A grainy, black and white photo of the Denver and Rio Grande train cutting through a desert landscape/
A Denver & Rio Grande train near Floy. Credit: Moab Museum Collection

For many Moabites today, the railroad routes crossing Grand County may feel irrelevant to daily life. Indeed, cars and planes have supplanted trains as primary means of travel, and trucks today bring essential supplies like food to remote communities like Moab. However, in the past, railroads have had a tremendous influence on the settlement of the Western United States. They’re an essential part in understanding Moab’s development.

Trains have long been an important part of industry in Utah and across the West. Here, a Denver & Rio Grande car is loaded at the potash mine near Moab.

The country’s first transcontinental railroad was a 1,911-mile line constructed between 1863 and 1869. Additional routes were built in the decades following, including the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, which passes through the northern portion of Grand County. The railroad was an essential resource for settlers of the Moab area. Trains brought supplies like flour, cloth, and munitions while also serving as the means to export goods to markets in big cities. 

The train station at Thompson Springs was a bustling hub. Travelers to Moab would disembark the rails here, making the last overland journey to Moab by horse-drawn stage or later by car.

As transportation and economic shifts have taken place, the railroad’s role in daily life has evolved significantly. Trains remain part of the region’s shipping and transportation infrastructure to this day, as well as an important part of history.

The Moab Museum is dedicated to sharing stories of the natural and human history of the Moab area. To explore more of Moab’s stories and artifacts, find out about upcoming programs, and become a Member, visit www.moabmuseum.org.