Perched on White Mesa near Blue Mountain in southeastern Utah, the town of Blanding sits at the southern end of the Great Sage Plain. Documented Anasazi occupation of this site extends to as early as A.D. 600, with dwellings being constructed as late as the early 1200s. Archaic Indian sites that far predate this period also exist at the foot of White Mesa. Utes and an occasional Navajo also camped in this area because of the water from local springs and seeps. Before the town was built, Navajos called the location "Sagebrush," because of that plant's luxuriant growth that swept through the pinyon and junipers to the base of the mountain.
In 1886 Francis A. Hammond, newly appointed LDS stake president, sent out an exploring party from Bluff to evaluate possible townsites that could support an agricultural and livestock economy. Monticello, twenty-two miles north of Blanding, received the initial attention in this colonizing effort. For ten more years White Mesa remained the haunt of the diminishing livestock herds of the non-Mormon L. C. outfit. Not until 1897, when Walter C. Lyman with his brother Joseph loaded a buckboard with supplies and left Bluff to investigate White Mesa's potential, did the idea of a community there start to take shape. At one point, Lyman looked out over the sea of sage and, according to accounts, had a vision that one day this isolated area would have an LDS temple and play an important role in serving Naive Americans, especially through education.