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In Our Back Yard - Nine Mile Canyon

Sep 06, 2019 08:49PM ● By Ed Helmick

Seventy-four miles eastbound on Highway 6 from the junction with I-15 you will be at the Chevron gas station in Wellington. A left turn on 2200 East, known as Soldier Creek Road, will begin an amazing display of Utah ranching history and prehistoric rock art.  

Nine Mile Canyon, which is 27 miles long, has been called the world’s longest art gallery. More than 1,000 rock art sites have been identified and classified in the canyon. Many sites can easily be viewed from the paved road. Some of the history and pictograph sites are marked with signs and many others are not. For that reason, the most interesting and accessible features are described with mileage references. This is a great family outing to share history with the kids.

At the southeast corner of the gas station parking lot is a BLM information kiosk that will help you understand what lies ahead. Zero your odometer and start your day’s adventure. At 12.5 miles you will pass the abandoned Soldier Canyon Coal Mine. About a mile and a half up the road you will see the remnants of an old homestead on the left. The bridge you cross is Minnie Maude Creek.  

It is just a short distance to the Nine Mile Ranch property sign. The road to the ranch headquarters is on the right at 23.7 miles. It is a working ranch with tourist services such as a campground, cabins, bunk ‘n breakfast, showers, a country store, and guided tours of the canyon. It sounds like a neat place to spend a few days. This is also a good place to zero your odometer for the next reference points up the canyon.

Just 2.5 miles up the road from Nine Mile Ranch are the first major panels of pictographs. You know you are about there when you see a yellow road sign on the right side of the road with a person walking. A short distance up the road as it starts to curve, you will see a widened pave area for parking on the right side of the road.

A sign off the right side of the road has an arrow pointing to the left and the message “First Site.” They are on the left side of the road and protected with a wooden fence. There are several pictographs along the rock wall, some are easy to see, and others are a little faint and difficult to see.

An interesting set of pictographs are above the others on a rock ledge. Up the road about a mile is Cottonwood Glen day-use area with picnic tables and restrooms. At 30.5 miles you will find a few old buildings that are all that remains of the town of Harper which at one time had a hotel, school, and post office. The town, originally called Lee Station, was a stagecoach stop in the late 1800’s.

The next pictographs are on the left side of the road near a balanced rock at 31.9 miles called Pig Head Rock because it looks like the cartoon character Porky Pig. Just before Pig Head Rock there is a short trail on the left that leads to some pictographs about 60 feet off the road and about 5 feet above ground level.  

At about 33.4 miles look to your left halfway up the hillside on the smooth black face and you will see a large snake carved in the rock. With binoculars look to the right of the snake and you can see many small figures, birds, and trees carved in the rock. P Nutter’s Ranch is at 37.8 miles, which was another stagecoach stop with a hotel and saloon. A lot of stories can be told about this place. Just past the Nutter’s Ranch is the Gate Canyon Road on your left, which will be another article someday.

In about 0.3 miles past Gate Canyon there are several pictograph panels on the left just before a cattle guard. At 38.8 miles stop on the right edge of the road after crossing another cattle guard, look down the road to the east, then look 30 degrees to the left, and then about 300 feet up the cliff for a large and well-preserved granary. Study the rock wall carefully because it does blend into the surrounding rocks very well. Binoculars will make it easier to find the granary.

Dry Canyon enters the main canon from the right. At this point, you can look to your right across the canyon and you will see an interesting rock formation called “The Mummy”. Look to the left canyon wall from this location, and you will see a large alcove known as “Rassmussuen’s Cave”. There are some excellent pictographs on the walls of the cave.

A short distance up the road are restrooms and a corral with a loading chute in what is known as Daddy Canyon. Directly behind the loading chute is an impressive pictograph panel. There are many more pictographs along the canyon walls in this area.

In another mile there is a fork in the road, and for the purpose of this trip you want to continue up Cottonwood road to the right. The left-hand fork is Lower Nine Mile Canyon and the subject of another trip.

The road curves around a ridge that has the remnants of a Fremont village on its upper slope. There is a sign directing you to the hiking trail to the village site at 45.5 miles. The remains of the village are pretty run down. However, you can see the outline of several pit houses.

The Big Buffalo Panel is located across the canyon at 45.7 miles and requires a hike to the east wall of the canyon. There is a well-defined hiking trail to it, and it is well worth the hike.

Another 0.2 mile up the road at 45.9 miles on the odometer is the famous Hunter Panel pictograph. This is one of the finest pictograph panels to be found anywhere.

You have traveled 46 miles through Nine Mile Canyon and been introduced to the history and rock art of this amazing place. Please enjoy the sites and respect their heritage. (Helmick is a Serve Daily contributor.)