In 1903 sheepherders discovered vanadium and uranium deposits in Wild Horse Canyon. At that time, vanadium was useful in hardening steel, but uranium wasn't valuable except for research, manufacturing porcelain and glass, and in "cures" cooked up by medical quacks. During World War II, however, uranium was mined for the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bomb, and in the 1950s a uranium boom brought hundreds of prospectors and miners to the Reef. When the mines played out and the boom ended, the economy of nearby towns like Castle Dale, Hanksville, and Green River became largely depended on tourism and ranching.
Interstate 70, completed in 1970, bisects the Swell. The highway enters the region's eastern boundary, the San Rafael Reef, about seventeen miles west of Green River. The Swell is a popular destination for hikers, photographers, and off-road vehicle users. During times of high water, rubber rafts and inner tubes carry adventurers along the San Rafael and Dirty Devil rivers.
See: Joseph M. Bauman, Jr., Stone House Land: The San Rafael Reef (1987); and Volunteers of the Utah Wilderness Coalition, Wilderness at the Edge (1990).
Joseph M. Bauman, Jr.