But for readers, a local love story that went national triumphed over all the local tragedies.
"The Vow," a movie based on Kim and Krickitt Carpenter's love story, was released on Valentine's Day. The film told the story of the 1993 car crash that left new bride Krickitt with no memory of her husband. Their marriage endured despite the obstacles.
The film — based on a book — starred Channing Tatum as Kim and Rachel McAdams as Krickitt. The Carpenters' uplifting story caught fire online. The couple made the rounds of TV shows and national media interviews, bringing a little Hollywood celebrity to the Farmington area.
The famous couple kept their day jobs: Kim stayed on as San Juan County's executive officer, and Krickitt continued teaching at Farmington schools.
Missing money was a central element of two major stories that kicked off the year.
New Mexico Title Co. closed abruptly on Jan. 30, leaving customers pleading for information regarding their accounts. Eventually, nearly $1.6 million in customer funds was identified as missing from accounts at the title and escrow service.
A state investigation uncovered a business check used to pay for a Denver Broncos suite. A search of the Farmington office found more than $78,000 in cash, checks and money orders stuffed in a file drawer.
Bobby Willis, the former owner of the business, was charged with embezzling millions from partners in business deals not directly related to New Mexico Title. His attorneys maintained his innocence.
Willis did not appear in court, citing health problems. Meanwhile, auditors continued to untangle slipshod accounting at the company.
The Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau faced its own financial scandal when missing funds led police to begin investigating the bureau's director, Debbie Dusenbery. She resigned Jan. 17 after the bureau's board
Dusenbery, 41, committed suicide in the Arizona desert two weeks later.
A subsequent audit revealed she may have stolen more than $547,000 and used the money to pay for Caribbean vacations and other luxuries.
Summer came with scorching heat and paltry rain. The area's largest brush fire in nearly a decade consumed an estimated 352 acres on the banks of the San Juan River near Bloomfield in early June.
The Blanco Fire destroyed five homes and a dozen outbuildings, leaving many families devastated, their possessions destroyed. The community rallied to supply them with clothes, food and other goods.
Fires in southwest Colorado blackened thousands of acres but stayed away from homes.
The year brought few positive signs for the San Juan Basin's crucial oil and gas industry. Low natural-gas prices led producers to pull back on planned projects. Companies continued to produce gas from old wells, but showed little interest in new exploration.
A glimmer of hope for industry jobs came from the Mancos Shale, an oil-rich geologic layer. Encana Corp., a Canadian company, took the lead in drilling test wells to determine if a new shale "play" could turn the basin into the next American boom area.
However, progress on the play proved slow.
Another area resident received national and international attention after he was abandoned in the desert without his wheelchair and forced to drag himself down several miles of rugged, dirt road.
Ricky Gilmore -- a paraplegic -- had hitched a ride from a couple that dumped him on the side of the desolate road.
Gilmore's body was covered in scrapes and shutting down when he was found. His clothes were tattered, and he had neither food nor water.
After about a month's hospitalization at Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, Gilmore returned to his home near Newcomb. Authorities are still looking for the couple that deserted him.
A stunning crime occurred in October. Police say Joe Gallegos, 43, was high on narcotics when he ran over and killed Delandra Piochi, 32, on Main Street in downtown Farmington.
It was the second time Gallegos was charged with vehicular homicide. He also was convicted in 2004 for a separate incident when he was driving drunk and crashed, killing his two passengers.
Gallegos pleaded not guilty to the recent homicide charge.
Another high-profile case began in 2011 and is set for trial in 2013.
Dr. James Nordstrom was beaten to death with a pool cue in his Farmington home and then buried beneath a wood pile in his backyard in June 2011.
Police arrested John Mayes, the 19-year-old son of city manager Rob Mayes, driving Nordstrom's car the next day.
John Mayes was charged with murder. Police said he confessed to the crime in an interview after his arrest.
In 2012, District Judge William Birdsall ruled against two motions filed by Mayes' attorneys. He is set to go to trial in April 2013.
The election raised tempers as President Barack Obama faced Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Absent any hot-button local issues, the presidential contest seemed inescapable in the fall.
San Juan County once again overwhelmingly voted for Obama's opponent, only to see the Democratic incumbent easily carry the state and the nation.
In education, Central Consolidated School District faced an uncertain fate as a large portion of the district threatened to leave.
District schools in the Kirtland area, off the Navajo reservation, considered leaving the district because of a parent-driven movement that touched on differences in race and religion.
The district administration did not support the split overall and in June, the state Department of Education denied the move with Secretary of Education-designate Hanna Skandera citing civil-rights concerns.
In December, the Bloomfield School District grappled with financial irregularities stemming from the athletic department. The mess led school officials to not renew former Athletic Director Phil Sategna's contract after 34 years with the district.
As the year came to a close, the Navajo Nation shocked many observers by announcing a plan to purchase Navajo Mine.
BHP Billiton, an Australian mining company, moved to hand over the coal mine after nearly 50 years of operation. The proposed deal raised a host of new questions and possibilities for the tribe.
The mine deal pushed a plan to partially decommission Four Corners Power Plant, a major source of electricity and jobs, into spring 2013.
The area's other large coal plant, San Juan Generating Station, envisioned a future when it partially transitions to natural gas.
Winter holidays arrived with a series of snow storms and hope that the precipitation would ease the Four Corners' severe drought.
On New Year's Eve, locals awoke to snow fluttering from the gray skies.