The first substantial Anglo settlement on the Utah portion of the San Juan occurred at Riverside (Aneth) in 1878-79 when eighteen families from Colorado established a small community more than a year before the Mormons made their trek through the Hole-in-the-Rock and settled Bluff. Through the 1880s and early 1890s, trading posts flourished as Navajos herded sheep and planted small horticultural plots while the settlers struggled to prevent destructive flooding.
In addition to agriculture, the San Juan has been the focus of a variety of economic endeavors. During the 1890s and early 1900s, there were futile attempts to find gold and the beginning of an interest in oil. Oil companies in the 1920s started drilling in earnest, giving rise to a petroleum industry that is still in operation today near the river towns of Aneth, Montezuma Creek, Bluff, and Mexican Hat. By the 1940s Norman Nevills and Jack Frost dominated the river-running business and took hundreds of tourists down the San Juan. This industry continues to grow, and the Bureau of Land Management has had to restrict in an attempt to keep the river experience safe and enjoyable for all.
See: D.L. Baars, Geology of the Canyons of the San Juan River (1973); C. Gregory Crampton, Standing Up Country (1983); P.T. Reilly, "Norman Nevills: Whitewater Man of the West," Utah Historical Quarterly (Spring, 1987).
Robert S. McPherson