Human occupation of the Curecanti area dates back to at least 10,000 years ago. Archeologists have uncovered the remains of ancient structures called wickiups that date back 4,500 years. These are some of the oldest dwellings to be uncovered here.
Utes of historic times summered in the mountains and wintered near today's Montrose and Grand Junction. Like many of the area's earlier inhabitants, they were attracted here by the abundance of game in the dry hills and river valleys, and by the vegetation in the canyons and on the mesas.
Fur traders and miners blazed the northern branch of the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. This trail first linked the Utes to Anglo and Spanish commerce.
Despite negative reports by Captain John W. Gunnison and his Pacific Railroad party, who surveyed the area in 1853, a narrow gauge railroad transported ore, coal, cattle and other goods through the Curecanti area by 1882.