Nine Mile Creek

A few weekends ago, I planned a short visit to Central Utah in search of new rock art sites. Being based in Colorado, most of my exploration has been limited to Southeast Utah near Moab, Canyonlands, and Cedar Mesa. My motivation for exploring this new area was seeing some interesting and unfamiliar pictographs in Polly Schaafsma’s The Rock Art of Utah. So I decided on making Green River, Utah a home base for the long weekend, and focusing my search beyond the reef in the San Rafael Swell region, starting in Nine Mile Canyon. My two big takeaways from this trip are that petroglyphs can be just as impressive and awe-inspiring as their pictograph counterparts, and that the rock art in Central Utah is abundant – well deserving of repeat visits.

Sheep Canyon Pictograph

The day before my trip I noticed that I was coming down with a cold. I had already booked my lodging, thankfully with travel insurance in case I wasn’t feeling well enough. So I played things by ear, and specifically planned exploring areas that didn’t require much hiking. Nine Mile Canyon was a perfect candidate, as most of its 40 miles can be traveled by car, with short stops at marked (and some unmarked) pull-outs.

My goal was finding a pictograph panel (I still do not know its name) in a side canyon of Nine Mile Canyon. Finding it requires crossing Nine Mile Creek, and following a short and fairly-worn trail. The beautiful panel is located under a rock alcove on the left side of the creek, and features four anthropomorphic figures.

Beautiful Panel in Sheep Canyon

At first glance this panel resembles the Barrier Canyon Style, with the elongated torsos of some of the anthropomorphs. However the figure on the right looks bears some of the Fremont style with its cranial horns. If this panel is truly BCS, then it is likely the northernmost BCS panel I have found. Compared to other BCS panels I have seen, this one looks more “modern”. Perhaps it is because it is so well preserved; the rock overhanging the panel provides shade throughout the day.

Closeup of the Panel

I walked a bit past the site and found various petroglyphs on the same side of the creek. I suspect there is even more rock art in this side canyon, but continuing on the trail would have been pushing it in terms of how I was feeling. I want to research a bit more about this side canyon, and would potentially revisit and push further into the canyon to see what I find.

Owls, A Great Hunt, and other finds

After seeing the panel in Sheep Canyon, I walked back to the car and continued on through Nine Mile Canyon. There are marked signs near some of the popular and well-known sites, but if you drive slow enough you will find petroglyphs nearly everywhere along the canyon. The next place I stopped was marked, and had a good mix of petroglyphs and pictographs.

Shielded-looking Fremont Figures
Figures holding hands

Up until this trip, I had unnecessarily placed a higher value on finding pictographs (paintings) over petroglyphs (carvings). The main reason for this is the higher detail that pictographs can offer, since they often involve colors and different pigments. Another reason is that pictographs, in my experience, seem more rare and difficult to find. For every pictograph I have seen, I have seen maybe five times as many petroglyphs. This preference was challenged on this trip, after seeing the Owl petroglyph Panel.

The Owl Panel

The rock art site is clearly marked from the road, and is just a short walk from the sign. I have never seen an owl depicted in rock art, so seeing this clearly etched into stone was quite the surprise. The panel is rich in detail, and depicts a lot more: bighorn sheep, anthropomorphs, snakes, and even a bear claw. It was an awesome panel to see, and definitely left an impression. Not far from the Owl Panel I spotted what looks like a single white pictograph. I cannot be sure, but its position and the view looked interesting.

After leaving the Owl Panel, I drove around very slowly in search of rock art not clearly marked anywhere, to give me a little sense of discovery. If this area was more busy, I wouldn’t recommend driving as slowly as I did… I ran into no one that day (or this whole trip), so I had the luxury of occasionally stopping on the road, scanning the cliffs above me with binoculars I had brought. I was pleased to find an interesting pictograph panel painted on a smooth wall of rock that had sheared off some time in the distant past.

Spotted Pictograph Panel

The photograph below shows the area surrounding the pictograph panel; it is a fairly accurate representation of what the rock wall of the canyon looks like throughout most of the canyon. While not far from the road, I would not have found this panel had I not been carefully searching with binoculars! Binoculars are a must-have tool I would recommend to the amateur archaeologist. They are generally nice to have even on regular hikes, as they allow for bird watching and wildlife viewing.

Rock wall surrounding the Spotted Pictograph

I could probably spend days hunting for rock art in this canyon, as the little time I did devote to simply poking around proved fruitful. But it was getting late in the day, and I would still have to drive back to Green River. Since I knew of an important panel called the Great Hunt Panel, I decided this would be a good place to end the day. Conveniently this petroglyph was at the very far end of the canyon, so I could check it out and then head back afterward.

The Great Hunt

The Great Hunt Panel is important in that it provides a glimpse into the way of life of prehistoric inhabitants of the region. According to this NPS website, the world-famous panel contains artistic styles dating from the Archaic through Fremont period. This time period spans from 8,000 years before present (BP) to 700 BP, so the rock etchings are likely to be at least a thousand years old! The petroglyph is thought to depict the scene of a communal hunt. In late November/early December, herds of bighorn sheep gather for the fall mating season, and it is the only time when masses of bighorn sheep – young and old – gather together in the same place.

Closeup of the Great Hunt Panel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>