Quest for the Golden Circle

The Four Corners and the Metropolitan West

Arthur R. Gómez

Until World War II, the Four Corners Region—where New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona meet—was a collection of isolated rural towns. In the postwar baby boom era, however, small communities like Farmington, New Mexico, became bustling municipalities with rapidly expanding economies. In Quest for the Golden Circle, Arthur Gómez traces the development of the Four Cornersó two industries, mining and tourism, to discover how each contributed to the economic and urban transformation of this region during the 1950s and 1960s.

Focusing on four cities—Durango, Colorado; Moab, Utah; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Farmington, New Mexico—Gómez chronicles how these towns played key roles in the West’s dramatic postwar expansion. Cities such as Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, and Salt Lake City all grew through use of the abundant petroleum, uranium, natural gas, timber, and other natural resources extracted from the Four Corners region.

“An important study and an inside look at how small-town chambers of commerce and business leaders in the interior West can wield potent political and economic power.”

—Andrew Gulliford, Montana The Magazine of Western History

“Most interest in Gómez’s book, and its primary focus, is the explication of the shift toward a ‘regional ethos’ of tourism. The ‘golden circle’ in the title refers to Stewart Udall’s concept of the Four Corners as a scenic wonderland, encompassing parks and monuments from Mesa Verde to the Grand Canyon.”

—Michael F. Logan, Journal of Arizona History

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But the energy boom in these towns was not to last. With the arrival of foreign oil bringing economic growth to a halt in the early 1970s, town leaders turned again to the land to stimulate their economy. This time, the resource was a seemingly inexhaustible one—tourism. Gómez examines how business-minded citizens marketed the area's scenic wonders and established the entire region as a tourist destination. Their efforts were further assisted by the selection of stunning federal lands—Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, and Arches National Parks—as treasures protected and promoted by the National Park Service.

Both mining and tourism, however, were beset by complex new problems and issues. Extensive highways, for instance, were planned to bisect a Navajo reservation. As Gómez illustrates, the growing cities in the Four Corners region felt tremendous competing pressures between outside business powers and local needs as their extractive economy boomed and busted and as they then struggled to attract tourism dollars. In addition, he highlights the prominent roles played by federal agencies like the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Park Service in shaping regional destiny.

An outstanding analysis of the complexities of postwar development, Quest for the Golden Circle successfully illuminates the history of one region within the larger story of the modern American West.

About the Author

Arthur R. Gómez is a National Park Service historian in the Intermountain Support Office, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Additional Titles in the Development of Western Resources Series