10% of those age 65 or over.

As of 2015, the largest self-reported ancestry groups in Emery County, Utah are:

Largest ancestries (2015) Percent
English 35.0%
German 14.8%
Danish 14.5%
Irish 10.6%
Scottish 6.6%
Swedish 5.5%
Dutch 5.0%
French (except Basque) 4.3%
Italian 3.9%
Welsh 3.8%
Norwegian 2.5%
Swiss 1.6%


  • Castle Valley Pageant (Bi-annual on even numbered years)
  • Cleveland Days
  • Elmo Horse and Buggy Days
  • Emery (town) Days
  • Emery County Fair
  • Ferron Peach Days
  • Green River Melon Days
  • Huntington Heritage Days
  • San Rafael Swell Mountain Bike Festival



Emery County Utah incorporated and unincorporated areas
Map of Emery County municipalities



Unincorporated communities

Ghost towns

In popular culture

  • The scenes for planet Vulcan in the 2009 film, Star Trek were filmed near Green River.
  • Scenes where Tim Allen battles a giant rock monster called "Gorignak" in the 1999 film Galaxy Quest were filmed at Goblin Valley State Park.
  • The music video for the 2008 single, "Human", by The Killers, was filmed in Goblin Valley.



Pacificorp's Hunter Plant near Castle Dale

Livestock and farming were the mainstays of Emery County's economy for much of its history. The opening of large coal mines and the construction of large power plants in Castle Dale and Huntington in the 1970s changed the economy significantly and the population grew sharply. High wages in this sector initially created high average incomes, but depressed markets for coal and coalbed methane, along with improvements in mining technology, have slowed or postponed this sector for some time.

As a result, unemployment has remained higher than that of the State since 1990. The County still contains extensive natural resources that could be tapped, but the jobs produced from new mining activity may be at a similar level as those replaced by technology.

A proposed nuclear power plant, the Blue Castle Project, is set to begin construction near Green River in 2023.


  • Emery High School
  • Green River High School
  • Canyon View Middle School
  • San Rafael Middle School
  • Ferron Elementary
  • Cleveland Elementary
  • Huntington Elementary
  • Cottonwood Elementary
  • Book Cliff Elementary
  • Castle Dale Elementary



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