9 Mile Cyn., UT 2007


Some of the most spectacular rock art in Utah is to be found in 9-Mile Canyon northeast of Price. Don’t let the name deceive you, the canyon is actually 60 km long. Called “the world’s longest art gallery”, it is home to numerous rock art panels. Because of this, I led an adult-tour from the University of Utah Natural History Museum in 2007.

Public domain map from “Wikipedia” of the 9-mile canyon area
9-Mile Canyon in 2007

Most of the rock art was created by the Fremont Native-Americans who occupied this area some 1,000 years ago. Our tour started from Salt Lake City, Utah; and explored the canyon in a full day. We entered 9-mile Canyon from Myton, Utah (through Gate Canyon) and exited through “Soldier Creek” towards Hwy. 6 (Pictured below).

Public domain detailed map of the 9-mile region

The Native Americans who made 9-Mile Canyon home as early as 300 A.D. are part of a civilization in Utah known as the Fremont Culture. The Fremont are a distinct and unique prehistoric culture that one inhabited the western Colorado Plateau and the eastern Great Basin.

The Fremont landscape of hunters and farmers; Image from “Wikipedia”.

By 750 A.D., village life had developed in the heart of the Fremont region, with a number of farming villages consisting of semi-subterranean timber and mud pit-houses and above -ground granaries. The height of the Fremont culture was 700-1250 A.D. due to favorable climatic conditions. Between 1250-1500 A.D., the Fremont culture vanished. More aggressive Ute, Paiute and Shoshoni peoples have migrated into the region around this time, and may have absorbed/displaced the Fremont into their culture (pictured below).

Looking east down on the Gate Canyon/9-Mile Canyon Junction in 2007.

[Between Gate Canyon and Dry Fork Canyon] Pictured below, our first petroglyph panel depicts a horse and rider behind an animal figure. This is likely the result of early Utes, who were present in the canyon in the 1820s when fur trappers passed through the region. As with many panels attributed to the Ute, these figures lack precision and are stylistically simple compared to earlier styles attributed to Fremont, Anasazi and Basket-maker peoples. {The Ute claimed ownership of 9-Mile Canyon until the early 20th century when a federal court ruling determined the canyon was outside the boundaries of the Uintah Indian Reservation.}

The Ute Site Petroglyph site in 9-Mile Canyon in 2007

[Dry Canyon Road] Pictured below, our next stop in 9-Mile Canyon was up the Dry Canyon Road to the “Echo Site”. Proceeding up Dry Fork Canyon for about 1 km, the road straightens after Mummy Rock and rises toward a rock outcrop jutting toward the road from the right (just before a dry wash). A trail leads up the ledges to a petroglyph panel about 10 m above the road. Some of my tour participants are standing at this site, and the human voice has a very distinct echo. The petroglyph panel is dominated by a large bighorn sheep and a concentric circle that interacts with an animal and dots. One small figure appears to be holding a bow.

The “Echo” Site within the Dry Fork Canyon along the 9-Mile Rock Art Gallery in 2007, (Note Mummy Rock on the right).

Pictured below, at 3 km up Dry Fork Canyon and 33 m from a parking area, are the remnants of a small stone and adobe granary located about 3 meters above the ground on a narrow ledge. Prehistoric farmers in the region employed at least 3 different storage strategies, probably to minimize the possibility that all foodstuffs would be lost. One strategy involved small storage structures near ground level that are easily visible and easily accessible, probably for immediate access, (this was an of the examples). A second strategy involved medium and large structures high on inaccessible cliff ledges it would require considerable expenditure of time and energy to retrieve foodstuffs. This strategy was likely to discourage incidental raiding by other groups. A third strategy involved carefully camouflaged subterranean cists.

A near surface granary found within the Dry Fork Canyon in 2007

Pictured below, at 3.2 km up Dry Fork Canyon, is a petroglyph panel located at the north edge of a small dry wash on the right side of the road. It features at least five distinct spirals, including one with a horned head. Other motifs include dot matrixes, wavy lines with horns or heads, and a human trapezoid. All are typical of Fremont panels elsewhere in 9-Mile Canyon. [The horned serpent motif is unusually common in 9-Mile Canyon, and it is similar to the Kolowisi and Palulukon horned serpent figures recognized by modern Puebloan peoples in Arizona and New Mexico.]

The “Siral Horned Serpent Site” in the right-hand side of the photo within the Dry Fork Canyon in 2007.

[Between Dry Fork Canyon and Daddy Canyon]. Pictured below, is in the “Rasmussen Cave” (0.5 km east of the Dry Fork turnoff). One of the most famous sites in 9-Mile Canyon, Rasmussen Cave is actually a series of sites, including two adjacent rock rt sites and the shelter itself, which has additional rock art. During the 1920s and 1930s, researchers uncovered several human burials, figurines and other artifacts typical of Fremont and perhaps earlier peoples. Pictured above, the large red naturalistic elk on the shelter wall is considered to predate the Fremont, and some see the style as contemporaneous with the Basket-makers of the Southwest. Other figures painted in white are of the same style.

The elk pictograph within the “Rasmussen Cave” at 9-Mile Canyon 2007

Pictured below, on the western side of the mouth of Daddy Canyon, is a petroglyph panel site near ground level. It features on panel with two Fremont-like trapezoids, several animals, abstract (or supernatural) human figures and a large burden-bearer figure with a feather head-dress.

The “Daddy Canyon West Side Site” in 2007

Pictured below, inside the corral area at the mouth of Daddy Canyon is a panel with a large bighorn sheep, a concentric circle and a large abstract figure that dominates the entire panel.

The Daddy Canyon Site in 2007

Pictured below, this site is located at ground level across the sagebrush flats along the cliff face on the east side of the mouth of Daddy Canyon. A close inspection reveals some remarkably detailed figures dominated by a large classic Fremont trapezoid with a kilt-like lower torso and a large head-dress with projections commonly called a “rake” head-dress. This figure is somewhat more weathered than figures next to it, suggesting it is relatively older than the complicated but less precise panel of figures next to it. All of the are consistent with Fremont figures, including the row of triangles, dot matrixes, abstract figures, circles and bighorn sheep.

At the east side of the mouth of “Daddy Canyon” in 9-Mile Canyon 2007

Pictured below, between “Daddy Canyon” and “Cottonwood Canyon”, is noteworthy for its simplicity. At the center of this petroglyph panel is a human figure with a long, narrow body, horned dead-dress and arms and hands extended (four fingers per side). There are no legs or feet. The lower torso is done in a manner reminiscent of someone wearing a long flowing cloak. To the figure’s right is a large buffalo pecked in outline and to the left is a large bighorn sheep figure, also pecked in outline. None of the figures can be considered stylistically Fremont, but they could be, based on the precision and quality evident here.

Between “Daddy and Cottonwood Canyon Site” in 9-Mile Canyon 2007

Cottonwood Canyon appears to have Pit-houses along the benches, storage structures hidden on cliff ledges and some of the most complex and visually spectacular rock art anywhere in the 9-Mile collection. Cottonwood Canyon was likely one of the major southern tributaries that offer easy access to the southern regions. Pictured below, on the western side of the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon, is the rubble remains prehistoric pit-houses. The one shown in the picture is arranged in a circular pattern encompassing an area about 7.5 m in diameter. Other pit-houses are close-by. The pit-houses are located on a bench above arable lands and near water, with a commanding view up and down the canyon. They were likely semi-subterranean and the interior dimensions will provide clues as to how many people lived, (whether the house was used by one generation or by many, and how the occupants kept warm). Pollen from the floor area will determine what plants were eaten, and bone fragments will identify what animals were hunted.

A circular foundation of a Pit-house near the western side of the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon 2007

Pictured below, on the eastern side of the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon, several panels are located at ground level. Just before the fence is a large buffalo, as well as other animal and human figures.

The “Large Buffalo” at the Pregnant Buffalo Site in Cottonwood Canyon Site in 2007

Pictured below, 33 m north from the “Large Buffalo”, is the Pregnant Buffalo panel, (a depiction of a large buffalo with a smaller buffalo evident in the stomach cavity. Just above are several figures painted in vivid red, white and yellow pigments. One sheep figure was first pecked and then painted white. Note that this panel features the historic inscription “S. Groesbeck August 19, 1867,” which would predated the arrival of ranchers in the region by two decades. It is believed Groesbeck was a prospector.

The Pregnant Buffalo within Cottonwood Canyon 2007

Pictured below, the most famous rock art site in 9-Mile Canyon, the “Great Hunt Panel“, has been featured in several publications. It is also one of the best preserved rock art sites in the state. The panel, located about 2.5 m above the road, features a large human trapezoid surrounded by about 40 bighorn sheep, including ewes with lambs. The trapezoidal figure may be a shaman summoning the sheep into an ambush, as evidenced by the four hunters with bows and arrows around the outer edges of the composition. Cottonwood Canyon may have been a migration corridor for bighorn sheep, and the presence of lambs at this panel might indicate a fall hunt, when rams ewes and lambs are together in the same time of year, (during rut). The trapezoidal shape of the shaman, imply this site was the work of a Fremont artist. But the three hunters are not trapezoidal, suggesting that not all Fremont depictions of humans required geometric shapes.

The “Great Hunt” Panel in Cottonwood Canyon 2007

Pictured below, this petroglyph panel is located on a cliff face 5 m immediately above the road an adjacent to a pullout 2.1 km down the Cottonwood Canyon Road from the junction. This panel is distinct against the dark patina, depicting a wavy line with a horned serpent head on both ends. Above is a large spiral connected to a bighorn sheep figure that is, in turn, connected to four rows of dots. To the right of the spiral is another dot matrix, an elk and a human figure atop a half circle with lines. Given the nature of the panel with the dot matrixes, horned snake figures and precise animal figures, this site is likely attributable to the Fremont.

“Cottonwood Canyon Double Horned-Snake Site 2007

Pictured below, 0.35 km west of Devil’s Canyon in 9-Mile Canyon, this petroglyph site consists of one spiral figure looping to the left and another looping to the right. There are at least four wavy lines of varying lengths, but without the diagnostic horned head. There is nothing about these figures indicating age or cultural affiliation. But near the spirals is a Fremont trapezoidal figure in association with a row of vertical lines (like a picket fence).

The “Picket Fence Site” in 9-Mile Canyon, (west of Devil’s Canyon). 2007

Pictured below, 0.4 km west of Devil’s Canyon, the “Family Panel” is certainly one of the most famous sites in 9-Mile Canyon. It is so named because it appears to depict a family of individuals arranged in a row. However, there are other elements within the panel. From left to right, the panel depicts a typical 9-Mile shield figure, a small human with a bow and arrow pointed at a bighorn sheep, another small sheep, a large Fremont trapezoid with antennae-like head-dress and no legs, a smaller trapezoid with no ornamentation, another large trapezoid with hips larger than the waist, a scorpion-looking figure and another shield figure.

The “Family Panel” within the 9-Mile collection in 2007

Pictured below, at the eastern side of the mouth of Devils Canyon and 13 meters above the valley floor, (in an alcove), there are 4-5 layers of slab-stones defining the outer wall of a granary. Traces of adobe are still present between the stone layers. How the prehistoric builders gained access to the granary is not known as there is no evidence of a ledge. The precarious location of this granary on a sheer cliff face illustrates a storage strategy that some facilities were not intended to be concealed from human passersby, but any attempt to raid the facilities would have required considerable time, energy and knowledge of access routes.

The “Devil’s Playground Granary” within Devils Canyon 2007

Pictured below, 1.6 km east of Devils Canyon in 9-Mile Canyon and 6.1 meters up the cliff face, this petroglyph site features on of the most impressive Fremont human figures anywhere in 9-Mile Canyon. It consists of an almost life-sized trapezoidal human that is actually more triangular than trapezoidal. A triangular kilt defines the lower torso. As with other Fremont trapezoids, the arms are extended and the fingers are splayed (5 fingers). The head is also triangular, featuring ghostly eyes and a large antler head-dress. Two distinct bighorn sheep and possibly a third are situated around the figures. Below the figure are three large, detailed burden-bearer figures. At least 5 other human trapezoids are evident to the right, but they are largely eroded. Numerous dots are present around the large trapezoid, but they do not appear to be arranged in any particular pattern.

The “Trapezoidal Men Site” at the end of 9-Mile Canyon in 2007

At this point, my tour-group turned around and drove back to Gate Canyon to eat lunch. Pictured below, at 1.5 km east of Gate Canyon and 10 m up on the northside cliff, we found this unexpected Elk or rain-deer petroglyph.

The “Elk/Rain-deer Panel Petroglyph” east of the Gate Canyon junction in 9-Mile Canyon 2007

From Gate Canyon Junction, we drove west 3.3 km up 9-mile Canyon Road to the “Four Hands Site”. Pictured below, this site is actually a series of several complex rock are panels on the cliff level just above the road’s northside. The panel most visible from the road is a supernatural human figure with one set of extended arms and splayed fingers. A second identical set radiates from the head area. The figure lacks most classic traits of Fremont motifs, with the exception that large hands with splayed fingers (as if waving) are found on Fremont trapezoids.

The “Four Hands Site” west of Gate Canyon Junction in 9-Mile Canyon 2007

Additional figures at the “Four Hands Site” are badly eroded, and some are visible only in the evening light. To the left on a patch of very dark patina, the bighorn sheep figure has a narrow, elongated body facing a buffalo figure, (pictured below). Above them is a human holding a short staff. To the right are additional human and animal figures mostly eroded from the patina.

An older hunting seen at the “Four Hands Site” in 9-Mile Canyon 2007

At another 0.8 km west from the “Four Hands Site” and near the eastern edge of the eastern mouth of Currant Canyon is a small, unusual rock art site that consists of a horned snake attached to a large circle. To the right are four animals, probably bighorn sheep, pecked in outline. But in these two cases, they reflect an unusual style that conveys a high level of abstraction. None of the four animals is done in a style that can be readily assigned to any particular art style or cultural group.

The “Current Canyon East Site” within 9-Mile Canyon 2007

Pictured below, one of the most spectacular sites in 9-Mile Canyon is the “Sandhill Crane Site”, located at the western edge of the mouth of Currant Canyon. This site consists of several complex panels. The finest is dominated by a large elk pecked in outline. To the left is a large panel with two large horned snake figures pecked in outline with the bodies filled in with lines and cross-hatching. Above the snake figures are depictions of three birds, (two standing and one sitting). The two standing birds have long legs and long beaks, and the tail area is curved downward in an expression. The third bird appears to have a long beak that curves downward, similar to many different species of lakeshore and marsh birds.

The “Sandhill Crane Site” at the mouth of Current Canyon within the 9-Mile collection of rock art 2007.

Pictured below, 3.2 km west from Current Canyon (or Sandhill Crane Site) up 9-mile Canyon, is a very complex site dominated by a series of organized dot fields, each interacting with animal figures (sheep). The dots are well organized and symmetrical, creating the impressions of large squares or rectangles. Next to the dot fields, is a large panel with an array of abstract, geometric, animal and human figures.

Trail Canyon Dot-Field Site in the 9-Mile Canyon Collection 2007

Pictured below, at about 0.1 km east of Trail Canyon, is a panel that has figures that are painted (pictographs) and pecked (petroglyphs). This panel features four faded human figures painted in outline with a reddish-orange pigment. The figures are trapezoidal (stylistically Fremont) that features square or “bucket-shaped” heads. The figures also depict bandoleers or sashes across the torsos.

Trail Canyon Pictographs in 9-Mile Canyon 2007

Pictured below are human figures pecked in outline that have slightly trapezoidal bodies that could also be Fremont. These petroglyphs are also found to the right of the Trail Canyon pictographs above. Actually, pecked figures can be found in both directions of the painted panel, and a discerning eye can identify many different styles attributed to Basket-maker, Fremont and Ute periods of time.

Trail Canyon Petroglyph Site within the 9-Mile Canyon 2007

Pictured below, at 2.1 Km east of the Argyle Road Junction, is the historic house, (on the southside of the road), called the Harmon House after it’s builder Ed Harmon. It was a major stage stop and telegraph relay station in 9-Mile Canyon in the late 1800s. A twice-weekly stage route was established in 1888, and by the following year it had become a daily service.

The Harmon House in 9-Mile Canyon 2007

The telegraph line and 9-Mile Canyon Road were both begun in August 1886 by troops from the 9th Cavalry, recently assigned to build a new post at For Duchesne in the Uinta Basin to quell white settler’s fears related to the recently expanded Ute Indian reservation. It was completed in January of 1887, a year before the Uinta Basin experienced a major “rush” for gilsonite. (a valuable tar-like hydrocarbon used in paints). This transformed the road into a major freight route, with wagons hauling supplies to Fort Duchesne and returning to railheads at Price.

The Harmon Ranch Location within 9-Mile Canyon 2007

Pictured below, located 1.24 km east of the Argyle Road Junction, is horned snakes, (or wavy lines or zigzags with protrusions at one or both ends). These seem common in 9-Mile Canyon.

Horned Snake of Argyle Canyon Site in 9-Mile Canyon

In 9-Mile Canyon, serpent heads are depicted with paired horns, single horns, antlers and even abstract elements that could be head-dresses. The significances of the horned serpent to prehistoric canyon dwellers has been lost. Another example is pictured below from another site in 9-Mile Canyon.

A horned serpent within the 9-Mile Canyon collection. 2007

Pictured below, at 1.2 km east of the Argyle Junction and just past the large balanced rock on the north side of the road, the dominating feature at the panel is a rather supernatural-looking, four-legged figure with a series of circles around one arm. This has prompted some to call this figure “The Juggler” or “Balloon Man”. This panel reveals dot patterns, circles, a spider-web-like maze and another horned snake. The panel also features three human figures walking in profile holding a round item, perhaps a shield. Also interesting is a large mountain sheep with a rectangular body and cloven hoofs, a style attributed to the Fremont.

The “Balloon Man Site” at 9-Mile Canyon Site in 2007

Pictured below, at 1 km east of the Argyle Junction and at the base of a large monolith north of the road, is a complicated panel with animals, humans and abstract elements, most lacking precise lines and attention to detail. This panel suggests a Ute creation due to its lack of precision. However, two rectangular-bodied human figures pecked in outline with cross-hatching are somewhat reminiscent of Basket-maker motifs elsewhere in the Southwest. Then on a boulder face to the left of the main panel is a solitary human figure with a bucket-shaped head executed in classic Fremont style, but without arms or legs. Of particular interest is an oval-bodied human figure with a round head and a “head-dress” that consists of a horizontal line that is a meter long with a bighorn sheep and the two Basket-maker-like human figures.

The “Argyle Canyon Ute/Basket-maker/Fremont Site” in 9-Mile Canyon 2007

Pictured below, about 0.25 km west of the Argyle Canyon Junction and north of the road and pullout; features a horse with rider being led by an individual with a rope. This panel lacks the elaborate head-dresses depicted at other places in the canyon. It’s this simplicity that may be evidence of a deterioration in rock art traditions over time. This panel also features two poorly defined animals and a rectangular human figure similar to those attributed to the Fremont elsewhere in the canyon. It should be noted that when the Spanish arrived in Utah during 1776, the Utes did not have horses. However, later the Utes subsequently developed a thriving trade with the Spanish and later the Mexican governments, becoming the dominant Native American tribe in the Rocky Mountains. This would indicate that the petroglyph below is of Ute origin.

The “Ute Horse-Riding Site” in 9-Mile Canyon 2007

Looking to the south across a large pasture, Valley Village is located on a small rise next to 9-mile Creek, near the mouth of Sheep Canyon. In the 1930s archaeologists investigated the small village, excavating two of five pit-houses. One pit-house foundation was made by arranging large round stream boulders, and the other by stacking long slab-stones in a circular pattern. In both cases, the roofs had been constructed with a matrix of logs, willows and mud. Artifacts of any kind were extremely rare. Early ranchers observed many such dwellings on the valley floor, but has been lost due to successive generations of farming and ranching.

Pit-houses in 9-Mile Canyon 2007

Pictured below, about 0.4 km southwest of Valley Village and 300 meters south of the road, is the famous Sheep Canyon pictograph panel, a row of 4 human figures painted in vivid red and white. Some rock art experts believe the figures represent a transition between a style attributed to Archaic hunters and gatherers (Barrier Canyon) and later Fremont farmer-foragers.

The Valley Village or Sheep Creek Pictograph Site within the 9-Mile Canyon Collection 2007

Pictured below, just south of the pictograph panel are large bighorn sheep executed in a typical Fremont style with exceptional precision, depicting even cloven hoofs. One appears to be talking to a long somewhat trapezoidal human engaged with a smaller figure. Neither are “classic” Fremont motifs.

The Valley Village or Sheep Creek “Talking Sheep” Site within the 9-Mile Collection 2007

Pictured below, another panel features a horse and rider with elaborate head-dress. This is likely attributed to early Ute occupants of the canyon sometime after the Spanish arrived in the region in 1776.

The Valley Village or Sheep Creek Ute Site in the 9-Mile Canyon collection 2007

Pictured below, further up 9-Mile Canyon, this style is considered typical of Protohistoric times on the Plains, but it is generally not associated with the Ute. Shield-bearing warriors are common throughout the Tavaputs Plateau, including 9-Mile Canyon. In most cases, the Shield-Bearing Warrior Style elements are associated with Fremont rock art motifs, or with panels exhibiting a blend of Fremont and Anasazi motifs.

The Shield-Bearing Warrior Panel in 9-Mile Canyon

Pictured below, and almost out of the end of 9-Mile Canyon is the long-necked ram pictograph. It is strange and I’ve seen this depiction at a couple of sites within the 9-Mile collection. I would almost call it the “Giraffe Site”. But Giraffes are only found in Africa. “Strange!!”

This panel was my last on this tour. Next was the drive out of 9-Mile Canyon and to Wellington, Utah through Sholdier Creek and on Hwy 6.

The “Giraffe Site” in the upper left of the 9-Mile Canyon Rock Art Collection 2007

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