Having lived in Arizona, I certainly was familiar with the relative large size of the Navajo Reservation (27,000 square miles- the largest Native American Reservation in the U.S.) compared to the much smaller Hopi Reservation (6000 square miles). However, I knew virtually nothing about the Ute Reservations until visiting the Four Corners Outdoor School. We drove by signs in southern Utah designating that we were passing through the Ute Reservation.
I wondered why the Ute reservation lands weren't contiguous. I learned the story is complicated; there are three groups of Utes: 1) the Northern Ute who live on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation near Fort Duchesne in northeastern Utah; 2) the Southern Ute who live in the southwestern corner of Colorado near Ignacio; and 3) the Ute Mountain Ute who live near Towaoc, Colorado, and also small sections of Utah and New Mexico (http://www.cpluhna.nau.edu/People/ute_indians.htm). The White Mesa Community of Utah, near Blanding, is part of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, but is largely autonomous. The Northern Ute are the largest tribe and the largest reservation in Utah. The largest section of the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation is situated in the southwestern portion of Colorado and the northwestern portion of New Mexico, just to the northeast of the much larger Navajo Reservation and bordering Mesa Verde. In addition to the above described Ute Mountain Ute tribal reservation lands, there are individually owned lands or allotments, as well as US Government lands utilized for school purposes, all in southeast Utah near Blanding. Also the tribe holds fee patent title to seven tracts of land located in Utah and Colorado. These differing designations makes it difficult to draw clean boundaries around the reservation (www.eere.energy.gov/tribalenergy/guide/pdfs/ute_mountain_ute.pdf).
One of the more interesting aspects of the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, is the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, overshadowed by the more famous Mesa Verde National Park, but which has been selected by National Geographic Traveler as one of "80 World Destinations for Travel in the 21st Century", one of only 9 places in the United States to receive this special designation (http://swcolo.org/Tourism/Archaeology/utemtn.html.) The Park is approximately 125,000 acres is size, including a 25 mile long stretch of the Mancos River, and contains more archaeological sites than adjacent, more famous Mesa Verde. The Tribal Park must be explored with a Ute guide (http://www.eere.energy.gov/tribalenergy/title26/ute_mtn_summary.html). We wondered about the nature and extent of the ruins just outside Mesa Verde and the number of tourists that took the trouble to visit the latter.
We noticed as we drove through the four states that some of the Ute reservations seemed more prosperous, like those that allowed gambling. There are also cultural as well as economic differences among the Utes. The Southern Ute of Colorado are the wealthiest of the tribes and have financial assets approaching $2 billion from gambling (Sky Ute Casino), tourism, oil & gas, real estate leases, and other off-reservation financial and business investments (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ute_Tribe). The Utes in Utah are not allowed to have gambling. I never thought about the origin of the word Utah, derived from the name Ute, until I visited southeastern Utah and saw the signs for the Ute Reservations.
--Mary Ann McGarry, instructor