With a population of 2,500, Monticello is a small town that counts tourism as a major industry. Sitting at the junction of U-191 and U.S. 666, in the center of San Juan County, Monticello has always been able to nab travelers on their way to Arches or Mesa Verde, to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon.

This summer, Monticello will be a destination all its own.Bill Boyle, editor of the San Juan Record, says he wouldn't be surprised to see 50,000 show up over the weekends around July 24. A thousand people usually come to Monticello for Pioneer Days - and to attend the accompanying family reunions. But beyond that, way beyond, will be the numbers coming this summer to see Monticello's new LDS temple.

Temple open houses are July 16-18. The dedication is July 26-27.

It's become something of a local pastime, trying to guess how many visitors might show up. The town has 250 motel rooms. What if 10 times that many people were to come in one weekend? What if 100 times that many were to come?

Well, Bluff, Blanding and even Moab and Cortez, Colo., are within driving distance, the reservationist at the Monticello Days Inn points out. And yes, the Days Inn is almost full, for both those weekends. But they are almost full for a lot of summer weekends already. So advance reservations don't offer a clue of what may come.

Speaking on behalf of the Monticello Foundation, Boyle couldn't be more pleased about the timing of the temple open houses. Not only does he put out the paper, but Boyle is president of the community's nonprofit foundation. For several years his group wrote grants and held pancake breakfasts. Now they have enough money to renovate a historic barn into a new museum. Now they have a traveling exhibit scheduled for this July - from the prestigious Smithsonian, no less. Now is a perfect time for thousands of visitors to drop in.

The Smithsonian exhibit, "Barn Again! Celebrating An American Icon," opens July 4 and runs through Aug. 15 at the new Frontier Museum. Local civic leaders plan to augment the traveling display with their own barn exhibits, the main one being the museum itself, a traditional English-style structure with hayloft.

There will also be a display on Anasazi granaries, perhaps the county's oldest "barns." Another local exhibit will tell the story of the Depression-era farmers who homesteaded in San Juan County after their Oklahoma farms became the Dust Bowl. The government didn't allow them enough Utah acres to really make a go of it. By the 1940s, they'd moved on. Their barns remain, east of town.

Monticello Mayor Dale Black is glad this summer's visitors will have the new museum to visit. Forty thousand is the number he has heard is coming. He doesn't know the origins of that number.

Because the LDS Church does not require tickets for the open house, there is not even that amount - the number of tickets requested - to give civic leaders a hint. The rumors of many thousands might be based on the number that came to the recent open houses at the Vernal Temple: 100,000.

Peggy Humphries, director of the Canyonlands Travel Region, says the most important thing about the new temple, from a visitation viewpoint, is not the number who might come this summer but the number who will come, on a regular basis, throughout the year.

The new, smaller temple will draw people from throughout the region.

Once people experience Monticello they will want to come back, Black says. "This is a great climate in the summertime. At 7,000 feet we are considerably cooler than the surrounding communities, like Moab and Blanding."

Each year, over the next few years, the town will offer visitors a bit more to do. Hiking, fishing and camping are already popular in the nearby Abajo Mountains. Eventually, as soon as the DOE is done with the Superfund cleanup on the town's uranium site, there will be mitigation money to expand the golf course. They'll build nine new holes along the creek, Black says.

And then the barn. After the Smithsonian exhibit leaves, the new museum will close. A silo will be added (the structure courtesy of the same Superfund project). The silo will house elevators to make the hayloft of the barn accessible to wheelchairs.

The Frontier Museum will reopen next summer with a permanent collection, some of which is now being housed in the town library.

The barn will continue to evoke nostalgia, Boyle says, which is a good feeling for a history museum. And, in fact, he and Black point out, the town itself evokes nostalgia. It is clean, quiet, safe - the way so many small American towns used to be.

Black wouldn't be surprised to see folks move to Monticello, once they discover it. Not a lot of people. He doesn't predict a boom town. But he could see it growing by a few households every year. One couple came already this year, he says. They sought a rural retirement. They thought it would be nice to live near a temple.