Tibbetts was born in Santa Fe, N.M. His father, Bill Tibbetts, was considered an outlaw – on the run after being charged with rustling cattle, a claim that Bill Tibbetts insisted was false. After turning himself into the sheriff, Bill was told by his lawyer that if he didn’t find a way to escape jail, he was going to be hanged. He escaped and spent the next few years on the run, living under an assumed name. During that time, he met his wife, Jewel, and Ray was born.
When Ray Tibbetts was still a young child, the family returned to the Moab area, where he has spent most of his life.
“My dad was born and raised in this country, so that’s where we came back to,” he said.
After high school, Tibbetts served four years in the U.S. Air Force as a military policeman. Upon his discharge, he returned to Moab.
“It was right in the middle of the uranium boom,” he said. “There were trailers and little cardboard shacks in everybody’s backyard.”
Tibbetts went to work for the Grand County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy in 1954. He enjoyed the work, and it was a busy time for law enforcement.
“About half the people in town were wanted for something,” he said.
He met his wife, Carolyn, at a dance in town in 1955. Shortly thereafter, he left law enforcement.
“I quit because I couldn’t make a living,” he said. “I enjoyed it very much ... I probably would have done it the rest of my life if I could’ve made any money at it.”
Tibbetts then went to work staking and selling mining claims in the area. Two years later, he started a cattle ranch at Anderson Bottom on the Green River with Carolyn’s father, Ralph Miller. While tending the cattle, Tibbetts spent quite a bit of time in what is now known as the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park
“Talk about wilderness and solitude,” he said.
But being so far away from town was too much, with Carolyn and a new baby still at home in Moab, so Tibbetts returned to Moab where he and his brother-in-law purchased Miller’s Clothing and Dry Goods.
Tibbetts ran that store for the next 36 years. In the 1970s, after the uranium business went bust, business at the store declined. Tibbetts began to look for ways to help increase traffic in the area. Opportunity presented itself, he said, when his friend, Bates Wilson came into the store one day.
At the time, Wilson was the superintendent of Arches National Park. He was trying to convince the federal government to create a new park in the area, but he needed help. He asked Tibbetts to take members from the Park Service Board and the Bureau of Land Management on a tour of some of the more desolate country around Anderson Bottom. Tibbetts agreed, and after his return to town, he convinced many of the other storeowners in Moab to write letters supporting the creation of a new park.
“I didn’t know much about parks, but I wanted to help increase visitation to the area,” Tibbetts said.
In 1964, Wilson’s dream became reality when Canyonlands National Park was created. However, Tibbetts said the newly formed park did little to help increase tourism, and several people in the area were upset that the government had not followed through on promises they’d made regarding the park’s establishment.
“They promised that they’d allow ranchers to continue to graze their cattle out there,” he said.
Tibbetts said that he was told that they were going to build new restaurants and stores within the park’s boundaries. None of those things happened.
While Tibbetts said he’s happy he was able to be a part of Canyonlands’ history, he opposes any further wilderness designation in the area.
Tibbetts held the position of Grand County Commissioner during part of the 1970s and 80s. He was a strong supporter of the Sagebrush Rebellion, a political movement that advocated the return of federally owned lands to the control of state and local authorities.
Though Tibbetts is now in his 80s, he strives to stay involved in local politics, and he has a lot to say about the recent proposal to create a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
“We need to respect the balance of the land,” he said.
Tibbetts stressed that money from oil and potash development on public lands is returned to the county, putting money into the schools.
“Locking up the land stops that,” he said. “You have to respect the flow.”
Tibbetts said he feels that the current parks encompass enough land.
“We just need to arrive at something that makes the community click,” he said.