Nine Mile Canyon

Nine Mile Canyon

Nine Mile Canyon is 40 miles (60 km) long, located in Carbon and Duchesne counties in eastern Utah.  An estimated 1,000 rock art sites are in the canyon with more than 10,000 individual images.  There is no question that rock art is more concentrated here than anywhere else in North America [Wikipedia].  Promoted as "the world's longest art gallery," the canyon is known for its extensive rock art, most of it created by the Fremont culture and the Ute people.  The Fremont appear to have been in Nine Mile Canyon from 950–1250 AD - this was one of the locations most heavily occupied by the Fremont.  The rock art, shelters, and granaries left behind by the Fremont make Nine Mile Canyon a destination for archaeologists and tourists alike.  Abandoned 17th century buildings are all along the canyon, most on private land.  The full 78-mile (126 km) canyon route, formerly SR53 through Gate Canyon, connects towns Wellington and Myton (now connected by US191).

The name Nine Mile Canyon first appears in Wesley Powell expedition records in 1871.  A road was constructed through the canyon in 1886 by the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry Regiment, linking Fort Duchesne to the railroad through the city of Price.  This was the main transportation route in eastern Utah until well into the 20th century.  Most of the stagecoach, mail, freight, and telegraph traffic into the Uinta Basin passed through Nine Mile until after the arrival of the Uintah Railway around 1905.  The stage coach stop, inn, post office, and school are what is left in ghost town Harper.

The discovery of rich deposits of natural gas deep beneath the Tavaputs Plateau has brought an influx of industrial truck traffic since 2002.  These big, heavy trucks on narrow dirt roads in this rugged backcountry caused significant dust damage to some of the petroglyphs.  The truck photos at the end of the article are simply an historical evidence of what can happen, and the controversy that ensues, when rich deposites of natural resources are discovered in historically and culturally important areas.  Much has happened since we first posted this a few years ago.  An historic agreement in 2010 added significant protection for the rich cultural sites in the area.  And Carbon County paved 36 miles of the road in 2011-2012 after ten years of significant dust in the canyon.  [ I have a sensitivity for both sides - in a previous lifetime I drove coast-to-coast in one of these big, heavy trucks. ]