Historic Native American groups living along the Colorado include the Paiute in southwestern Utah, the Ute in southeastern Utah, and the Navajo south and east of the confluence of the San Juan and the Colorado. This latter group has a rich body of lore concerning the river, which they say has a female spirit name "Life Without End." She, and her male counterpart, the San Juan, form a protective boundary that skirts the reservation lands. In the past, Navajo ceremonies like the Blessingway provided protection for events and locations within this area, while beyond this line Enemyway and Evilway applied. Navajo raids across these rivers were a common occurrence during the 1850s and 1860s, and to a lesser extent in the 1870s.
The Spaniards provided the first documented information about the Colorado, giving the river various names, such as El Rio de Cosninas, de San Rafael, and de Tizon. Various Spanish parties visited the river, the most famous one in Utah being the Dominguez-Escalante expedition in 1776. As the two padres returned to Santa Fe, New Mexico, through southwestern Utah, they came upon an old Ute trail in an area that appeared otherwise impassable. Chiseling steps and smoothing a path for livestock, the missionaries forded the river at what was called the Crossing of the Fathers, which now rests under the waters of Lake Powell.