A legacy in stone, Nine Mile Canyon – Price, UT

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Our rule is to not drive more than 200 miles in a day, and so far in our six years of travels we’ve broken it only 3 times.  But that was only because we were in Alaska and had little choice while trekking across the vast Alaska Highway wilderness.  So when Steve realized the drive from Moab to North Salt Lake City was well over 200 miles, we decided to take a midway break at Price, UT.

While making the RV park reservation, we asked what there was to do in the area.  The owner advised there were 10 museums nearby, along with six other activities in the vicinity – including several hiking trails.  We went ahead and booked 2 nights so we’d have a full day to check things out.

We opted to defer the museums for a return visit, and instead chose to enjoy one of the outdoor activities – driving through Nine Mile Canyon – which I recalled reading about in Jodee Gravel’s post.

Our home base in Price, Utah – Blue Cut RV Park

I initially thought we’d be driving along and looking at a 9-mile long panel of rock art, when in fact it’s just part of a 70-mile backcountry byway.  There are several theories of how Nine Mile Canyon got its name.  An old one in 1869 says that John Wesley Powell’s cartographer (map maker) used a nine-mile transect system for mapping out the area.  A more modern version refers to the 9th Cavalry, which built the road for better access to Fort Duchesne for the moving of troops and supplies.  Either way, the Nine Mile Canyon name has stuck to this day.

History says that in a span of 8,000 years or so there was a succession of people and cultures that lived and traveled through Nine Mile Canyon.  They consisted of the Native Americans, the 9th Cavalry who built the road, freighters that hauled goods to Price from Uinta Basin, and settlers.  Each left traces that included rock art, historic inscriptions, old homesteads and abandoned mines.

It was a pleasant and easy meander along Nine Mile Canyon

This post is about the petroglyphs (images carved/inscribed on a rock surface) and pictographs (symbols or art painted on rock surfaces) left behind along the canyon walls.  Neither historians nor archaeologists have been able understand or interpret the messages they may impart.  But for sure the abundance of this well-preserved legacy on stone is unique and irreplaceable.

Hmm, I don’t see any art here!

Sandstone is an ideal canvas for prehistoric artists, and for us to later ponder their messages

There were no signs in the canyon directing us to the sites, but with the help of this guide or this one we enjoyed trying to find them on our own.  Armed with a mile-by-mile guide, we searched along the 50-mile stretch of rock art.  Truthfully, the mile marker guide and map were less than in-synch, and we did a bit of head-scratching and back-tracking for a while – all part of the fun!

We almost missed Pig Head Rock (balanced rock) with a panel of various figures

At mile 26.6 was the first major panel, and I think the easiest to find

An old homestead that was a functioning ranch at one time

High on this cliff is a prehistoric storage granary, can you see it?

How about now?  Even with binoculars it took us a while to spot it

Cruising through the canyon, we drove slowly and looked carefully at all rocks with black patina on them.  There were so many petroglyphs!

At times I walked along the road looking for art on my side, while Steve scanned his side

Human shapes with headdresses and some with toes and fingers

A rainbow, sun, deer and strange round figures

Defaced pictograph rock art now privately owned at the Rasmussen Cave (mile 43.9)

There were some more recent traces of people who also left their mark:

A “recent” signature on the walls, from 1915

Daddy Canyon

At Daddy Canyon Complex, a trail lead us to cliff faces containing Fremont and Ute era rock art

Some petroglyphs were distinct and others quite faint:

A pregnant buffalo

This could be a farm scene

A red buffalo and green deer pictograph

While gawking we were also being gawked at!

Looking around and up I noticed a “mummy rock” formation

At mile 45.7 we followed a trail that led us to the largest known buffalo petroglyph

A slithery guardian of the art panels was on watch

That IS a large buffalo petroglyph!

The highlight of all rock art here is the famous “Hunt Panel”, which is located near the end of the canyon at mile 45.9.  This one can’t be missed, for it has a parking area with a kiosk.  This is one of the finest petroglyph panels we’ve seen, and it appeared in National Geographic magazine as the best example of Fremont rock art known.

A well marked trail led us to the Great Hunt panel

Pictographs near the ground on the lower canyon wall

Great Hunt Panel

The Great Hunt Panel – believed to be a depiction of an actual bighorn sheep hunt

We had the canyon to ourselves, except for the wildlife monitoring us.  There were three other canyon spurs that beg for exploration; Lower Nine Mile Canyon, Dry Canyon and Gate Canyon.  But we’d had enough for one day, an interesting and relaxing drive with so much to see and think about!

Journeying through Nine Mile Canyon was worth spending an extra night at Price, Utah

 

Next up:  Our final Utah stop – Brigham City



 

 

 

A Glimpse of Past Inhabitants – Bluff, UT

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Wolfman Petroglyph

Excitement was in the air as we left Page, Arizona, heading toward our next destination at Bluff, Utah.  Happily, our route along Hwy 163 took us through one of our bucket list “must-see” places, Monument Valley.  It’s striking landscape is the most photographed area lying entirely within Navajo Indian Reservation territory along the Utah/Arizona border.

Monument Valley

Excitement abounds as we enter Monument Valley

The Navajo name for the area is Tse Bii’ Ndzisgaii, meaning “valley of the rocks.”  The sandstone buttes and mesas have been used as a backdrop for more than a dozen movies (including Forest Gump), and driving amongst them brought home the beauty of that backdrop for us.

Monument Valley

The small town of Bluff (population 258 as of 2015) was our base camp for exploring ancient ruins and rock art.  It’s in the center of the Four Corners region where ruins of Anasazi Bluff, Utahcommunities have been found not only in Utah but also in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.  The region is known as the Utah section of the Trail of Ancients, where Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) occupied from approximately A.D. 1 to A.D. 1300.  Some of the remarkable remaining remnants left behind have easy access, but most require a drive and a hike, while still others exist in inaccessible back country areas.

Sand Island Petroglyphs

The easiest site to find here was the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel, located within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Sand Island Recreation Area just 3 miles south of Bluff.  The petroglyph panel stretches more than a hundred yards and features hundreds of  petroglyphs of every style.

Sand Island Petroglyps

The panel is registered in the National Register of Historic Places

Sand Island Petroglyphs

This small section alone has numerous types of petroglyphs, most notably big horn sheep

Sand Island Petroglyph Panel

Amy and May certainly weren’t ancient inhabitants.  Vandals force ugly fences to be installed around these precious works

Wolfman Panel

The famous Wolfman Panel is about four miles west of Bluff along Butler Wash Road and just a mile from Utah 163.  It’s a large, crisp and artistic group of etchings on the cliffs bordering the east side of Butler Wash.  The panel has designs that include a mask, shields, human figures and the wolfman himself.  Unfortunately, some of the artwork had been damaged by one or more morons shooting the rock with guns.

Wolfman Petroglyph

Wolfman Petroglyph

This is said to be a Basketmaker II style of petroglyph

Monarch Cave Ruins

Getting to these ruins required a 7-mile drive down Butler Wash Road (a dirt road in good condition), then a 1-mile hike toward a large alcove surrounded by colorfully-streaked cliffs above a permanent pour-over pool.  The site has one main ruin, several lesser structures and many petroglyphs colored yellow, green and white, in addition to the usual red.  The main area had been closed off as it has been become unstable and dangerous.

Monarch Cave Ruins

Living up high on a cliff

Monarch Cave Ruins

Indentations on rocks caused by grinding grain, showing evidence of life

Images on the rock that are painted on the surface with natural materials are called pictographs.

Monarch Cave Ruin

Living this high up a cliff guarantees a great view and safety from enemies

Grand Gulch Ruins

Once again our favorite hiking tipster Pam came through, pointing us to one of the ruins she and John (Oh The Places They Go) hiked called Junction Ruin.  The trailhead is located west of Hwy 261 and south of Natural Bridges National Monument.  The area is called Grand Gulch Primitive Area, and it’s a sprawling canyon system is home to a rich collection of American Indian rock art.  Access requires a permit at Kane Gulch Ranger Station for day use and/or backpacking.

Kane gulch trail

Initially our goal was to visit Junction Ruin as John and Pam had (click here for the details of their hike).  It’s a large cliff dwelling built on three levels, and a fascinating complex consisting of storage units, habitation rooms, kivas and defensive structures.

Junction ruin, Cedar Mesa

Peering into a small storage room

After perusing those ruins we met a group of backpackers who urged us to continue another 0.8 miles to see Turkey Pen Ruin.  Onward we went to discover that these ruins encompassed a number of structures, along with some pictographs.  Just like Junction Ruin, a metal box at the site contained descriptions of the scene and the structures it held.

Turkey Pen Ruin

The actual Turkey Pen is a jacal structure near the west end of the habitation area, and although its purpose is unknown, it didn’t look like it was used to hold turkeys.

Turkey Pen Ruin

We didn’t intend to hike 9.2 miles, but seeing both ruins made it more rewarding despite the uphill climb on our way out.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Tucked away in White Canyon, Natural Bridges National Monument shows off three natural stone bridges.  The park ranger recommended we follow an 8.6-mile trail that connected all of them in a long loop hike.  This trek really showed up-close how the power of water cut two deep canyons and formed three massive sandstone bridges.

Sipapu Bridge

The world’s second highest natural bridge – Sipapu Natural Bridge

Descending into the canyon, we passed and crossed under the “Sipapu” “Kachina,” and “Owachomo” bridges.  They were named after Native Americans who once lived in the area.  Along the way we saw rock art panels and checked out Horsecollar Ruin.

Horse collar Ruin

This well-preserved ruin’s name came from the doorways of two granaries resembling horse collars

Pictograph

We wondered what these drawings meant

We discovered the rock art panel when eagle-eyed Steve spied it high up on a wall not easily visible from the trail.  It was near the end of our hike, which due to our extra wanderings had tallied up 11.6 miles on the GPS.  It was a long and satisfying hike!

House on Fire Ruin

Our final stop that day was the House on Fire ruin.  Consisting of about five rooms, its name comes from the patterns in the alcove’s red and white sandstone ceiling that look like flames shooting from the roof of the structures.

The best time to capture this effect is midday when the light from the opposite canyon bounces across to the ruin.  Unfortunately it was 5:30pm by the time we arrived after our all-day “Bridges” hike, so conditions for my pictures were not ideal.  This trek added another 1.5 miles to our total for the day, and we were exhausted but happy to see it while in the area.

House on Fire Ruin

Visiting ancient ruins gives us a glimpse into parts of Anasazi life, and the remnants tell tales of their daily toils.  Images and art chiseled/painted on rock walls are impossible to decipher, but they must have had special meaning to the people who created them and the descendants who followed.  Those first residents left us fascinating food for thought, and we can only imagine what their lives must have been like way back then.

 

Next up:  Let’s take a drive!