The Dye Clan
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  • TR: Mar 2015

Nine Mile Canyon

This interpretive sign explains the significance of the Great Hunt Panel.

Nine Mile Canyon is home to some of the best rock art in Utah. The petroglyph panels include the Great Hunt Scene, the 10 Little Indians, the Big Buffalo, and many others.

Trip Report: March 11, 2015

I visited Nine Mile Canyon on my way home from Duchesne. I started in Myton and ended in Wellington.

This interpretive sign explains a little of the history of Nine Mile Canyon.

Eight Thousand Years of People and the Land

Nine Mile Canyon's 78 miles of Back County Byway take you back through thousands of years of history. Native Americans, the U.S. Cavalry, homesteaders, freight and stage drivers left a legacy in the canyon for us to enjoy. As you explore the canyon, remember these resources are fragile, irreplaceable, and protected by law.

World's longest art gallery

Thh world's largest collection of prehistoric rock art runs along the Byway. Three prehistoric cultures were active here: the Archaic, Fremont and the Ute. The Fremont painted and etched about a thousand years ago. Remains of Fremont dwellings and granaries are seen throughout the canyon. Look but do not touch these fragile resources.

Road to change

After the Civil War, the Army's 9th Cavalry, a black regiment, built a road through the canyon linking Fort Duchesne with the railroad in Price. Cattlemen, miners, and a busy stage freight line followed this commercial artery between the Uinta Basin and central Utah. Portions of the original stage road, as well as iron telegraph poles, stage stations, and settler's cabins are all seen along the route today, reminding us of the time when the canyon was the main road, not the Back Country Byway.

Home on the range

Much of the bottom of the canyon is private land dating from homesteads as early as the 1880s. Settlers farmed the same fields where the Fremond grew corn, beans and squash more than 500 years earlier. In 1902, cattle baron Preston Nutter purchased the ranch that now bears his name. From the headquarters in Nine Mile Canyon, he oversaw a cattle business that included grazing land in Wyoming, western Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Families still ranch in Nine Mile Canyon today. Please respect their property and privacy.

The history behind the name

The name Nine Mile comes from a map prepared by the 1872 government expedition led by Major John Wesley Powell. The canyon was the site of a nine-mile triangulation for the purposes of survey. The survey maps were titled "Nine-Mile Creek"

Rediscover the West

Back County Byways open doors to new experiences. Following a Byway can take you back in time, allow you glimpses of things you have never seen, and provide you with a variety of recreational opportunities. Each Byway has exceptional values, whether scenic, recreational, or historical, and provides a unique encounter with the land.

The Bureau of Land Management's Back Country Byways Program is a national effort to open up the less traveled corridors of the western public lands, to provide access to the treasures of our rich heritage, and to enhance opportunities for scenic driving. The public lands exhibit such a diversity of resources and uses - they can provide an enjoyable experience for almost anyone!

The Nine Mile Road

The nine mile road was built by the all-black 9th U.S. Cavalry under the command of Major F. W. Benteen in 1886-87. With altitudes wless than 7400', it was considered "all season" and linked Fort Duchesne, Utah with the nearest railhead, Prive, Utah. Referred to in official army records as the "Nine Mile Road," it was named after the largest and most beautiful canyon through which it meanders.

Rich in history and legend it has been proclaimed the greatest contribution the army made in the Uintah Basin. When the Unitah-Ouray Indian Reservation was opened to non-Indian settlement in 1905, this was the main route taken by over 15,000 homesteaders. It was traveled by such famous names as Roosevelt, Sheridan, Randlett, and Benjamin O. Davis Sr,. the first black to rise to the rank of General in the United States Armed Forces. Such infamous characters as Butch Cassity, Sundance Kid, and other members of the "Wild Bunch" also rode its path.

For almost 35 years it was the route of the telegraph line and served the stage coach lines, freighters and the U.S. Mail. By 1920 the Nine Mile Road ceased to be the main artery into the Great Uintah Basin of Utah. Today the Nine Mile Road is considered one of Utah's richest historic landmarks.

After about 33 miles (all but the last 5 or so were paved), I got to the junction of Nine Mile Canyon Road and Nine Mile Canyon Road (I know, it's confusing). I went East up to the Daddy Canyon Complex and up to the Great Hunt Panel before turning around and heading down to Wellington.

Daddy Canyon Complex

Rassmussen Cave

The Daddy Canyon Complex is home to several petroglyph panels. The first grouping of rock art is a large cave or rock shelter called Rassmussen Cave.

Under the rock shelter, there are some cool grooves in a large boulder. I'm guessing these were for grinding corn.

On the walls of the cave are lots of petroglyphs depicting big horn sheep, other animals, and people.

Pictograph of an Elk at Nine Mile Canyon. These images were created by Native Americans on exposures of Mesa Verde Group sandstone. They are the work of Fremont people and are probably 700-1500 years old. The painted warning has been widely cited as a horrible example of vandalism of native rock art. But the full story is more complicated. The damage is actually the result of an accident caused by inadequate communication and poor judgement. This pictograph is in Rasmussen Cave, on private land only 30 feet beyond BLM land. The cave, which was occupied by native people for many hundreds of years, has often been pillaged in modern times by relic hunters. In the late 1960s, the land owner told teenagers working for him to post some "no trespassing" signs around the cave. This is what they did -- to the great regret of the property owner. The land has changed hands several times since then. It is now owned by the Bill Barrett Corp., an oil and gas company based in Denver. There is a possiblity that the site eventually may pass to public ownership. BLM archeologists believe the damage is superficial and the pictograph could be adequately restored. BLM Nine Mile Canyon area. Duchesne Co., Utah. flickr

To the right of Rasmussen Cave is another, smaller rock shelter with several petroglyphs.

Daddy Canyon Recreation Site

The Daddy Canyon Recreation Site has a bathroom, some picnic tables, and some shade canopies (ramadas). It also marks the trailhead for the Daddly Canyon Trail.

Daddy Canyon Trail

I found that this area was a little confusing. I guess I should have looked at the map a little closer before I set of. The first petroglyph panel is on the left (west) of the trail.

Then you cross the wash to the east wall of the canyon.

On the east wall are a bunch more petroglyph panels.

And here's where I made the wrong turn. Instead of turning right and following the east wall to the southeast, I followed the trail to the left and went up canyon. Now don't get me wrong; up canyon is very scenic and a good little hike, but there isn't any rock art up canyon that I could find.

I went up canyon about two-thirds of a mile until I came to this waterfall. Since I couldn't scale it without getting wet, I turned around and went back to the parking lot.

I missed the rock art on the east canyon walls. When I go back, I won't make the same mistake again.

Cottonwood Canyon

Great Hunt Panel

Scholars believe this extraordinary panel may represent an actual hunting event. Scenes such as this play themselves out in the natural world. Historians believe this panel depicts a scene in late November or early December when herds of bighorn sheep meet for the fall mating season. This is the only time of year that rams, ewes and lambs are all together in the same place. The large trapezoidal, horned figure at the top of the panel is an example of a classic Fremont rock art style. Variations of this style are common in rock art of the Fremont period (circa AD 950-1200); but not all humans were depicted this way, as shown by three of the hunters with bows and arrows. The Great Hunt Panel has been replicated on many modern art pieces and ahs been featured in a number of publications. The beautiful execution, detailed design and well-preserved condition make this panel one of the most recognized and famous rock art sites in Utah.

Around the corner from the Great Hunt Panel are several other interesting petroglyphs including this one of "The Alien".

Big Buffalo Panel

The Big Buffalo Panel is a bit tricky to find. There is a sign on the road and a pullout, but there isn't a trail. Basically just wind your way through the bushes until you get to the east wall and look for a huge buffalo petroglyph.

The "Big Buffalo" is huge for petroglyphs: about 3 feet long and 2 feet tall.

Besides the Big Buffalo, there are also lots of other petroglyphs in the panel. They include sheep, people, snakes, grids of dots, lines of dots, concentric circles, and squiggles.

Fremont Village

At the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon, there is a pullout and a sign that directs people to the Fremont Village.

I walked past it twice before I realized what I was looking at. The Fremont Village is not actually a village. It's the remains of one dwelling. There are a bunch of rocks in a square.

Nine Mile Canyon Road

Faded Glyphs

While I was looking for the Ten Little Indians panel, I found this little rock shelter with some faded petroglyphs in it.

Ten Little Indians Panel

On the underside of an otherwise insignificant rock are several Fremont-style pictographs. The name is a little bid misleading because there are actually just 8 little Indians.

To the left of the Ten Little Indians panel and easily visible from the road are a bunch of petroglyphs.

Ghost Town

In addition to all the rock art, Nine Mile Canyon is home to many historic buildings.

Cottonwood Glen Picnic Area

The CottonWood Glen Picnic Area is a good place to have a picnic. There is a historic cabin and the remnants of a chimney and an old well.

Unnamed Panel

This unnamed panel has lots of petroglyphs. There are grids of dots, squiggles, animals, and people.