Nine Mile Canyon – Carbon County, Utah - Atlas Obscura

Nine Mile Canyon

Carbon County, Utah

Here, at the "world's longest art gallery," you'll find forty miles of ancient petroglyphs and pictographs. 


Deep in the Utah desert, about 125 miles from Salt Lake City, Nine Mile Canyon is filled with tens of thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs, some over a thousand years old. The earliest images have been traced to the ancient native peoples known as the Fremont, who carved their culture out of – and into – the canyons of Utah.

The canyon runs for 40 miles, so it’s not exactly clear why it’s called Nine Mile Canyon. One theory is that the explorer and surveyor John Wesley Powell may have used a nine-mile transect (a method used by cartographers) to map the area. However, that’s just a guess by the Bureau of Land Management, who oversee the site. It’s been called “the world’s longest art gallery”, with extensive and intricate images from the Fremont era (generally about 400 CE to about 1400 CE), but also from later Native Americans (mostly Ute) and western settlers and explorers during the 19th century. Many of the images depict hunting scenes and animal life (bison, lizards, birds), but some defy easy identification. So of course it’s been proposed that some of these, say, less-decipherable images depict so called “ancient astronauts”. (Of course they do!)

About half way through the Canyon are the remains of an old town called Harper, once a stagecoach stop and now a ghost town. The area and images of Nine Mile Canyon are protected under the Antiquities Act, although they are threatened by both natural and man-made erosion. Defacement, though not extensive, is visible – but isn’t as much of a problem as dust and particulates from large-scale trucking in the area. Road paving projects have done a lot to cut down on road dust, but the hunt scenes, bison, birds and ancient astronauts alike all need preservation help – so they don’t disappear like the stagecoaches rumbling through Harper.

Know Before You Go

From Wellington, Utah - take Route 6/191 east about 7.5 miles to the turn-off for Soldier Creek Road going northeast – it becomes Nine Mile Canyon Road. You can travel the length of the Canyon (about 40 miles) by car, and the full trip is 78 miles. Since there are no amenities or gas stations along the way be sure to gas up first and bring plenty of water and snacks. (And watch out for rattlesnakes and stray cattle.)

Some rules and advice from BLM: “leave only footprints and take only photographs”. You must bring back out anything you bring into the Canyon. If you find arrowheads or pottery, don't take it - it's against the law. Be aware that some of the land in the area is private property.

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