Nine Mile Canyon: The Rock Art

The Great Hunt panel
The Great Hunt panel

This week we took a quick trip to Nine Mile Canyon, 25 miles Northeast of Wellington, UT. I have been wanting to go there to see the Native American rock art for a long time. It was a good trip. We left on Thursday after lunch and arrived mid-afternoon at the Nine Mile Ranch. From what I understand, this private cattle ranch has the only campgrounds in the canyon. Ben and Myrna run about 50 head of cattle on their ranch there in the canyon, with another 50 head at their farm in Wellington. The campground was pretty basic, but nice with good shade and was right along the banks of a small creek.

Don't forget the hammock
Don’t forget the hammock
Playing on a swinging bridge just behind our campsite.
Playing on a swinging bridge just behind our campsite.
Campfire
Campfire

After we set up camp we drove down the road to the first set of rock art, aptly called First Site. Most of the rock art we saw were petroglyphs, that is, images pecked or chipped into the rock. Pictographs are painted onto the rock. We saw a few pictographs, but the vast majority were petroglyphs.

Checking out the petroglyphs at First Site.
Checking out the petroglyphs at First Site.
Just a few miles into Nine Mile Canyon, near First Site.
Just a few miles into Nine Mile Canyon, near First Site.

The rock art in Nine Mile Canyon is often described as the world’s longest art gallery. There is said to be more than 10,000 individual images on the many cliffs in this canyon and the many side canyons. Nine Mile Canyon, which is really about 4o miles long, was a major route between the Uinta Basin and Price for Native Americans and later settlers. The Fremont Culture lived in this canyon for nearly a thousand years before moving on around 1200 A.D. The most recent Native Americans to live and travel in the canyon are members of the Ute tribe, many of which still live in the area.

The tall skinny guy
The tall skinny guy
Headress guy
Headress guy
Long-armed guy
Long-armed guy
Fire hand guy
Fire hand guy
Frog man
Frog man

I’ve always been fascinated with antiquity and particularly Native American culture. We spent most of the day driving up the canyon looking for rock art. Much of it was not hard to find, but some of the most impressive art took a sharp eye and some scrambling to get up to them. My son Finn spotted some art high above the road on some cliffs. He and his little brother, older sister and I scrambled up to take a look and photograph them (while my wife napped in the car). While some of the sites are marked with signs (those closest to the road), most are not. For being the desert the canyon bottom was surprisingly green with a creek running through it. There was also irrigation ditches and evidence of ranching all up the canyon.

Looking up Nine Mile Canyon from the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon.
Looking up Nine Mile Canyon from the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon.
Typical cliffs in Nine Mile Canyon
Typical cliffs in Nine Mile Canyon

It was a hot day, around 90 degrees and by 2:00 pm we were pretty hot and tired. We stopped for a picnic lunch before driving north to the small town of Myton, UT, then on home. It was a nice trip. The boys loved scrambling on the rocks, and we all enjoyed seeing this very cool ancient rock art and wondering about the people who lived and traveled here. I would really like to get back there and spend some time in a four wheel drive vehicle and go further up Nine Mile Canyon toward the Green River.

Elk or deer high up on a cliff, far above the road.
Elk or deer high up on a cliff, far above the road.
Bighorn sheep
Bighorn sheep
Jumping bighorn sheep
Jumping bighorn sheep
Dogs?
Dogs?
Climbing up to see some petroglyphs
Climbing up to see some petroglyphs

 

The Big Buffalo
The Big Buffalo
Later art as Native Americans didn't start using horses until after about 1680.
Later art as Native Americans didn’t start using horses until after about 1680.
Multiple images on a large panel
Multiple images on a large panel
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Animals and target-like image
Large target-like image; this was on a cliff way above the road and took a sharp eye to spot it.
Large target-like image; this was on a cliff way above the road and took a sharp eye to spot it.

A note on road conditions: I had a hard time finding out about the road conditions in Nine Mile Canyon. I had heard that some parts of it were dirt, but could never get a straight answer from anyone on how much and what kind of condition they were in. I even called the Ranger Office in Price, and they were not very helpful. Originally we were thinking of including this canyon as part of bicycle tour later in the summer, so I was particularly interested in the road conditions and if they would be ridable on a touring bike.

So here is what I learned. The road is a nicely paved two lane road from Wellington all the way into Cottonwood Canyon, which is at about milepost 45 (that is 45 miles from Wellington). Just before the turnoff to Cottonwood Canyon the road turns to dirt and continues up Nine Mile Canyon. The tourist map of the area only show the road going just past Cottonwood Canyon. We didn’t have time to drive up there so I don’t know what the road is like further up Nine Mile Canyon, but I do know that it goes on for quite a ways. I have a friend who has explored this canyon, and with four wheelers he said you can make it all the way to the Green River.  The turnoff to Myton and Highway 40 is at about milepost 38. It is called Gate Canyon. There was exactly 6 miles of well graded dirt road, easily drivable with a regular car. Keep in mind that the road crosses many washes and in rainy weather, passage would be sketchy as flash floods are pretty common in this area. The rest of the way to Highway 40, after the dirt section, was smooth two-lane highway. We didn’t didn’t see any rock art up Gate Canyon, but we weren’t really looking as we were done for the day and heading home.

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