The scenic drive through Nine Mile Canyon contains the highest concentration of rock art in the world, with an estimated 10,000 individual artworks left by Archaic, Fremont, and Ute Indians
So why is a Canyon over 40 miles long called Nine Mile Canyon? The name comes from 1872 when John Wesley Powell led his expedition here, the canyon was the site of a ‘nine-mile triangulation’ for the purposes of the survey and the maps were labeled “Nine-mile Creek”.
The canyon is a natural conduit through the Book Cliffs between the Price River drainage and the Uintah Basin, so it has been used as a travel corridor going back for thousands of years. Native Americans, the Archaic, Fremont, and Ute for the most part left thousands of individual pieces of artwork on the canyon walls, along with ruins dwellings, and granaries built by the Fremont dating between 950–1250.
The artwork is mostly petroglyphs chipped into the rock face, but there are some pictographs too. Rock art is more concentrated here than anywhere else in North America, with an estimation of more than one thousand individual sites in the canyon comprised of up to ten thousand individual images.
The early trail was expanded into a wagon road by the Buffalo soldiers of the US Army 9th Calvary in 1886. It served as a freight route between the railroad in Price and Fort Duchesne in the Uintah Basin. Mining of Gilsonite began in the area in the 1890s, along with ranches and homesteads, and wagon way stations to service travelers and freighters.
The most famous rancher was Preston Nutter, running Utah’s biggest cattle operation here from 1898 to his death in 1936. Along with the Indians, settlers, outlaws, ranchers, and the military left their marks also, typically either through signatures and dates and unfortunately graffiti and bullet holes.
Coming from the west
From I-70 take Exit 91 for UT-10 North and drive about 64.5 miles, turning right on Ridge Road toward Wellington.
Bypassing Wellington, you’ll reach US-191 in 7.3 miles.
Take it east (right) for 0.3 miles and turn north at the sign for Nine Mile Canyon ( 39.542629, -110.688310 ) onto Soldier Creek Road.
Coming from the east
From I-70 take Exit 157 just west of Green River for US-191 heading North and drive about 50.5 miles.
Turn north at the sign for Nine Mile Canyon ( 39.542629, -110.688310 ) onto Soldier Creek Road.
Bring binoculars to spot artwork higher on the canyon walls
The road is entirely paved
Stop at the truck stop at the turnoff onto Soldier Creek Road. Set your odometer to zero here
An information kiosk on the corner at the truck stop gives you some local history of the road and the canyon
Inside the truck stop find the free “Journey through Utah’s historic Nine Mile Canyon” booklet
The canyon is basically a one way, in and back journey to the end that is blocked to further traffic, there is another way in from the north through Gate Canyon which splits Nine Mile Canyon
The most famous panel, the Hunting Scene panel, is located at the end of the canyon
Watch out for heavy equipment and trucks on the road servicing the mining industry
Plan your time, it is about 3 hours from the end of Nine Mile Canyon back to Green River
A good telephoto up to at least 200mm is a good idea, there are many rock art sites and granaries higher up on the cliffs. A polarizer is a good idea to take the glare off the desert varnish that the art is chipped into.
From the turnoff onto Soldier Creek Road, it is 21.5 miles, to reach the bridge over Minnie Maude Creek at ( 39.775128, -110.510128 ) which marks the official entry into Nine Mile Canyon. The drive is scenic with wooded hills and mountainous terrain as you continue toward the canyon.
Entrance to Nine Mile Canyon
26.7 miles ( 39.780000, -110.424444 )
The first petroglyph site is marked by a sign and there is a pull-out on the right. Walk across the road to view the petroglyphs behind the wooden fence. Some petroglyphs are distinct and others are quite faint. Look for the bison images, it is believed most bison figures were made by early Utes.
Cottonwood Glen Picnic Area ( 39.786944, -110.410833 )
Nine Mile Canyon day-use area contains restrooms and a picnic area.
Warriors with shields and drumming are high up, at the end of the rock face just before the turn
Signature – “Rob Powell 1881” about 10 feet up
30.9 Miles ( 39.800556, -110.366667 )
The ghost town of Harper – One of the main stagecoach stops called Lee Station developed in the 1880s into a loose community called Harper, it lacked a formal townsite but was a long stretch of scattered ranches and buildings along the road for about a mile. It had a population of 130 at its peak in 1910, but within ten years had become a ghost town. It at one time had a hotel, general store, a post office, and a school. The log buildings are what is left of the stagecoach stop.
Look for petroglyphs at road level, there is a pull-out on the left to park and multiple panels running along the rocks down the road, look for a man leading a horse with a rider, and a signature panel
Antler man with a snake – There’s a pull-off after this area on your left-hand side, park there and walk back and look around because there’s a lot of rock art surrounding the man with antlers, you just have to walk around the rocks and you’ll discover them
32.5 miles ( 39.800556, -110.342222 )
Balance Rock & Petroglyphs – Park in the long pull after the balanced rock on the left and walk back to where the balanced rock is. There is a big alcove to the right of the rock. In the far right of this alcove is the juggler panel. There’s also rock art from here all the way back to the end of the pull-out. The balanced rock was called Pig Head rock by the early settlers. The juggler is also known as the balloon man and also as the spider woman who according to Navajo beliefs taught man how to weave.
A homestead with an art panel behind the old truck on the far right end of the homestead
On the right is the road for Harmon Canyon and immediately after it is a long pull-off. Park and walk back to the Herman canyon pull-off, the rock faces on the other side of the road are filled with rock art panels both high and low that extend all the way around the bend. Way up high toward the end of the bend is the Coyote placing the stars panel which seems to relate to the Pueblo and Navajo story of how the creator created the world and was carefully placing the stars in the sky. A coyote was watching and when the creator turned his back the coyote grabbed the bag and threw the rest of the stars into the sky creating the milky way. There is a viewing tube toward the end of the pull-off that you can look through to spot the panel.
The Coyote Panel
Mile marker 35
On the left-hand side is a large parking area to park. Take a 5-minute walk to see an outstanding rock art panel called the owl panel.
At mile marker 35 there’s a dip in the road and then just after the bend in the road at ( 39.816389, -110.309444 )
To your north (left), look halfway up the hillside for a large snake outline and to the right, there are trees, birds, and human figures with hands and feet
Just a little further at ( 39.812834, -110.278705 ) look for the 1888 signature next to the bighorn sheep and above the spiral
38.2 miles ( 39.808611, -110.257222 )
Nutter Ranch – What began as a stagecoach stop eventually became the Nutter’s Ranch, one of the largest cattle operations in Utah with over 25,000 head of cattle. The stagecoach stop was known as “Brock’s” and was a place for the wagon masters to rest their teams before attempting the climb up Gate Canyon. It was once a 15-room hotel and a saloon but was destroyed in a fire in the 1930s.
Low and next to the road is a figure commonly referred to as the giant
41 miles ( 39.796111, -110.213056 )
Granary high up – use the pull-out, there is a sighting tube you can look through to spot this hard to see ruin
There is a granary almost at ground level right next to the road
41.8 miles Granary up high ( 39.792500, -110.206111 )
There is a granary way up high and very difficult to see. Look for a 4×4 track running into a canyon bottom on your left, from here, look directly down the road to the cliff face, look for the large horizontal slit in the face, look to the right of it, and down 20 feet, the granary is some stones and mud in the mouth of the opening.
Mile marker 44
Rasmussen Cave – There is a signed pull-off on your left, not really a cave, but an undercut overhang with some interesting rock art to see. This ‘cave’ actually played an important role in history. Noell Morss excavated here in one of his two ventures into Utah to investigate a then-unknown prehistoric culture. He wrote a book titled “Ancient Culture of the Fremont River in Utah” and thus was born the name Fremont Culture.
Mile marker 43.7
Dry Canyon is a short out and back trip to a rock art panel, use the 2nd entrance up the canyon from the modern buildings. At ( 39.760278, -110.171667 ) there is a panel at the base of the cliff on the right side of the road.
Mile marker 44.1
Daddy Canyon Complex – Picnic area in the mouth of a canyon, there is a trail system that winds to the mouth of the canyon around the rock face and back, it takes you past many rock art panels. The canyon is thought to have gotten its name from Katherine Nutter, she always referred to her husband Preston as “Daddy” in her letters.
45.1 miles ( 39.783611, -110.150833 )
The paved road forks to the right to Cottonwood Canyon, and the dirt road to the left continues down Lower Nine Mile Canyon. Take the left fork and continue up Cottonwood Canyon.
46.1 miles ( 39.783056, -110.134444 )
The Big Buffalo
There is a signed pull-out on the right, cross the road and go down the wash, and continue to the cliff face to find the largest bison petroglyph in the area. From the Big Buffalo follow the trail north and pass through the gap between the cliff and the fence post to get to more panels including a pregnant buffalo.
46.3 Miles ( 39.780000, -110.135278 )
The Great Hunt
Continue up the canyon 0.3 miles and on your right is the great hunt panel. Park in the parking area and then walk the short trail back to the rock art. Because the artwork has rams, yews and lambs it is thought this depicts a hunt in the fall, which would be the only time you would have them all together. The trapezoidal figure with horns is thought to be a hunting god who influences the migration of the animals.
Continue 500 feet up the canyon, on the right 10 feet off the ground is an unusual panel, and 100 feet more is a signature from 1915